Using Google Drive to Streamline Documentation of Student Learning

This blog post, will, I think, have a bit of a tone of the confessional to it…that’s right – I’m going to admit to doing the same thing, poorly, not to mention repeatedly, for the past 20+ years…. Why do this, you may well ask? Well… besides the fact that confession is, allegedly, good for the soul – I’m sharing this because I think I have finally come up with a system that approximates the one I’ve been using (badly) all these years, but this one actually seems to work!

Every August, not to be dissuaded (or informed, even…) by past failures, I dutifully set up “The Binder” – “The Binder” is a massive (3 inch minimum) file – with dividers that allocate a section for each student.  I always started off well (in August, by myself, with no actual students around to distract me from the work I was trying to do…) – I’d write each kid’s name on his/her tab, insert the page of notes I took while reading the OSR, add a section for Contact Information and… (here comes the confession) – for most kids…. except for running records, and the occasional note from a writing conference, that was as populated as their section of the binder ever got.

My intentions were good (aren’t everyone’s?) – the plan (which never changed, despite how ineffective it proved to be, year after year) was this – I was going to record all of my anecdotal observations about what my students were learning and doing at different times during the day, and store them in the binder. 

Why didn’t it work?  For lots of reasons – like most teachers, my days fly by in a whirlwind of activity; if I actually have the opportunity to sit down with a student and work 1:1 with him or her, I feel like it’s more important that I listen to the kid – have a genuine conversation with him, without the distraction of writing down what was being said. 

I tried various methods – sticky notes on a clipboard  – which worked wonderfully – IF I could read them (my handwriting is illegible at the best of times, never mind standing in a classroom, being jostled by students vying for my attention),  IF I remembered to put the kid’s name on them, IF what I wrote made any sense to me 3 hours later when I read it again, IF  I actually got around to sticking it in “The Binder”, and  IF I ever managed to write about anyone other than the same 5 kids who seemed to occupy 90% of my time.

I tried selecting 5 or 6 kids each day to be the focus of my note-taking ventures… read as “Wow…. that was amazing – sorry kid, too bad it’s not your day to be noticed!”.  I tried to force myself to take 30 minutes at the end of each day to write notes – no doubt there are those of you reading this who are far more disciplined than I am – but I couldn’t make myself do it – by then, the memory of what I had observed had faded, and I often couldn’t remember exactly what I had wanted to write in the moment.

Now… that was such a long lead in, I fear I’ve set myself up to make a “grand reveal” – and worried that I may let you down.  The system I have developed, over the past few weeks, for recording my thoughts and observations about what my students are doing during the school day, is not revolutionary, nor is it flawless… but it is much easier than what I have described up to this point,  and for the time being, I am actually using it – that, in itself, makes it a big improvement on “The Binder”.

For those of you who read this far, who are still interested in what this system is…. I’ve described it below.

I’ve included screenshots to illustrate what I’m saying,  but using “made up” folders, rather than the actual ones I use for my own students, so that I don’t violate their privacy by publishing their names here.  If you need to enlarge any of the screenshots to read the smaller print – just double click on them.

Set up a Folder in Google Drive for your class, then create sub-folders within it – one for each student (I know… I know… sounds suspiciously like “The Binder” – the similarities are there… it’s in the use of the thing that the differences emerge.)

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Within each sub-folder you can add additional folders – the trail of “breadcrumbs” is noted at the top of the page:Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.36.05 PM

Adding the folders is easy – click on the red “NEW” button and then select what you want to create from the drop-down menu.  

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.38.21 PMYou can also upload existing files and/or folders from your computer.

Once you’ve set up your folders in Google Drive, make sure you’ve added the Drive App to your iPad.

Throughout the day, take photographs of your students while they’re engaged in learning.  Try not to take dozens – be selective – consider why you’re taking each photo – what is the student doing, saying, demonstrating, that you want to capture?

At some point each day, take some time (I can usually get this done in 15 minutes or less.) – skim through the photos (this is why you don’t want dozens of them).  The images will spark your memory – especially if you were very purposeful in taking the photos.

Open up an Explain Everything project on your iPad.   Tap the “+” button to insert an object, and tap “Photo, Video or File”.

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Select (and edit, if you wish – I usually crop out everyone except the one student I was focused on when I took the picture) the photo you want to add – it will appear in your Explain Everything Project

Tap the “A” to add a text box, or the Pencil, to add a hand-written note: (I’ve covered the student’s face to protect his privacy on the NGL blog, but wouldn’t need to do so to place it in his folder on my Google Drive)


Repeat this step with each photo that you took during the day, that you want to preserve and add to a student’s file.

When you’re done with the photos you’ve taken, delete them from your Camera Roll, so that you know where to pick up when you start again tomorrow.

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Tap the “Export Project” button on the bottom right corner of the Explain Everything screen.

You can choose to export the project as a video, PDF, image or Project – I usually choose PDF, as PDF files are the most easily transferrable from one platform to another.


Before you export to Drive, select the slide you want to export.  If you export all the slides as one document, you will have many different students’ photos in each student’s file.  To avoid this, export the document one slide at a time – by selecting the slide you wish to export.


Once you’ve selected the slide you want to export, tap “Confirm” in the top right corner – this will take you back to the Export page.


Tap the icon for Drive – this will take you to your Google Drive (assuming you have signed into Drive on the App on your iPad) – from there, you can select the folder where you want to send the PDF – In this case, I selected the Geometry folder belonging to the student who appeared in the Photo. (His name has been blacked out to protect his privacy).


I then delete the photos from my camera roll, and the project from Explain Everything, to preserve storage space on my iPad.  After all – I don’t need to store any of it on my iPad – it’s all in my Google Drive.

It seems like a lengthy process when it’s all written out, but once you do it a few times it’s very quick.

I take a half dozen (ish…) photos each day – and it takes me less than 15 minutes to drop them into an Explain Everything Project, annotate them , and file them in the folders I have created for each student on Google Drive.  I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks, and my “virtual binder” has far more documentation in it than any of my  “real” ones ever did.  I’m hoping the notes I’ve taken there will be useful to me when I come to write reports – I know they’ll be useful during parent interviews.

Give it a try… and if you have any questions, (or if you make any discoveries) – please, send me an e-mail.