• Mar 72015

But I’ve finished! Why have I got to do it again?” — hook your students into editing

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The following article owes a lot to Mr Austin Kleon. Over the course of the day he has tweeted most of the content that follows. It’s only fair to acknowledge to the author of Steal Like An Artist that we’ve plundered his Twitter feed to share it with teachers…

It is said that Stevie Wonder’s producers (and no doubt many more over the years) used to keep the tape recording the entire time he was in the studio with the aim of capturing something special that may have been missed otherwise.

Having someone/thing recording your work, warts and all is a disconcerting thing. As we type, a Google Chrome extension called Draftback is recording* us. It’s nothing out of the ordinary — in fact, once installed Draftback will show the typing process of any Google doc:

*Actually, it’s not so much recording us as tapping into something that Google Docs does anyway — making a note of all the little revisions that make up a document. It’s interesting to think that Google keeps that sort of information — all the deleted words, punctuation changes, typos, they’re all there.

As Austin Kleon tweeted earlier, writing, knowing that the process of your writing will be viewed back, makes the process an act.


Presumably Stevie Wonder was oblivious to the rolling tape after a while, but it does make you (forgive us) wonder whether the first time his producers decided to keep recording he felt a little self-conscious and tried a little too hard. Who knows? Not that we put ourselves in the same bracket, but we’ve definitely made less changes to this as we’ve been typing and it feels like we’re doing it for the cameras.

On to Draftback…

If you have Google Chrome, this is an extension that you can add to the browser at the click of a button. You can find it here. The next time you log into Google Docs and start editing a document, you’ll see a Draftback button next to the Comments button on the right-hand side of the screen:

It’s this button that allows you to view changes made to a document and watch it being typed. Interestingly, it allows you to do this retrospectively, so we’ve just watch ourselves type a document from last year. After reading this article, scroll to the bottom of the page and click play — you’ll see the first paragraph of this article being written “live” (sort of).

The opportunities for classroom use for this are massive, aren’t they? As long as they use Google Chrome and you’ve installed Draftback, you could set up students with a Google Doc and allow them to play back their work to observe their own writing process. It could definitely be used to model how to edit and re-draft a piece of work. Encouraging students that a first effort is something to be built on and improved is something that’s not always easy to do. And yet, if we want students to learn something from creative individuals, we need to show them that the drafting process is hugely important.**

I’m all for the scissors,” said Truman Capote. “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

** We’re well aware of the hypocrisy of typing this sentence when this has been a mostly unchanged, off-the-cuff blog article. Ah well.

Apparently Draftback, once installed, also allows you to view the typing of any other Google Doc you’ve got editing rights to. Not sure about this, but it sounds slightly worrying. As the creator of Draftback James Somers says, “Everyone I’ve talked to about this has been surprised, and maybe a little unnerved, to discover that whenever they share a Google Doc with someone, they’re also sharing an extremely detailed record of them typing the thing.”

You know that Google Docs link you sent to your boss where you shared a letter saying what a great school you work in and how you want promotion? You know, the one that you started off by handing in your resignation, but decided better of it and deleted that part? Oopsy.

As ever, you’ll come up with a million better ideas than we can for how to use this in class. If you’ve got a moment, do leave a comment with them in.

To get a taster of how it works, here is the first part of this article via Draftback… We won’t be watching it back — Stevie Wonder was a braver man than us.

READ ON
– You can install Draftback as a Google Chrome extension here.
– You can find Austin Kleon and his thought-provoking tweets here. One idea leads to another.
– It gets a bit technical, but it’s fascinasting stuff. Here’s How I Reverse-Engineered Google Docs by James Somers.

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