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Don’t Teach with Grammarly®

Keep Grammarly out of the Classroom

Don’t Teach with Grammarly

I hesitate to summarize what Grammarly® does because everyone has seen one or more of its ubiquitous ads. Most of us have clicked “Skip Ad” hundreds of times on YouTube to avoid the Grammarly® advertisement. But let’s allow a quick explanation for the uninitiated: The Grammarly® Chrome extension and Microsoft plugin automatically detects and helps correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and style mistakes (in the premium version) in writing. Sometimes a short instructional lesson is included. The new version also provides a plagiarism detector. Two versions are available: the free program with limited utility and the premium program with advanced features.

My take is that the artificial intelligence largely does what it claims to do. And I would say it catches more errors than the Microsoft Word® spell and grammar checker and Google Tools. Moreover, were I writing for my business (I am), I would use the extension and recommend it to others as one tool in their writing toolbox. In fact, I ran this article through the free version of Grammarly® and it caught both spacing errors and a few typos. Thanks! I happily ignored its displeasure with my intentional fragments.

So, if Grammarly® does what it advertises, why shouldn’t teachers teach with Grammarly® and encourage their students to use the program with their writing assignments?

To buy-in to my advice, teachers will need to somewhat buy-in to my premise. I freely admit that not all will. My premise is that teachers have stuff to teach that kids need to learn and that our students simply don’t know what they don’t know, but teachers do, should, or could know to help students improve their writing. Following are my five reasons not to teach with Grammarly®.

1. Don’t teach with Grammarly® because it promotes incidental learning.

Merriam-Webster provides these synonyms for incidental: accidental, casual, chance, fluky, fortuitous, inadvertent, unintended, unintentional, unplanned, unpremeditated, unwitting. I align my teaching (and parenting) much more with the incidental antonyms: calculated, deliberate, intended, intentional, planned, premeditated (https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/incidental).

Now this is not to say that we don’t learn incidentally. We certainly do. When a child touches a hot stove, she learns to avoid doing so in the future. However, when a parent and child are standing in front of a hot stove, I expect the grown-up who knows better, to say, “Don’t touch that hot stove,” instead of waiting for incidental learning to take place.

My point is that using Grammarly® to teach your students to improve their writing reinforces incidental learning. Incidental learning makes no connection to prior learning. Incidental learning limits learning to what students have known, have experienced, and what they write. Incidental learning keeps writers in the boxes of their own previous experiences. It’s Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

My take is that teachers should largely dictate what students learn in their writing to get them out of their boxes. Teacher expertise in how to teach writing should drive instruction, not the student writing itself. Teachers know what students know and don’t yet know; teachers know how to build upon previous instruction and extend learning; teachers have the informed judgment to teach Paula this and Percy that; teachers can be selective, prioritizing what needs to be learned and what can wait for another day. Teachers have a plan to get student writing where it needs to go. A teacher would never lead students on a treasure hunt, walking willy-nilly in search of incidental clues to where the treasure is located. Good writing teachers know how to read the treasure map and guide their students to the big red X step by step.

2. Don’t teach with Grammarly® because it limits assessment data.

When students use Grammarly®, they will have fewer writing errors, but this comes with a significant cost. Students’ rough and revised drafts are important sources of formative assessment. By using Grammarly®, teachers will not see the patterns of mistakes that their students are making. The Grammarly® feedback is limited to numerical data e.g., number of grammatical and number of spelling errors. Because no record of writing issues is maintained, the teacher will not be able to identify issues which need to be taught to the class as a whole or to the individual student.

I’ve read numerous testimonials from teachers claiming that requiring students to use Grammarly® saves them grading and correction time, and that their students’ use of the program frees them up to concentrate on writing content, not the trivial issues of typos, grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling. Yes, reading a paper with these errors can set off English teachers’ collective obsessive compulsive desires to fox what is broken; however, this comes with the job description and does require feedback to change student behavior and work ethic. The ostrich head-in-the-sand approach that assumes that these deficits do not inhibit writing (a false assumption) and aren’t important to master have largely been discounted in writing research.

3. Don’t teach with Grammarly® because it reinforces the fallacy that writing is about being correct or incorrect.

Grammarly® does a fine job at error detection and correction. However, its limitations and scoring reinforce the notion that if writing contains no errors it must be good. Anyone who has tried no calorie ice cream knows that this is not the case.

