I dreamed that technology would make me superfluous -- that programs and apps would seamlessly teach my students to be better readers and writers. (I even dreamed that grading programs would provide feedback making my job significantly easier.) However, the truth is that technology is just a delivery system. I still had to design the lessons, engage the students and grade the assignments. The biggest impact was in organizing writing lessons; Google Classroom provided a place where students could actually see each step in the writing process. They also had access to models and samples from their peers. Technology didn't make the process easier, but having access to technology and a learning coach allowed me to keep scaffolding the writing process until all of my students showed significant gains.
MODELING QUOTE ANALYSIS
Click here for link
- Include an assertion that includes the topic to be discussed.
- Provide context(what is happening at the time) and the speaker
- Embed a concrete detail – you don’t have to use the entire quote provided but make sure you include enough to prove the validity of your analysis.
- Provide the analysis/commentary
Once students had written their own commentary and responded to their peers’ commentary, the group used their experiences to write the “perfect” analysis. After their collaboration - students analyzed their quotes in front of the class before they presented their written commentary. Their classmates took notes, and each student wrote a second analytical chunk on the quote of their choosing.
Flow Chart (via Crystal Kirch)
REFLECTION: Using technology - students were able to practice their writing skills in multiple ways. What I appreciated most about this Verso assignment was that students got immediate feedback on their own writing. They had an opportunity to share their analytical knowledge and work collaboratively. Too often writing happens solo without an audience and with delayed feedback. Using Verso allowed (forced an immediacy)that afforded students an opportunity to ask questions, to respond to writing, to showcase their writing prowess (or get help to reach some semblance of writing prowess). Yes, this all could have been done without technology, but what made the lesson most effective was that students had to share and had to talk about writing. The more we as teachers can engineer these kinds of conversations the more we can help students internalize the process. The hard part for me was allowing sufficient class time for students to complete the assignment. Part of the reason that writing is such a solitary experience is that it's typically assigned and students can efficiently complete it at home - freeing class time for other activities. However, if I was serious about improving student writing - I needed to skip some of the other activities and devote sufficient class time to helping students master the writing process.
While the Verso activity provided an opportunity for students to practice their writing and receive valuable and immediate feedback - it hadn't really addressed my goal of reducing the achievement gap. With my non-honors students I continued to provide models and frames and practice. Lots and lots of practice. And still, the difference remained stark. As we approached the last response to literature essay before the summative assessment, I again pulled quotes and my students participated in a Commentary Clash. As with the Verso Activity - students were grouped to write collaboratively, but this time they wrote on the same quote with their analysis available for all to see. After all the analysis was completed, the class selected the commentary that best analyzed the specifics of the quote. The competition engendered some adrenaline but the real learning came with the discussion of why some commentary worked better than others. The quotes I selected were all appropriate textual evidence for the essay prompt to be assigned the following week.
- Quote is displayed on screen.
- One member selected as leader
- Group collaborates to write an analytical chunk (Context, CTA, Purpose)
- Read other groups’ chunk, pick the one that provides the best adheres to the analytical conventions. You may not select your own analysis.
- Process continues.
Note that I included the link to the Padlet walls for all of my classes. Students, in my non-honors classes, had access to the analysis of their peers. All students had written commentary for the same quotes and now had examples available for them to read, discuss, and imitate.
Sample Response to Commentary Clash
While the hope was that by second semester all students would be writing proficient essays - I still had reluctant writers who couldn't/wouldn't produce any writing. Working collaboratively allowed for even the most intentional non-learner to produce something, and when they sat to write their essay the following week - they had pre-written commentary ready to go. The ability to use technology afforded my students the best opportunity for them to complete a proficient essay. Unfortunately, technology is only a tool, and so not all students completed the essay but those who did showed significant improvement.
This year as a tech fellow, I often felt like Sisyphus pushing that large boulder up the hill. And every time I felt like I reached a plateau - some kind of tech breakthrough - there came another hill. My learning curve was long and slow and sometimes painful, but my coach kept encouraging me and asking questions and helping to make connections. I gained a modicum of courage and self-sufficiency. Instead of running through the lesson endlessly and making my TAs log in to help me address any unforeseen problems - I started just to experiment with lessons, to steal ideas from peers and apply them into my own lessons. Nothing bad happened which strengthened my confidence, With this new-found confidence, I hope to continue helping students find their voices and reach some level of writing proficiency. However, writing alone does not make a writer; there's a reading - writing connection. Next year, I plan on adding a focus on reading using Actively Learn, EdPuzzle, and Kami to help students read more analytically.
This journey has been tough, but the rewards were well worth overcoming my own insecurities and tech phobias. I thank and appreciate my coach and my students for their patience. Whenever I got stuck - there were scores of people willing to help. This is not a journey I could have embarked on by myself. Thank you to all who made it possible.