Jason Manning, BHP Teacher
New York, USA
Note from BHP Team: You may have heard – BHP Score got a makeover this year! (Read more about that announcement here.) The free essay-scoring service now allows grading on all ten unit Investigations! Plus, students get formative feedback as they write, which opens up all kinds of possibilities for structuring writing tasks in your classroom.
Writing an essay can be like going to the dentist for many students. For teachers, the thought of grading a stack of poorly constructed run-on sentences can feel like a drill bit grinding against your teeth. However, despite the anxiety either experience can cause, in most cases you’re happy you completed the task. So, this past school year when I was offered an opportunity to work with a system that would help engage my students in the writing process and provide me with a tool for giving quality feedback, I jumped at the chance.
Revision Assistant is a writing program that provides instant feedback for students as it helps them construct an organized essay. After using it during this academic school year, I found that Revision Assistant helped create a culture of excitement in my classroom, an excitement I’d never seen when assigning an essay. This past year also provided me with some reflections that would be valuable insights for any teacher interested in using the program. Here are my top five takeaways after using Revision Assistant.
- Modeling the system ahead of time is key. Whenever you begin a new program, it’s important to explain what the program does, how it works, and what it does not do. I spent one full period setting up the students with their access codes, creating and the recording their passwords, and then explaining the inner workings of the system, ensuring my students understood all of the jargon unique to the system.
- Set signal check parameters. Once the students understand what a signal check is, they’re going to hit that button like they’re swiping through Snapchat. In their quest for instant gratification, students will correct or modify one sentence and hit signal check, or they’ll change one descriptive word, and then hit signal check again. I found that this can cause frustration and confusion because the system isn’t built for that type of feedback. The signal checks work better the more students write. So, I figured out that it was best to tell the students that they can signal check once in the middle of class and then again at the end of class.
- Let kids argue with the feedback. Once your students are comfortable with how the signal checks work, they’ll begin to analyze their feedback and they’ll start thinking critically about their own writing. The feedback won’t always be right; or at least, it won’t be what kids think they deserve. This will give you a truly powerful teaching moment and will help you develop the role you plan in the classroom while using Revision Assistant. When a student approached me and said that the “system is claiming I’m not using enough evidence, but I’ve provided evidence here,” I realized that I was taking on a support and guidance role in the student’s writing process.
- Celebrate signal-bar progress! Every classroom will have a range of writing abilities. The system is designed in a way where a strong writer might reach three signal bars in an area and a weaker writer who might only be at one bar both have room to grow. In the past, that strong writer might not have received much attention from me because at first glance it would look like all of the skills are there and they will do well on any writing assessment. However, now you can push that student to improve by challenging them to reach for that fourth bar! As for the student who typically struggles with writing, you’ll see them light up when that signal bar moves from one to two bars. Celebrate both like it’s the Fourth of July!
- Don’t fall into the grading trap. Inevitably, a student will ask, “Is this going to be graded?” The answer to this question can make or break your experience with Revision Assistant. If you answer “yes,” and try to convert each signal check into points, or you tell students that the last signal check will determine their grade, you’re not only missing the point of the program, you’ll lose students’ cooperation. You have to sell them on the idea that this will help them improve their writing and strengthen their skills, which will prepare them for the day when a writing assessment will be graded.
At the end of the day, the writing process might still be like going to the dentist, but Revision Assistant is a tool that will help make it more tolerable. Your students will strengthen their writing skills, you’ll give better feedback, and you and your students will have conversations you might not have ever had before. When the year is over, I can’t guarantee you’ll have whiter teeth, but I can say with confidence that you’ll be smiling.
About the author: Jason started teaching Big History in 2014 as a replacement for his school’s ninth grade global history curriculum. He has two sections of the course, reaching about 50 students total.