The quantitative scores that the program assign for writing submissions are a poor substitute for balanced scoring rubrics, and teachers who use the Grammarly® scores as feedback or as part of the students’ assignment grades have noticed how students adapt. Less risk-taking in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. Less complex syntax. Fewer complex sentences. Less creativity.

Besides, teachers know that good writers often intentionally disobey rules of grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure. Writing is both science and art. English has flexible grammar and mechanics rules to meet the needs of its writers, but artificial intelligence is not helpful in contextualizing usage. For example, serial (Oxford) commas are demanded in certain writing genres and style guides, but are unacceptable in others. The rigid rules of computers often need to be adapted to human variables. One example should suffice from author Joel Burrows.

The first classic I threw into Grammarly was chapter one of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And oh boy, Grammarly® did not like that. The program gave this chapter a woeful performance score of 69/100. The performance score “calculates the accuracy level of your document based on the total word count and the number and types of writing issues detected.” Grammarly informed me that this chapter contained 118 spelling mistakes, 160 cases of incorrect punctuation, and 44 grammatical errors. The app also claimed that this masterpiece has 28 “wordy” sentences – which Grammarly® notates as “writing issues” (https://thewritersbloc.net/we-need-talk-about-grammarly).

Teachers who encourage or require students to use Grammarly® often say that they are equipping students to write independently and use valuable tools. However, students tend to over-rely on the editing features of this program and unquestioningly accept corrections (even when they are ill-advised).

Finally, although corrective writing feedback can certainly be valuable, Grammarly® is extremely black and white in its corrections. Some teachers have gone so far as to describe its grammar and style comments as “arrogant.”

4. Don’t teach with Grammarly® because it creates lazy and tech-reliant writers.

Good teachers know that doing too much for a student is doing too little to help them learn. Teachers who heavily edit rough and final drafts, like copy editors, spoon feed students and make them teacher-dependent. Teachers who require students to use Grammarly® are merely transferring that dependence to a machine. Grammarly® is addictive. Students begin to rely upon Grammarly® and its suggestions and stop thinking for themselves.

For example, when a student continues to write “beleive” and can simply click the correction in Grammarly® or other spell checkers, the student will never learn to apply the before e spelling rule. Correcting is not teaching. Now don’t get me wrong, I do favor some corrective response, but only when coupled with in-depth instruction and accountability for learning.

In writing, practice makes perfect. Revision and editing are the tough stuff of writing practice, but Grammarly® and its quick fixes reduce and limit that practice. Using Grammarly® to correct spelling, mechanics, usage, and grammar robs students of the learning experience. When something is “done for them,” they don’t have to know why the issue needs correction or revision. So, students will continue to make the same errors in future compositions. Plus, using Grammarly is a poor substitute for proofreading. Grammarly® can only check what’s there. It can’t proofread for content inconsistencies, connections, train of lot, line of argument, omissions, etc.

5. Don’t teach with Grammarly® because it provides only minimal writing feedback and some of that is incomprehensible for students. Let’s take a look at an example from the Grammarly® website. We’ll focus on the first sentence: “If you would have told me a year ago that today I would have finished a marathon, I would have laughed.”

Grammarly Example from Website

As I’ve noted, the focus of Grammarly® is error detection and correction, and in this example it does a good job highlighting and correcting the writing issue. Much better than either Microsoft Word® or Google Tools:

However, the Grammarly® explanation of the writing issue is scant and largely incomprehensible for most students. The phrasing, “unreal conditional” is confusing and it assumes knowledge of the conditional mood that most students do not have as prior knowledge, but do need to learn. Additionally, the suggestion, “Consider changing the verb have to a different form” assumes a sophisticated understanding of not only verb tense, but also of verb forms. Correct advice, but not helpful advice. Students won’t learn much, if anything, about the conditional mood and forms of the “to have” verb from the Grammarly® writing feedback. Would your students take the time to google “conditional” and “to have verb forms” to understand the writing feedback? No, they will simply accept the correction, had, and move on. Students will make the same mistake the next time (which may be on the next writing assignment or weeks later). Simply put, Grammarly® does not teach.

The hope is that over time and repeated reminders of their errors, students will begin to internalize and produce error-free writing. Teachers know that repetition does not always produce learning, especially when the repetition is not immediately practiced. Baseball pitchers can throw thousands of pitches, but will never improve until a pitching coach carefully and skillfully analyzes the pitcher’s mechanics, suggests and models adjustments, and observes and provides feedback on the correct mechanics in repetitive practice.

