One common practice of ELA teachers in our district (and I assume in many others) is to have students look at various examples of writing and grade that writing in relation to some type of rubric or scale. Generally, it is represented in the form of an Open Response assignment. In these situations a student is provided with a prompt and the student writes a response that makes a claim, stance, or opinion, and supports that assertion using evidence from the text(s) at hand. In 8th grade we do this a lot, and it is usually done by handing out a packet of writing samples and having students score that packet. In turn students use what they learned for scoring the samples to better their own writing, addressing the same prompt as a rewrite of their original work. While I do like the physical process of scoring, I have always struggled how to exactly incorporate tech into this common classroom activity.
I decided to see if I could somehow get students to do their analysis and reflection on some writing samples using Explain Everything via their iPads. Then, I would ask them to create a “smashed” video in iMovie that showed a collection of their responses to the writing samples. My students sit in table groups of 4-5, so I figured that if I gave each student a sample, they could individually reflect on these separate writing samples, and then compile their reflections in a final video that would move through all writing samples. In order to get a better perspective on this process and to see if the tech would help aid their understanding of the texts at hand, I invited Lucy Clerkin to come in to my classroom to help videotape and reflect on the process.
So, the lesson happened on January 5th and students had previously written an Open Response the night before that asked them to explain how language is a barrier to communication in a poem called “Elena” by Pat Mora and the vignette “No Speak English” from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, our primary classroom text at this time. This is what students saw on the board when they walked into the classroom on that day. And this is what they saw on Google Classroom, which is my favorite way to collect assignments and post instructions/classroom materials. Overall, the directions asked students to split up 4-5 responses among themselves, pull in the PDF of the response into Explain Everything, along with the accompanying rubric, then analyze, score, and reflect on the samples. When they were each done, one member of the group would compile the videos, while the rest began to work on their rewrite of the open response.
During the lesson the only whole class instruction that I provided was to read over the rubric and directions very quickly. While I did move around the classroom providing feedback and some clarification, I had put up samples of what their videos should look like and how to properly put PDFs into Explain Everything, so students had very few questions about what they should be doing. Here are some stills from the videos Lucy and I took:
What was great about the lesson was that students seemed immediately engaged. They quickly read the 4-5 samples and began discussing. Then, once they knew which sample was the one that they were responsible for, they split from one another and got busy analyzing their samples in Explain Everything. Watching the videos, most of them just show me walking around saying a few things to students while they primarily “talk to” the texts in front of them. Some students broke from their group and used their headphones to get better audio or asked one another questions about how to get certain features of Explain Everything to work. After my instruction, the majority of the class time for students is spent in relatively deep engagement with the text and rubric. Lucy and I both felt that Explain Everything was effective in getting the students to make meaningful analysis of the samples. Most groups were able to turn in complete videos by the end of the period and get to work on their rewrite. If they were not turned in during the period, due to processing/upload time in Explain Everything or Google Drive, groups made sure to get it done by the end of the day. Every single group turned in one by the end of the day.
It was easy to understand what I thought about the tech in this activity, but I also wanted students to let me know how they thought it went. Therefore, I created a survey for students to complete about the activity, as well as allowing students to be interviewed about this classwork for extra credit points. The survey can be seen here: “2015 – 2016 Student Survey #1 – Google Drive”.
Overall, students felt that this process of using Explain Everything in order to critique the writing samples was beneficial to helping them understand how to complete the Open Response rewrite. In fact, 83% of students felt that it made them think more deeply about the samples and their own writing. Many students said that they really like rereading in Explain Everything because it helps them “catch” their grammar mistakes and realize when their wording doesn’t necessarily make sense. The amount of positive responses I received was great, especially since I was unsure about what students would think. Here are some samples of the feedback I received from students (click to see full images):
I definitely plan on completing similar activities, video taping, and asking students to give me some feedback on how the tech may or may not help them with a classroom activity. Besides hopefully improving access and increasing the depth of knowledge to the CCSS, I will hopefully better develop my own metacognitive skills about my practices, as well as developing meta skills in my own students. It is clear that my students are willing to reflect on our classroom experiences, and they appreciate that I am asking them their opinions in order to make my own practice better. I have been videoing a lot, and I think they are finally getting warmed up to the idea.
Big thanks to Lucy for helping me with this one.