Grading with a timer!

I struggle with assessing writing in a timely way. Frequently, I feel guilt for letting my students' writing assignments pile up in my digital inbox. I'm always trying to find ways to increase my efficiency as a grader.

Today I tried something new. I stumbled upon the the (free) Online Meditation Timer and used it to pace myself while reading and responding to ten pieces of student writing that I was trying to finish within a prep period today at school.

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MEDIA APPEARANCE: National Writing Project Radio discussion with The Graide Network

Last spring I was part of a discussion related to effective writing feedback in the high school classroom. I joined host Tanya Parker along with The Graide Network's co-founder, Liz Nell, and one of their Graiders, Sumaiya Qazi, an undergraduate who -- through TGN -- assisted my students in their writing development through speedy and actionable feedback on their essays.

The 56-minute show is available through National Writing Project's website, and the transcript appears on The Graide Network's blog.

REVIEW: The Graide Network

The old piles were paper with staples that snagged, red ink that annoyingly jumped from the margin of page one to just the edge of the page behind it.  The new piles are digital: lists of essays to score, paragraphs to mark up, a notification that appears on your device to tell you that you have 30 new items to grade.  It's like "You Got Mail!" from hell.

 Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Like many high school English teachers, I often engage the complaint culture and express to my colleagues just how onerous grading and assessing student writing can be. We commiserate. We exaggerate. We go back to our "to do" holes.

 Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

We thought that going digital would make assessing and improving student writing faster and more efficient. This thinking, turns out, was wrong, at least for me.

As I sought ways to improve my feedback on student work, I tried everything: audio recordings of myself speaking as quickly as possible; Snagit screencasts of my play-by-play essay reading; annotations in Google Docs; narrative responses sent through email; rubrics uploaded to Turnitin; paper and pen.

And then something happened.

At ISTE 2016, I met one of the co-founders of The Graide Network, which "connect[s] middle and high school teachers with qualified teaching assistants to grade and provide feedback on student work." This semester I was determined to pilot their service in my AP English Language & Composition classes. I teach two sections.

 The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

When the service launched in September, I posted to The Graide Network an assignment for two periods of English: an upcoming 40-minute rhetorical analysis essay based on a prompt from a previous College Board administration of the AP exam. I uploaded the prompt, the rubric, essays already scored by the College Board with score rationales, and my notes to the Graiders ("Please spend 5 minutes on each essay, note two areas of strength and two areas for improvement"). The Graide Network offers packages of 20, 50, and 100 hours that could be distributed, for example, among members of an English Department. I figured this first double-set of essays would take around 5 hours or so. It did.

 The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graiders, undergraduate students who might read and evaluate my students' work, post mini-resumes, so you can seek a Graider who is interested in becoming a teacher in your content area.  The Graide Network can also use its matching formula to pair you off with a Graider, too. Within a day or two, I was matched with a Graider for each section of my course.  Five minutes. Two positives. Two negatives. By Tuesday, please and thank you.

 My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

On a Thursday, my students handwrote essay responses to the prompt. That afternoon the copy center took each stack of essays and scanned them into single PDFs. I uploaded these PDFs on a Thursday afternoon. By Monday morning, I had reports from my two Graiders that were astonishing in detail, accuracy, and care for my students. One Graider generated a Google Sheets report in which each student had a dedicated tab of feedback. 

 The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

 This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

 This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

The other Graider wrote 25 invididual letters to my students. The effect here was intimate and direct. Narrative feedback shows care for each writer's development.

 This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

Here is one letter my student received. I anonymize essays using student IDs for student privacy.

 The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

REVIEW: My first experience with The Graide Network was very positive.  The feedback was of high quality; it matched my expectations and specifications; it was way more timely than I have ever been with feedback on writing; and it showed my students how many people are invested in the shared mission of education.

My plan is to use The Graide Network once per quarter for two AP sections. I may run out of my 20 hours of allotted time, but the money in my view is well spent. Students can write more and receive more (and varied) feedback, and I can spend a bit more time planning great lessons. The Graide Network is no panacea for the great woes that overflow the English teacher's digital tote bag, but it provides another layer of feedback and some relief from that grading grind.

Top 10 ISTE takeaways for English teachers

ISTE always overwhelms me by its size and scope, and in Denver, I wanted to come home with tools and resources specific to teaching English and Language Arts.  Here are ten edtech tools and resources I think English teachers can leverage to increase engagement and deepen learning.  #1-2 are whimsical, #3-5 relate to classroom interaction, #6-7 deal with reading, and #8-10 help with writing and writing feedback.

1. Call Me Ishmael

Students brainstorm a book that's challenged or delighted them. They call a phone number. They leave a voicemail reflecting on the book's effect on them. These voicemails get turned into typewriter animations by the site's curator. Here's an example from a reader who was moved by The Catcher in the Rye.

2. Vocabulary Size Test

This 50-question vocabulary quiz of synonyms and antonyms attempts to gauge the overall size of a user's English lexicon. Students could complete this in 5-10 minutes as a reminder that our vocabularies will always grow with reading and speaking daily. I might use this as a precursor to Membean's diagnostic tool. Other free sites include Test Your Vocab and My Vocabulary Size. (Each varies in its methodology.)