Teachers know that anything worth teaching is worth teaching well. Effective writing instruction requires deep learning and significant practice.

So, if you’ve bought into my original premise “that teachers have stuff to teach that kids need to learn and that our students simply don’t know what they don’t know, but teachers do, should, or could to help students improve their writing,” and a few of my arguments against teaching with Grammarly®, you may be interested in a writing feedback tool that keeps you, the teacher, fully in charge of your writing instruction.

e-Comments

The e-Comments Chrome Extension

You can save time and provide better Google docs annotations with quality canned responses. The e-Comments Chrome Extension allows you to insert hundreds of Common Core-aligned writing feedback comments into your Google docs and slides. Comments are completely customizable. Add and save your own, including audio and video files. Our floating e-Comments menu contains four writing feedback comment sets for grades 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, and College/Workplace. You can also add your own comment sets for different classes and assignments. Read our Quick Start User Guide or watch our comprehensive video tutorial to get grading or editing in just minutes!
Download the free trial version of e-Comments on the Chrome Web Store. Use any of hundreds of canned teaching comments or create your own, including audio and video, to provide actionable writing feedback with accountability on student writing. These comments don’t just identify writing errors; they explain the writing issues and offer problem-solving approaches for revision. So much better than Grammarly®, Microsoft Word®, or Google Tools. Need an example? With one click on the floating e-Comments menu (look below right), a teacher might choose to insert all or part of the following comment (look below left) into a student’s Google doc or slide to address a student’s overuse of the “to be” verb. Now, that’s a writing tool that helps you teach and your students learn!
e-Comments Options

e-Comments Menu

e-Comments

















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e-Comments Writing Feedback

Google Comment Bank v. e-Comments

Save time and provide better writing feedback with the e-Comments Chrome Extension. Insert hundreds of canned comments from four different comment levels into Google docs and slides with just one click from the pop-up e-Comments menu. Each instructional comment identifies, explains, and shows your writers how to revise a specific writing issue in stories, essays, and reports. These comprehensive comments don’t simply flag errors; they help your writers learn.

Check out the FAQs:

  • Can I edit these comments and comments categories? Yes, they are completely customizable.
  • Can I add, format, and save my own writing comments to the e-Comment menu? Yes, and you can create your own e-Comment menu sets.
  • Can I record audio, video, and speech-to-text comments? Yes. Is there integration with Google Classroom? Yes. Can I add and save my own comment sets? Yes.
  • Can I try before I buy? Yes. FREE 10-Day Trial!

Google Classroom 2020 Comment Bank v. e-Comments

Google Classroom 2020 Comment Bank v. e-Comments

Writing Feedback

Writing Feedback

10 Reasons to Use the e-Comments Extension

10 Reasons to Use the e-Comments Extension

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

How to Save Time Grading Essays

How to Save Time Grading Essays

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

Writing Feedback Research

Writing Feedback Research

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

Insertable Canned Comments

Insertable Canned Comments

Google Classroom Comment Bank and e-Comments

Google Classroom Comment Bank and e-Comments

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of many printable and digital programs. Please check out Pennington Publishing for assessment-based resources created for teachers by a fellow teacher.

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Google Classroom 2020 Comment Bank v. e-Comments

In this article I’l demonstrate how to use the newest version of the Google Classroom Comment Bank to insert writing feedback into your students’ Google docs and slides. I’ll also save you some frustration by giving you a “heads up” about some of the problems you’ll encounter when setting up and using the Comment Bank. Lastly, I’ll attempt to prove why using my e-Comments Chrome Extension may be a much better option for most teachers working in Google Classroom.

Add your free 10-day trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension after you discover how using e-Comments in Google Classroom is faster, easier, and far more functional than using the Google Comment Bank.

Creating the Google Comment Bank

After opening a student assignment in Google Classroom, click the Comment Bank icon in the upper right corner. The Google Comment Bank is empty, so teachers will need to type in their own comments or copy and paste a list of comments. Unfortunately, Google Classroom only provides one Comment Bank, so think about which comments you plan to use for all of your assignments and classes before you fill up the bank.

