Another example of using tech to enhance writing

My students are more than a test score - they are individuals and writers. Testing often serves an annoyance rather than as a learning tool. As a teacher, I have no control over state testing; however, I do have control over how I choose to approach District Writing Benchmarks.

Some teachers choose to stop valuable instruction, give a district-mandated Writing Benchmark, spend hours grading it, and then move to the next unit. Why?

Some teachers provide too many days to finish the Writing Benchmark, and, as a result, lose valuable instruction. In fact, I did that last year. Why?

Some teachers allow students to choose to revise their writing benchmark.  Why?

I have chosen to approach the District Writing Benchmark as a draft. The rubric scores sent to the District Office are a reflection of me. The revision that students write next week is a reflection of them. Revision is not an option in my class. Learning will not stop for a test.

Thus, on Monday and Tuesday during our schoolwide block periods, I assigned the Fall Writing Benchmark via Google Classroom to Periods 1, 3, 5.

I like the fact that students had two days of block schedule to complete their writing. I started writing this blog post at 4 am. I can guarantee that this particular post will not be done by 6 am when I must get ready for school. Writing for extended periods is a skill students need to practice.

At the the same time, students should not have more than 200 minutes for discussion, note-taking, pre-writing and writing. If students cannot finish within 200 minutes, then I obviously need to spend more time teaching. That teaching time is scheduled for next Monday after Periods 2, 4, & 6 have completed their writing drafts.

I am fortunate in that my district has provided me with a class set of Chromebooks and has asked me to pilot a Chromebook Management System, which allows me to sit at my desk and "pop" into a student's writing to give them encouragement, confirmation, and redirection.

The comments in this video cannot be considered effective feedback; rather, the comments only give encouragement, confirmation, and redirection, which John Hattie has states is not as powerful as disconfirmation or challenge.

Why did I give these comments? Simple. I wanted students to write a draft that we can revise. Sadly, many of my junior high students have given up on writing - not because they are lazy, but rather because they lack confidence in themselves. My students needed a cheerleader on Tuesday. Future writing benchmarks will have fewer real-time comments as my students become their own cheerleaders.

Here are a few important notes about the imperfect, yet powerful process.
  • Long handwriting is still relevant in today's tech world. While I roamed the classroom on Monday, I observed student engaged in note-taking. Long hand prevents rewriting everything verbatim. Many students paraphrased as a shortcut when they were actually improving application of the new knowledge.
  • While giving real-time feedback on Tuesday, I would check GoGuardian, which allowed me to see student Chromebooks in real-time and review their timeline. I caught one student playing "Call of Duty." I called him on it, and he spent some of his lunch with me. Fortunately, the slight redirection resulted in a complete essay by the end of the period. 
  • I also observed some students using unauthorized thesaurauses. I had to tell them, "Sweethearts, I love your initiative to use during your draft, but we need to save that for next week's revision lessons."
  • I probably gave a couple "disconfirmation" feedbacks during the Fall Writing Benchmark, especially when my Honors English class kept making the same error. The entire class groaned when I corrected them on the use of second person in an essay. They then asked me the command to "find" all their you's. (CTRL-F)
  • When students were told that the Benchmark essay was not a grade, some asked, "Then I don't have to write it?" to which I replied, "The more you write now, the less work you have to do next week when we revise."
  • I will use Alice Keeler's RubricTab to share the essay's strengths and weaknesses with individual students, as well as write valuable feedback about their explanatory essays. Click here to make a copy of the rubric (see sheet 2). 
  • Because I viewed the essays in real-time during the writing session, I know that we need to focus on introductions and conclusions. We will then use self-editing strategies before using Grammarly.
I do not believe that spending 200 minutes on the entire process was a waste of time. The two-day process did not interrupt learning because I did not allow it. I like the fact that the majority of students wrote 4-5 paragraph essays. Some wrote less, others wrote more. But ALL wrote! ALL are ready for revision lessons.

Testing doesn't have to interrupt learning. You are in control of your class. Will you use District Writing Benchmarks as an annoying interruption or as a powerful tool that will help our students bloom as writers?

Tweet: Use Google Drive eye icon to quickly view S work during class time #elachat #gafesummit #teachwriting


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