Get Insights before you Read?
As a former English teacher, I’ve spent many hours over many weekends putting feedback on students’ writings. As time-consuming as this was, I knew it was important. Among the best things that came from the experience of reading a class set of texts was the shortlist of notes I jotted down when I noticed some common issues or skill gaps. These could range from the correct use of semi-colons to strategies for using transitions between paragraphs or the more subtle arts of drawing inferences from quotations rather than just repeating their main ideas.
As bleary-eyed as I might be, I returned to school enthusiastically, knowing that I had specific ways to help students improve their writing. I never dreamt that someday I would be able to get such insights and examples without reading a single papers. But with Scribo, you can! Let me explain…
Insights and Work Samples > Possibilities for Targeted Teaching
As soon as students have submitted their digital texts (from any sources such as their hard drive, Google Docs, Word or even PDFs), you click on the report button. This sets Scribo into action and it applies over 30 analytics and AI routines across every word, sentence ad paragraph for each text. Imagine how low it would take you to do such a thing. Scribo typically does it in 3-4 minutes for the whole class. There are literally dozens of insights and text samples teachers can use, but here are my favourites so far:
- Quickly see how “on-topic” students are. If many students haven’t addressed the topic deeply or broadly enough, you can have a quick brainstorming session on how to address more aspects of the topic.
- Sometimes the number of paragraphs is significant, one click sorts the class list by paragraph count. A quick look at those with too many or too few paragraphs provides a teachable moment with anonymous sample texts.
- Explore the range of vocabulary used by students and see some of the “fancier” words in the very context of the sentences in which they were used. This is a great assist when students are turning to the Thesaurus and might need help refining their understanding and usage of the words.
- Cohesive words are what Scribo calls conjunctions, connectives and transitions. A very handy “Cohesive Explorer” divides a list of hundreds of cohesives into common and advanced groupings. Common cohesives are the basic connectives, whereas Advanced cohesives connote such advanced ideas as concessions, clarifications and inferencing. Once students have learned the basic structure of body paragraphs in informative or persuasive essays, using the Cohesive Explorer really empowers them to show their more sophisticated thinking by prompting them with possible alternatives.
If you haven’t tried Scribo yet, get in touch. We have a great sandbox site where you can try out all of Scribo’s features with a range of pre-loaded texts.
Our Real Goal
To begin with the obvious and inarguable: we want students to keep getting better at writing. Because our job is to help students to keep getting better at all aspects of their education. If we accept the premise that our goal is to improve student writing, why not explore new approaches that can reduce the burden while increasing effectiveness?
Let Software Do…
My mantra, as a devout English teacher, writer and long-time Ed Tech entity is simple and clear: “Let software do what software can so teachers do what only teachers can.” Can software analyse student writing as well as a trained teacher in writing? Of course not. But everyday we all rely on things that software can do, such as spellcheck our work and facilitate editing. Such functionality is second nature to us. It is also about 30 years old. As quickly as technology has changed in that time, especially in regard to crunching data into profiles, noticing patterns, and comparing disparate bits of data, can’t we imagine that the science of text analysis has evolved? It has. In little steps. Little, because communicating and language are among the most complex things we humans do.
The argument against machine reading of students’ writing is that no computational reading of a text can critique, let alone notice, such things as irony and poetic intent. Nor can it reward a particularly well-turned phrase. When we humans engage in our “labour of love”, scribbling detailed feedback on students’ papers, we are often looking for just such things. Unfortunately, we inevitably confront repetitious and limited word choice, poorly structured sentences and paragraphs that lack integrity. Things that we would hope students addressed in earlier drafts of their work. Drafts?
What Software can, so…
Interestingly, it was also 30 years ago that the Writing Process captured the interests of university researchers, writers and teachers. We noted that “expert writers” did things that “novices” did not, such as pre-writing, drafting, getting feedback, revising and editing for publication. We recognised truth in the statement that “good writing is re-writing.” Fast-forward to our present and this wisdom seems to have been squashed by the daily mountain of other tasks every teacher confronts. Reading and grading the stack of required tasks in a curriculum is burdensome enough; who would ask for more? Thus, how many students at almost any level of schooling engage in regular cycles of drafting, feedback, revision, feedback and polishing? It’s safe to say, “probably not as many as we’d like,” knowing that such approaches not only develop better writing, but, in fact, can develop writers.
Teachers do what only Teachers Can
I suggest that removing some of the burden of the writing process as well as providing rich analytics and resources related to each teacher’s students is where technology can help. The fact that software can’t help developing writers craft ironic, poetic or poignant prose, doesn’t mean that it can’t help them with word choice, the mechanics of sentences or more sophisticated paragraphing and text structures. The way I see it, software can help students take ownership of their writing to the extent that when they submit their work to teachers, it represents their best efforts and warrants critical assessment. Again:
Let Software Do…
What Software can, so…
Teachers do what only Teachers Can
1 – Grade with confidence
Grading a stack of student writings can be intimidating. You want the marks to be accurate and fair, whether it’s the first text you read or the last. You also know students want a clear idea of why writings get different grades. Scribo makes all this easier and increases teachers confidence with tools for moderating grades, comparing writings and reviewing summaries.
2 – Make Feedback Fast & Effective
Teacher feedback is one of the most powerful ways to improve student writing. It can also take lots of time. Even more disappointing is when all that effort disappears or is under- valued by students. Scribo speeds up the feedback process with talk-to-text and the ability to send comments to individuals or the class. All with one click or less. Best of all, every piece of feedback is collected and builds a rich picture of student ability and growth over time.
3 – Get data-informed insights on Students’ Skills
Most teachers have an idea what students need to do to improve their writing. Often it’s some like using more varied sentences, expanding vocabulary or better structuring their paragraphs. Scribo quickly analyses texts across these and other aspects so teachers’ can combine their instincts with data insights to confidently focus on areas for improvement.
4 – Target Teaching Before Reading
Teachers grade student writings for many reasons. One of the most valuable outcomes is the collected insights gained by reading a class set of texts. Teachers learn about student strengths as well as areas for improvement. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get these insights without reading all those papers?This is EXACTLY what Scribo does for all teachers whose students compose extended texts. Within minutes of feeding a class set of writings into Scribo, it identifies strengths and skill gaps as well as generates a full suite of interactive resources you can use for targeted teaching. Now you have samples of student work that illustrate the very teaching points you want to make.
5 – Save Time at Every Step
What are the steps of your writing process: drafting, peer feedback, targeted instruction, grading, feedback, revision? Scribo simplifies, speeds up, and makes each step more effective. Teachers can reclaim precious time by using Scribo for one or all these steps.