If you’re thinking of inserting a number of comments, take the time to organize and group the comments before you copy and paste, because the Comment Bank display won’t sort or order those comments for you. And don’t waste any of your time formatting your list. They paste as unformatted into the Google Comment Bank and Google permits only minimal formatting once the comments are entered.

Inserting Comments from the Google Comment Bank

So once you’ve got some comments stored in the Google Comment Bank, you’re ready to annotate your student’s essay. When you find a writing issue to address, double click or highlight the word or section and search up and down the comment bank for the comment you wish to insert. Click on the comment; click on “Copy to Clipboard,” click on the comment box, type Control-v to paste the comment; click outside the box; and click the comment button. Voila! The selected comment appears in the Google comment box in the right margin. If you were counting, it took eight separate clicks to insert one comment. Not great, but probably faster than red-inking the same comment on a student’s paper.

You’ll notice that scrolling up and down to find the comment you want to insert can be time-consuming and frustrating if you have more than a few comments in the bank. Google tries to solve this problem by providing an alternative method for selecting comments: a key word search in the comment box.

Here’s how you use this method: Type in a hashtag followed by a key word from the comment you are looking for, a list of comment options pops up. Of course, before you use this method, you’ve got to know which comment you want to use and what it says in order to type in the key word. Often, you’ll wind up trying a few key words to narrow down the comment choices before you find the right one, especially because your writing comments tend to use many of the same words. Playing the search for the right comment game does get old very quickly, but it works better than scrolling up and down the Comments Bank display. Unfortunately, it still takes seven clicks to insert a comment with this method.

Using e-Comments in Google Classroom

In contrast to the Google Comments Bank, the e-Comments Chrome Extension was designed by an ELA teacher for teachers and their students. It shows!

The e-Comments menu provides hundreds of customizable canned comments, written in four comment sets: Grades 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, and College/Workplace. These Common Core-aligned comments don’t just identify writing errors; they help your students learn. For example, if students are overusing “to-be” verbs in their writing, simply commenting, “Too many ‘to be’ verbs,” doesn’t help students if they don’t know what the “to-be” verbs are or the revision strategies to eliminate them. The e-Comments identify and explain the writing issues and show students how to revise.

Revise Too Many “to be” Verbs: Limit using so many “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. To replace “to be” verbs: 1. Substitute a more active verb. 2. Convert one of the words in the sentence to a verb form. 3. Change the beginning of the sentence. 4. Combine the sentence which has the “to be” verb with the sentence before or after to use another stronger and specific verb.

Substitute Example: The child was sad.

Revision: The child felt sad.

Convert Example: Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip.

Revision: Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.

Change Example: The run-away car will be stopped by the tire spikes.

Revision: The tire spikes will stop the run-away car.

Combine Example: The sensitive child is terrified. She is feeling that way because of the news story.

Revision: The news story terrified the sensitive child.

So why re-invent the wheel by writing your own comments?

Unlike the hard-to-search and unorganized Google Comments Bank, the e-Comments menu lets you see all of your comment options at a glance, neatly categorized into writing comment categories. Of course you won’t use all of these comments, but they’re there if you need them. And the e-Comments menu is completely customizable. Move it wherever you want or hide it if you wish. Add, delete, substitute, or rearrange any writing comment categories and comments.

It’s easy to differentiate instruction by switching among the four comment levels to insert remedial or advanced comments. Plus, add your own custom comment sets for different assignments and classes. Wahoo!

While inserting a comment from the Google Comment Bank takes seven or eight clicks, only two clicks are needed with e-Comments. That makes a huge difference when your grading a whole batch of assignments. Simply click once or highlight where you want to comment, and then click the abbreviated comment button to automatically insert the comment. Faster, easier, and much less physical wear and tear.

Also, it does no good to add writing feedback if your students won’t read it. You can personalize  your comments and make them stand out with e-Comments. The program permits full formatting options for any comments you choose to add and save. Plus, e-Comments allows teachers to insert speech-to-text, audio, and video comments and save to separate folders to keep your Google Drive uncluttered.

The fact that the e-Comments Chrome Extension works in and out of Google Classroom is the best reason to add and use this program. Here’s why: Good writing teachers know that while summative writing feedback, along with rubric scores, and a final grade can be instructive, it’s the formative writing feedback on rough drafts that has the most impact on teaching students how to improve their writing. And, of course, students are much more motivated to learn from your comments when doing so will improve their assignment grades.

