Data – Looking at writing samples of ELL students

Research question:  How can I use technology to increase ELL speaking and writing skills?


Collecting Data:  Once I have collected student writing samples I need to decide what information I am going to look at.  


Students:  I decide to look at writing samples of 5 level 3-4 ESL students, 2 of whom are on IEPs.  


What is the Purpose of my Research?


Feeling a little overwhelmed I decided to focus primarily on the purpose of using information I gather to inform and improve my teaching.  My question “to increase skills” is very vague.  In order to look at data I need to be more specific about what this means.  How can I focus on what to look at in writing skills?  What do I THINK I taught my students and did they show they learned it?


Over the course of the year we have focused on 3 genres:  Narrative, Opinion, and Literary Analysis.  I decided just to focus on Narrative.


What have we taught – and what did students learn?


Over the course of the year as we teach narrative our focus is on teaching students to include “DAFT” – Dialogue, Action, Feelings, and Thoughts.   In addition we worked on adding descriptions and onomatopoeia.    Also, I want some way to measure the use of more academic vocabulary.    And I decide to count the number of sentences students use.


The Data:  


Project 1:   Writing a section of the story of Goldilocks from the Goldilocks point of view, after doing oral “Interviews with Goldilocks” on in Book Creator on the IPADs.   This was a hand-written assignment.


Student Dialogue Actions Feelings Thoughts Onomonopeia Description Sentences Vocab
A* 3 5 10 12 3
B 1 7 2 6 17 10
C* 1 6 6 6 4
D 2 1 8 12 3
E* 5 2 5 8 7


Project 2:   Rewriting a Fairy Tale from a new perspective.  There was no oral activity before writing.  This was a hand-written assignment.  


Dialogue Actions Feelings Thoughts Onomonopeia Description Sentences Vocab
A* 18 2 2 2 26 6
B 3 9 1 11 6
C* 3 13 2 2 25 5
D 4 2 2 1 4 18 9
E* 2 6 3 1 1 13 7


Reactions to the Data

  • More writing included Actions
  • There was more description in the first activity that included a speaking activity.
  • There was more dialogue in the second activity
  • More than half of the sentences do not include academic vocabulary.  
  • Even though we talked a lot about Onomonopeia, students used it very little.
  • There was an increase in Dialogue in the second assignment.  The student who used significantly more dialogue had a lot more sentences overall.  

Next Steps

Use technoloty to Increase use of DAFT

  • Use the next narrative task to have students use Chromebooks to type so we can focus on revision more and include DAFT as a rubric.

Use technology to Increase Academic Vocabulary

  • Find ways to provide examples of academic vocabulary students can use – an example might be providing a word bank on a Google classroom document for writing so it is easily visible.
  • Narrative writing about a Social Studies topic may provide more opportunities for strong vocabulary than Narrative writing about Fairy Tales.   
  • Try using Google Read Write to say sentences with vocabulary before writing.

In which I plan what I think will be an amazing lesson – and I learn more than the kids do.

I continue to ask the question:  How can I use technology help ESL kids speak more in order to improve their writing?   

So… I planned to teach, what I was sure would be an amazing lesson  😉

Lesson Objectives:

Day 1:  Students will create their own food chains.  Students will record 2 sentences about each picture that describe the plant or animal’s role in the food chain.  

Day 2:  Writing task:  Write a paragraph to describe the food chain that you created.  Use buddy sentences to describe the role that each plant or animal plays in the food chain.       

 Students will use revise their writing to be sure there are at least 2 sentences for each plant and animal.


If I had written them up, these would have been my NEW technology objectives:


Students will:

*Set up “Clever” on their homepage

*Open a document on Classroom, copy it, rename it, and use that copy

*Click and drag pictures into a table

*Add Google Read-Write to toolbar

*Highlight a picture and leave a voice note comment.  Insert the comment into document

*After typing, use the cursor and tracking pad to revise by adding sentences to writing


And I discovered:   I bit off way more than I could chew for both myself and my students.  

I don’t know much about technology but can envision what I would like it to be able to help me with.  That, I have learned, can be a dangerous approach.  I need to learn what hardware and software can do, and then figure out ways to best use it with my students.  I also need to learn how to teach students gradually.  Too much at once will only overwhelm them, and make us all lose sight of the content.


Think about lesson goals

What is the content I’m trying to teach?  What technology would I like to teach?   If what the technology they are learning is part of the lesson goals, I would be more likely to slow it down.  In the lesson I did, students had to click and drag pictures into a food chain.  They had not yet learned to manipulate the tracking pad on the Chromebooks.  If I had taught a lesson on that, or had the computer teacher teach that at another time beforehand, it would not have taken 45 minutes to do what would have taken 5 if they had not been using technology.  All of the technology objectives I listed above were NEW things my students needed to learn.  Whoa!   Way too much.


Take baby steps

What technology can I use that students already know how to use?  What is one small addition I can add to that technology?  Will it be something that will be useful for the future?    It would be great to backwards plan.  What do I want my students to use technology for in the end of my unit?  How can I gradually teach them to get there?  In addition to clicking and dragging (which I mistakenly thought would be easy) I was introducing the students to Google Read Write and Recording using the Speech Notetaker.  They had never used any of these before.


Preteach a few difficult technology concepts to kids who need extra help – and kids who can help me help other kids.

I pulled a few kids to preteach – some higher kids that could help others and some lower kids who would need more small group instruction.  This helped, but it only happened because the classroom teacher made time for me and I had a prep period right before the class.  This also allowed me to see, and plan for, what the pitfalls of my lesson would be.


Make decisions based on the technology I have available to me

Chromebooks are good for some things, IPADs are good for other things.  It would be great if we had both for all grades to have the flexibility.  In the meantime, why spend time on clunky recording apps in a Chromebook?


Make sure I am not using too many apps that I am not yet comfortable with

I made a big mistake using Google Classroom in that I set the assignment up so that all students had the same document, and then needed to make their own copy. (For some reason the option to make a copy for each student did not appear for me so I didn’t realize it was a problem.) Some students used the master copy instead – ugh.  It was only later that I discovered I could have set up Google Classroom for each student to have their own document.


Persist anyway

I wanted to give up and throw the whole lesson plan (and maybe the Chromebook cart as well…) out the window.  But I kept going.  In the long run, I kept trying, testing my improvements on students before each of what became a 3 day (instead of 2 day) lesson.  The kids also persevered even when documents got messed up, recordings got lost, and they weren’t sure how to share with me (or get through the new district login – bad timing for that!).  In the end we ended up completing our objective, and I think kids were proud of the results!


Student work

Here is a sample of a student’s final writing product.  In addition to the writing below, the student had a color food chain with voice recorded comments about each section of the food chain.     This ESL level 4 student was able to practice speaking about the food chain by recording in Google Read Write as part of his prewriting.   
Student Work:

  Animals in the food chain are connected.The sun gives energy to the grass.The grass is a producer. A producer is a plant that makes its own food. The plant is eaten by a buffalo. A buffalo is a primary consumer. A primary consumer is a plant or a animal that gets eaten by something else. The buffalo gives energy to the wolf. A wolf is a secondary consumer. A secondary consumer is the second animal that eats a plant or a animal. When the wolf dies the wolf gets eaten by a earthworm. A earthworm is a decomposer. A decomposer is something that eats a dead animal. A carnivore is something that only eats meat. A herbivore is something that only eats plants. A organism is a single living thing.This is how a food chain works.