 The author's results.

The author's results.

3. Docent EDU

This tool allows teachers to assign any reading passage (from a website) and interpose comprehension and reflection questions. Requires a subscription.

4. Quizizz

Much like Kahoot! and Quizlet Live, Quizizz is a game platform that allows a classroom of students in real time to answer questions on their devices. Quizizz would make for a great prelection tool. Teachers could create, say, a ten-question quiz on a newly introduced era of American Literature, and students would -- at their own rate -- complete the Quizizz. Teachers get real-time data (Excel spreadsheet of results) and students compete to ascend the leaderboard.

 A sample Quizizz that could be used as a pre- or post-test activity.

A sample Quizizz that could be used as a pre- or post-test activity.

5. TeachersPick (iOS app)

I've been using DecideNow to spin a wheel and randomly call on students during class discussions. TeachersPick is a digital popsicle-stick picker that does the same but with the ability to track who's been called on and who hasn't as well as add emojis to gauge engagement.

6. Books that Grow

If you have a struggling reader who might abandon a reading passage on account of its difficulty, and you had the opportunity to give her the same passage at incrementally easier reading levels, might you try it? Books that Grow take public domain works and scale their reading levels to engage all readers.  This webapp allows students to read MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," for example, in four versions, from level 2 to 4 to 6 to 8. The subscription model allows teachers to create classes and deploy reading assignments within classes. Students might start reading something at a Level 7 and then reread it at Level 9. The goal, it seems, is to get students invested in the content on the path to eventually engaging the primary source text.

 Screenshot from BooksThatGrow's Level 4 rendition of MLK's famous letter.

Screenshot from BooksThatGrow's Level 4 rendition of MLK's famous letter.

7. Common Lit

CommonLit.org is a free repository of texts grouped by theme or genre that can be distributed by teachers to students or read online. Each text has a contextual background preface, footnotes for challenging vocabulary, text-dependent comprehension questions for students to answer, and discussion prompts. I've seen quality fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and primary documents in the collection.

 Screenshot from the "Lady of Shalott" page on CommonLit.org. Notice the mouse-over footnotes, the gray box with the contextual background info, and the questions on the right.

Screenshot from the "Lady of Shalott" page on CommonLit.org. Notice the mouse-over footnotes, the gray box with the contextual background info, and the questions on the right.

8. StoryDice (iOS app) and Rory's Story Cubes (iOS app)

Both priced at $1.99, these apps gamify creative writing tasks.  Students roll the digital StoryDice to get icons representing characters, setting, and plot. Rory's version presents players with nine dice and up to 10 million combinations of scenarios to inspire creative quick writes or impromptu oral stories.

 Screenshot from the StoryDice app. Create a story from the face-up icons.

Screenshot from the StoryDice app. Create a story from the face-up icons.

 Screenshot from the Rory's Story Cubes app. Keep a few static and roll the rest for a plot twist or character revelation.

Screenshot from the Rory's Story Cubes app. Keep a few static and roll the rest for a plot twist or character revelation.

9. SAS Writing Reviser

This Google Docs add-on gives student writers a small suite of revising tools.  Perhaps your student is struggling to embrace the active voice. Maybe your students begin every sentence with a Subject-Verb opener.  Dangling modifiers? Lack of parallelism? SAS Writing Reviser highlights within a student's text in Google Docs areas for revision: economy, variety, power, and clarity. If you have students with Chromebooks, this is a great add-on.  SAS Writing Reviser is part of a larger application that works on iPads, too, called SAS Writing Navigator.

 Screenshot of a Google Doc with the SAS Writing Reviser add-on to the right. This student began most sentences with the Subject-verb opening. By highlighting these openings, SAS gives the student a visualization of the impact of monotonous syntax.

Screenshot of a Google Doc with the SAS Writing Reviser add-on to the right. This student began most sentences with the Subject-verb opening. By highlighting these openings, SAS gives the student a visualization of the impact of monotonous syntax.

10. The Graide Network

Imagine an undergraduate student who wants to become a teacher. That student volunteers to be your virtual teaching assistant who will grade student work according to your assignment protocols and your assessment rubric. The Graide Network provides teachers the ability to add another layer of substantive feedback to student writing. I imagine using this for early drafts of major writing assignments.

 Screenshot from the results of The Graide Network's end-of-year teacher survey.

Screenshot from the results of The Graide Network's end-of-year teacher survey.

Emoji Literacy, Face with Tears of Joy, Domino's, and Urban Dictionary

When I did my MA in Linguistics, I spent a year studying urbandictionary.com, a collaboratively authored online slang dictionary. While students and parents continue to use that resource as an arbiter of meaning for the evolving lexicon of the masses, emojis have since supplanted many slang words as daily topics for debate, but as with slang, emojis seem to evade codification.  Even Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year, the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji, did not produce universal understanding among my students.