Unfortunately, Google Classroom does not permit students to see any of your comments in their views of Google Classroom until after you enter the grades and return their assignments. This means that when students open their graded assignments, they can’t revise their work according to your suggestions. However, the e-Comments program lets you comment on rough drafts and students can see these comments and revise their work before turning it in for a grade.

Here’s how to grade student rough drafts. It only takes two extra clicks. With the student’s assignment opened in Google Classroom, click on icon in the upper right corner following the student’s name that says, “Open in new window”. You’ll get the same student assignment without the Google Classroom grading tools. Click the e-Comments icon to activate the extension and insert your comments. Students are able to view the comments as you enter them. You may wish to click “Share” when you finish commenting to alert the student.

Students read your comments and revise their writing accordingly. They can also use the “Reply” button to ask you questions about your comments and you can reply back. To hold students accountable for reading and responding specifically to your comments, I require students to make all revisions in red font and keep (not resolve) my comments. I give additional points for showing me these revisions. Of course, if you are a superstar teacher, you could add additional comments to help students polish their final drafts.

After the student turns in the assignment, you can open Google Classroom once again to grade, score the rubric, and add summative comments. One final suggestion: I would avoid typing comments in the “Private Comment” box. There’s no way to edit or delete once you post this comment.

Clearly, the Google Comment Bank will help teachers save time compared to red-inking a stack of papers. However, I think you’ll agree that e-Comments is quicker, easier to use, and much more functional. Add your free 10-day trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension today! Simply click “Add to Chrome” and the e-Comments icon will be added to your Chrome Extension Toolbar. Make sure to take a look at the one-page Quick Start User Guide and the training video to see all the program features. Once you’re sure you want it for keeps, click the “Purchase/Activate License” page and pay the one-time fee. It’s only the cost of a few cups of coffee!

Want to see this article as a video? Check it out: The Video

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Google Classroom Comment Bank and e-Comments

For years, teachers have been looking for ways to streamline the grading and annotation of student essays, stories, and reports. And now, add slide presentations, photographs, videos, and more! Teachers want to assign more of this work, but more student work means more grading time. Teachers also want to provide quality writing feedback to help students improve their work, but again this takes time.

Enter Google. Google’s investment in education has been a gradual and sometimes frustrating evolution. The comments feature added into Google docs and slides in 2014 was a prime reason why teachers started using Google docs and Google Drive for student writing submissions. And now, with the 2018 update of Google Classroom and the additions of a comment bank and the beta version of a rubric creator, teachers finally have the beginnings of tools that will both improve the efficiency of their workflow and improve writing feedback to students.

With these steps, Google has put other learning management systems on notice that the company is in education for the long haul. As of this writing, the number of Google Classroom users (both teachers and students) has passed 40,000,000. Much like what Jobs and Wozniak accomplished with their free Apple IIe computer to every school in California in 1982, Google’s free Google Suite for Educators, including Google Classroom, has largely cornered the educational market. The bottom line for teachers? Don’t fight; give in to Google.

However, the problem for teachers is that Google is a tech (and advertising) company, and its product leads and developers are techies, not teachers. Google does listen to what teachers say, and much of the improvement in Google Classroom has been credited to teacher suggestions. Hence, revisions tend to be piecemeal, not comprehensive. What Google has done is to permit Chrome extensions, which integrate seamlessly with Google Classroom.

e-Comments Options

e-Comments Menu

Enter e-Comments. Teachers can significantly improve the efficiency and quality of the Google Classroom comment bank by adding the e-Comments Chrome Extension. Which features make e-Comments significantly better than the Google Comment Bank?

