Friday, February 21, 2014

I Have It All Wrong...But I Have An Idea To Fix It

Graphic from SHSU
A few days ago, I posted a research idea  to investigate better ways of giving feedback to my student writers using digital tools.  The problem? I was going about it with my research end already in mind. I know from my work with students and from research already done by so many others what I would find: the students who are not as confident in their writing skills do not feel confident giving feedback on their peer's writing.  And the fix that I had in mind was that I would use the features of Google Docs to comment and give more feedback. But this is no different that what I am already doing!  Simply writing more on a student's writing piece is not going to necessarily ensure that they do something with that feedback.  It just makes more work for me as the teacher. I need a better idea for how to help students engage with meaningful revision of their written work.

Aaron Sams at PAECT event, Oct. 2013
Something I heard Aaron Sams talk about when I ate lunch with him at a PAECT event in October has been kicking around in the back of my mind.  A small group of us were discussing how we tackled grading issues when much of our planning time was used to created the resource materials that students use to learn our materials at home.  In the flipped learning approach, students learn from our instructional materials as homework while classtime is used to practice, collaborate, and workshop.  What this looks like in my high school English classroom can be a bit chaotic at times.  The big switch for me came when I asked students to complete their written work in class rather than in isolation at home.  This made a significant difference.  Students work on their writing with me in the classroom acting as their coach, they can ask questions of their peers, and they see models for how writing happens all around them.  But when do you grade all this work?  Aaron Sams' response: "I never take grading home."  WHHHAAAT??!!  Instead, he grades every assignment with the student in the classroom through a one-on-one conference.  Sounds awesome, right?  My first thought was, "Wow, I wish I could do that, but I don't have time enough in class."  After all, I'm and English teacher and Sams is a science teacher.  I just don't have time to conference every essay.

Wait!  Yes I do! So what I hoped to encourage was student engagement with the feedback they received on their written assignments.  Conferencing does this.  How many times on this blog have I mentioned the work of Lucy Calkins and Kelly Gallagher and Troy Hicks and the fantastic work done by all the National Writing Project educators, all of whom have shown again and again how conferencing with student writers not only helps the writer better understand her process and writing choices but also encourages a deeper level of reflection on where revision (not just editing) needs to happen.  And not only that, but conferencing with students while other students are in the room serves as a model for everyone on how we talk and think and support writing.  What would be a better use of our classtime? So I need to make time to conference/grade every essay in class.  And, I have an idea for how to do it.

Photo by Laurie Sullivan
My students are already using Google Docs and shared folders to turn in their essays.  The shared folder makes it easy for us to give feedback on each other's work throughout the drafting process since we can access each other's writing at any time either in school or outside of it. We use the comment feature in Google Docs to give written feedback. And as I handout the grading rubric the day a writing piece is assigned, we use the rubric to guide how we give peer feedback. But when it comes time to grade the essays, traditionally I have written all my feedback out on a printed grading rubric, not on the student's actual document.  Well, I'm going to change that up a bit, and here's how:

Audio recoding app in Google Drive
On the day that students are to turn in a completed writing piece, I'll call them up to the teacher's computer where I can already have the student's essay pulled up on my screen.  I'll have the grading rubric on my desk, and the student and I will use it to go over the writing piece together with the student making notes on the rubric as we discuss her piece.  There's a handy little tool in Chrome called Kaizena (formerly 121Writing).  When you are in Drive, click on "Create" and at the bottom of the options you will see "Connect More Apps."  Use the search box to find and install Kaizena.  What does it do?  It allows a user to record audio while looking at a specific Google document.  So, while the student and I are conferencing and collaborating over the grading rubric, I can record our conversation so that when the student goes back to her seat or goes home, she can access a recording of our conversation about her writing piece any time she wants!

Graphic from SHSU
Of course, there is no way that I will be able to conference with a class of 20-30 students in one 90-minute class period.  It will likely take three class periods.  However, as I'm conferencing, students can be using feedback to revise or make further edits or work on another piece.  Trust me, it took me a lot long than three days to get graded essays back to students using the model that I was working with. And the part that I am most excited about - not only will individual students have the ability to go back and listen to the audio record of our conference, but because their work is shared in a class Google folder, other students in the class could access the conference and learn from it as well.  I leave it up to the individual student on whether or not to leave the privacy setting open so others in the class can see and comment on their work, and surprisingly most leave their documents open for others to comment on. Using this conferencing model, I could end up with four or five essays from each student with audio conferences for each, and at the least that's 80 recorded conferences for students to use as models to improve their own writing.

There is some research being done on the effectiveness of using audio to record feedback for student writers.  Dr. Jeff Sommers at West Chester University has been publishing on this idea for the past couple years. His article in the Journal of College Literacy and Learning titled "Response 2.0: Commentary on Student Writing for the New Millenium" addresses how audio recordings can be a more effective feedback tool for student writers than the traditional written feedback.  So I am encouraged by this new model for grading student writing.

I am interested in how other teachers are using both conferences and digital tools to give student writers feedback.  Have you used audio tools to give your student writers revision suggestion?
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