"Face with Tears of Joy" emoji. Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year

Recently, when I asked my students to associate an emoji with the feeling they got when thinking about the American Dialect Society's 2015 word-of-the-year, singular they, they did not agree on the meanings for the various smiley faces.

Here is how students reacted when I queried them on polleverywhere.com. Notice where each student dropped their green pin (see what I did there with singular their?): sunglass face, smirky face, tongue-wag face.  Perhaps these are self-evident emojis, but others caused fierce debate. Is a droplet of water always a tear or always sweat or neither? Do emojis perspire due to emoji exertion or emoji despair?  Is there emoji existential panic?  Why do emojis fume with emoji nasal blasts?  Do purple devil emojis only get the benefit of two emotions?

 polleverywhere.com

polleverywhere.com

Some distinctions in meaning are moot. Does the red face mean 'angry' or 'perturbed' or 'fuming'? Is a rosy-cheeked kissy face caused by puppy love or a passion more amorous?

But other emojis, my students demonstrated, demand scrutiny and debate.  Is an upturned smile always sinister? Is a flat mouth neutral -- that is, halfway between a smile and a frown -- or something else entirely?

To solve this mystery, I engaged -- of course -- Domino's Pizza.  In 2004, it was a student who turned me on to urbandictionary.com ("Mr. Damaso, you're in the dictionary.").  A decade later, two students came into class early to give me a playing card deck, a stack of cards imprinted with the Domino's logo depicting single emojis or sometimes strings of emojis with corresponding definitions and usages on the back.  I guess I'm turning to giant pizza retailers now for all of my pictographic standardization and codification needs.  Yes, there's the Emoji Dictionary and Emojipedia and Wikimoji, but I'm going with Domino's because Domino's.

Domino's reports on its companion website that demand was great for these decks, and they're all out. (Don't worry: You can still print your own.)  The deck promotes "Emoji Literacy," but in the end, of course, pizza sales become the clear objective of this promotion. Apparently, there are many ways to eat pizza and many reasons why.

 Left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.'

Here are a few of my favorites in the Emoji Literacy deck from left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.' 

Using Padlet to Collect and Showcase Students' Creative Writing (parody poems of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams in conjunction with This American Life)

During a grueling poetry research project, students need occasional breaks, so I give them poetry "snacks."  Early in the project I hook students on Def Poetry Jam with Gemini's "Poetic Bloodline" and Steve Coleman's "I Wanna Hear a Poem." We watch Billy Collins recite "Litany" before viewing a 3-year-old boy from Tucson do the same.  We talk about National Poem-in-your-Pocket Day.  I encourage them to savor language as Stephen Fry suggests even while we scrutinize, analyze, perform scansion, count syllables, etc.

Period 6 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.

One of my favorite micro-lessons in poetry begins with the "Mistakes Were Made" episode of This American Life and ends with emulation/parody poems written in the style of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams.  The episode highlights the fact that the poem has rich anecdotal weight, a clear structure, and a satisfying #sorrynotsorry finish.

The episode features a dozen or so parody or spoof emulations of the original Williams poem.  I point out to students the basic structure of the poem.

Stanza 1: The Sin -- The transgression, malfeasance, act, wronging

Stanza 2: The Deepening -- The context that makes the transgression even worse than first suspected

Stanza 3: The False Apology -- The #sorrynotsorry approach to acknowledging the sin but often through rationalization or downplaying

 

After the segment (Act II, "You're Willing to Sacrifice Our Love" starts at 49:43), I ask students to write one or two or three of these false apology paraody poems. Since the examples they hear are often darkly humorous, ironic, or otherwise heavy, many of the student pieces match.

WARNING: Some of the poems by NPR correspondents engage adult themes and mature humor and may not be suitable for all student audiences.

After 5-8 minutes, I ask students to post one of their poems to a Padlet from a link in the daily plan.  Now, they can see the poems of their peers, displayed like sticky notes, much in the same way William Carlos Williams purportedly left his "This is Just to Say" note for his wife in the kitchen.  In Padlet, students can paste in their poem text or insert an image. Some students screenshot their work and modify it to look like a kitchen counter note.

As poems surface on the Padlet wall, students read each other's work and nominate the poems that should be read aloud. A benefit of Padlet over Google Docs in this case use is the form factor of the adjustable entries. Students can resize the boxes, and this encourages experiments in line breaks to increase readability. Teachers can move notes and prioritize certain poems as if rearranging stickies on a bulletin board.

I can see many applications for Padlet. Since it supports image upload, students could quickly share in bulletin board style art they made, photos they took, memes they generated, etc.  The ability to rate/score comment on another student's work would improve the app.

Period 1 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.


5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish an Annual Magazine

At the annual Arizona Interscholastic Press Association fall convention at Arizona State University on October 27, 2014, I gave a talk to high school literary magazine editors about ways to engage their campus communities all year long.  The presentation below, "5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish and Annual Magazine," highlights the ways the Brophy Literary & Arts Magazine has tried to make itself ubiquitous on campus. We...