This column is the first in a new series of weekly posts on technology tools for teachers by Kathryn Nieves, inspired by her excellent presentation at the NJCTE 2018 spring conference.
Google Sheets tends to be an underrated tool in English classrooms, as it seems more appropriate for math and science. However, Essay Metrics, an add-on that works within Google Sheets, can provide a teacher with a lot of data about the writing of their students.
After adding this tool, teachers can import all of the files within an assignment on Google Classroom. For the best results, an assignment where Google Docs is the location of the work is recommended. The add-on automatically populates a spreadsheet of information for teachers, taking seconds to scan through every file in the assignment.
The first few columns are for identification, such as student name, the URL of the Doc, and student email address. Immediately following the identification is a breakdown of individual data for each student who completed the assignment. Word, sentence, and character counts are provided for the assignment, as well as a paragraph count. Teachers can see the average number of sentences that the student uses per paragraph and the number of sentences that do not begin with capitalization.
An Automated Readability Index number is provided to determine the average reading level needed to understand each student’s writing. From a math standpoint, it puts average word difficulty and sentence difficulty into a formula to create a final reading age. The add-on also flags simple and complex connective words that the student uses, determining how frequently specific transitions or phrases are used, as well as the level of difficulty. Finally, the teacher can see how many revisions the student made, without going into each Doc revision history, and the last time the Doc was updated.
Aside from the immediate access to writing data, Essay Metrics can help teachers plan targeted intervention for their students. Areas of weakness and strength are visible, which provides opportunities to plan mini-lessons or focus points for conferences or small group work. For example, a student with only one or two sentences on average per paragraph can receive remediation on run-on sentences. Without even opening and reading each Doc, the teacher has an idea of where each student struggled. Teachers can even email the data back to each student with comments.
While Google Sheets tend to be fearful territory for a lot of educators, the Essay Metrics add-on can provide English teachers with an opportunity to quickly analyze the writing quality of their students.
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English