Writing Tips that Empower Student Writers

On Monday, November 2, a storm poured down from the sky and onto the dry California earth. My son practiced his piano chords while I sat by the picture window where I watched the rain. As he played, I read CoolCatTeacher's blog 4 Writing Tips to Help the Writing Process. I stopped when my daughter brought me a stack of Caillou books to read. The next morning I woke up early to read student essays.

This sounds too perfect to be true, so please allow me to clarify. My son's imperfect chords were music to my ears. The value of the resources the CoolCatTeacher provided did not register that night. I cheated when I read to my daughter by dividing the number of books in half. (I wanted to alternate the books on nights to retain my sanity). I had no desire to read student essays the next morning. As for the rain, well, that was perfect.

The hard part of a teacher's job is writing feedback when it does not prompt student revision. I worked hard on providing valuable feedback on my students' Fall Writing Benchmark. I then worked even harder re-teaching revision the following week with the Fall Benchmark Revision or How to Write Explanatory Essay lessons, depending on the class's need. When my students ignored my suggestions, I questioned the value of that feedback. I even taught Alice Keeler's Student Self-Evaluation Rubric that prompted a Self-Evaluation Lesson with authentic student examples.

But this is what I missed - students learn better through struggle and peer review. Self-Evaluation is crucial, but students need tools that help them find problem areas and guide them as through revising awkward sentences. Peers are better equipped to help when they, too, have these tools.

Tuesday morning, I re-learned to love teaching my students revision. My 8th Grade English & 7th/8th Grade journalism students have been using free version of Grammarly since August. Students learned how to fix Critical Issues and made headway into fixing Advanced Issues. They learned how to Google the error, talk to their peers, and conference with me. However, we knew NOTHING about the free version of Hemingway App! We knew nothing of the power of  Hemingway App plus Grammarly!

This week students took off with Hemingway App and Grammarly, especially in journalism. The journalist typed their articles in Google Drive via Google Classroom. They copied their articles over to Hemingway App where students focused on fixing all yellow and red sentences. As we are writing a newspaper, 5th-6th Grade Good Readability is perfect for our readers. Students learned how to limit, though not eliminate, passive voice. (Passive voice removes bias, which is important in journalism). Students naturally read their writing to their classmates before they moved on to Grammarly. Journalism took handwritten notes on their areas of weakness before they conferenced with me. English students took screenshots of Hemingway App, which helped students with Language, and Grammarly notes, which helped students with Conventions.  Students then inserted the image in their self-evaluations. The image below is only an example because students strived to eliminate yellow and red sentences, as well as eliminate Critical and Advances grammar issues.

Students stayed on task. How do I know this? Because I checked using the newest Chromebook Management Program my district is piloting. Students were talking. The students were editing. The students were giving each other advice. And, students were coming to me when they needed "Complex and compound sentence punctuation error" explained. They then took this new knowledge and shared it with their colleagues.

Grammar and mechanics are not more important than exploring and expanding student ideas. As such, they should not be the focus of initial drafts. However, tools such as Hemingway App with Grammarly give students a starting place for revision when they feel lost.

My student writers have been empowered!  All because the CoolCatTeacher recommended that they use Hemingway App with Grammarly. Monday night and Tuesday morning truly were perfect. Rain. Family. Student writer empowerment.

Tech should always enhance learning, which is exactly what Hemingway App plus Grammarly do.

Tweet: Writing Tips that Empower Student Writers http://ctt.ec/Nc13d+ via @JenTechnology #teachwriting #gafesummit #elachat


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