The nightmare of multiple drafts, multiple formats x 100

I was getting ready to assign my first writing project and visions of myself last year, stuggling to keep track of 100 students’ various drafts in various formats came flying through my brain…

The Nightmare: (This is not for faint of heart.) Imagine, you’ve just graded a stack of essays or stories, but notice a staggering amount of blanks in the gradebook from students you know have done the assignment.

You search your email for a student’s name and find an email in which she sent you her first draft. You search for another email and look through your Google Docs folders, but find nothing else. You print out the draft and move on to the next student. You search his name and find a Google Doc he shared with you. You open it and print it (this takes a little while because the computer has to convert the Doc into a printable format.) You have no first draft to compare it to, because he has updated the Google Doc. To view previous drafts, you’d have to go through draft history. No time for that. You find no emails from a third student and assign her a zero. Later, her mother emails asking why her grade is low. You explain why, only to find that she did email her second draft but from a different email address that doesn’t come up when you search her name.

Is this really my job? Just finding and printing 40 essays alone takes over an hour.  

On top of this mania, the writing process in the classroom is no walk in the park either. Students save their work on one laptop and the next day, we get a different laptop cart, rendering the student unable to make progress. Students who write in Google Docs are immune to this problem, but the internet goes in and out, making Google Docs unreliable as well. Another student saves on a flash drive and then forgets it at home the next day. She begins a new draft in class, only to discard it at the end of the period, in favor the better one she has at home on the flash drive. Another student carefully hand writes his first draft and then loses it, along with your feedback from a writing conference. Paralyzed, he never writes a next draft. You take pity on him and don’t enter any grade for the assignment, one way or the other.


I wrote to my friend Maia Heyck Merlin, author of The Together Teacher and organization guru, with this organizational nightmare. After I wrote to Maia with my problem, she suggested we talk on the phone. The solution would need to be customized around my needs, preferences, and capabilities.

Maia was great at listening and helping me identify the pieces of the problem. She asked good questions that led us to some clear, uncomplicated structures that would create order around the drafting process and allow me to focus on the important work of giving students feedback on their writing.

Maia has written a great post with three general rules for managing this issue in any classroom, called Thumbdrives, Google Docs and long hand, oh my!

In my next post, I will share the specific ways I am implementing these rules in my 8th grade ELA classroom.


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  • Ann McNeill

    Grading Multiple Drafts in Google Docs

    At fifty-two, I'm trying desperately to modernize and improve my writing instruction in a dual-credit college-level course by using Google doc submissions, "suggestions" in the docs, and multiple drafts.  My inbox is a nightmarish list, and I often have trouble finding student copies of drafts.  I also have trouble remembering to re-grade a piece without seeing it on the desk in front of me in paper format.  I've experienced the same issues you have.  I'd add that students often claim loss of internet and equipment failure as excuses for late work.  I love the comments clearly typed and easily referenced at the side of their pieces, but I hate the tech gymnastics required to print a piece with the comments showing.  When I went to your link, it was a dead end – blank white page.  I have a head-ache over all this…