  1. While the Google Comment Bank (GCB) has no canned comments (teachers have to type in their own), e-Comments (e-C) has hundreds of customizable comments from which to choose at four grade levels: Grades 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, and College/Workplace. Why re-invent the wheel?
  2. The GCB permits minimal formatting for adding comments, while e-C provides full formatting for any comments you choose to add and save. Plus, e-C allows teachers to insert speech-to-text, audio, and video comments and save to separate folders to keep your Google Drive uncluttered. Your comments should stand out if you want students to read them.
  3. The GCB comments are stored in the order in which you added them and so are in random order, but the e-C comments are neatly organized into 11 categories, making the comments much easier to choose. Writing comment categories just make sense.
  4. To access the GCB comments, teachers have to scroll up and down the GCB or enter a hashtag # followed by a key word to bring up the desired comment. Once a teacher adds in more than a dozen comments, it often takes several tries or additional key words to find the desired comment. Frustrating and time-consuming! To access e-C, teachers simply click the comment button once on the movable and editable e-Comments Menu. Unlike GCB, teachers can see all of their comment choices before inserting a comment. It’s easy to add and save your own comments to the menu, edit the canned comments, create or re-name writing comment categories, hide or rearrange the categories.
  5. The GCB provides only one comment bank. Clearly, all your comments for a story are not applicable for an essay or a multi-media project. Plus, many teachers would like to have different comments for different students, classes, and assignments. With e-C, teachers can easily switch among the comment levels to differentiate their annotations. Add a remedial comment for X, but an advanced comment for Y. Teachers can add and save their own comment banks with e-C for different classes and assignments. GCB provides a one size fits all approach; e-C permits far more flexible options to meet the needs of students and their teachers.
  6. Clearly, once teachers insert all their comments into the GCB, they will save time compared to red-inking a stack of papers. As detailed above and in side-by-side timings, e-C will save significantly more time than using the GCB while providing students comments that identify, explain, and show how to revise. If all you want to do is error mark, GCB will do nicely; if you want your students to learn from your comments, e-C is for you. Plus, e-C provides the Common Core-aligned comments that you will want to copy and paste into your Google Classroom rubrics and Grading Tool commentsAdd your free 10-day trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension today! You can both save time and provide better writing feedback with Google Classroom.

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Grammar in the Writing Context

Teachers know the power of connected learning. When one strand of rope is twisted with another (or several), the rope is less likely to break.

Now some things need to be taught in isolation, but when teachers take the time to show students the connections to other learning, students grasp the big picture and are more likely to retain the information. This finding has been integral to learning theory for years. Indeed, association and linking are powerful memory tools.

With this educational assumption, let’s take a look at one specific educational maxim: Grammar must be taught in the writing context.  

For most teachers, taught usually implies introduce. In other words, to have shared some new content, concept, or skill (or standard) that students had not yet learned. This presents problems for developing student writers, because teachers have been taught that grammar should only be taught in the writing context. This chiefly means that grammar has not be taught at all. The pipe dream of some is that targeted mini-lessons, say one on commas or pronoun antecedents, will be used in the editing stage of the writing process for those students who need them. It just does not get done on a regular basis and the students do not get enough practice to master these skills.

The mini-lesson only approach is akin to assigning your own child the task of building an outdoor play structure (think writing process assignment) in which you provide excellent directions, but hand over the toolbox without prior instruction.

The directions begin with the following: “Use only a ball peen hammer to nail and countersink all 16 penny galvanized.”

One the student has completed building the structure (the draft or revised draft), the teacher determines that the entire class needs a mini-lesson to address the obvious construction short-comings. How inefficient and frustrating.

Clearly, it makes so much more sense to teach every component of the directions before using or mis-using the tools. How you teach (connect to prior learning, identity, define terminology, provide examples, use mentor modeling, provide guided practice, independent practice with feedback, give formative assessment, and remediate with individualized practice) matters. Obviously, each of these steps would be critically important in teaching this direction.

If you would agree that this instructional approach would also make sense with grammar instruction, let me attempt to convince you of one other key instructional point.

Students who did not demonstrate mastery in their first or revised attempts (think first or revised writing drafts) must be re-taught. Yes, mini-lessons in this context would make sense. But, in terms of writing feedback…

Wouldn’t it make sense to use the same language of instruction in both teaching and writing feedbackThat would be powerful, memorable instruction: truly teaching grammar in the writing context.

Grammar in the Writing Context

Writing Context

You can do this with the author’s e-Comments Chrome Extension. This app includes hundreds of canned writing comments with the same language of instruction as the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics and the companion program, TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE. Use the same terminology and definitions in your teaching and annotations in Google docs (and slides) comments. Now, that’s a seamless connection to teach and practice grammar and mechanics in the writing context!

Save time grading and provide better writing feedback!

The e-Comments program includes four insertable comment banks (Grades 3‒6, Grades 6‒9, Grades 9‒12, and College/Workplace) feature writing format and citations, essay and story structure, essay and story content analysis, sentence formation and writing style, word choice, grammar, and mechanics.

When you open a student’s doc or slide, the e-Comments menu pops-up in the right margin. Simply highlight a writing issue in the student’s text and click on a comment button. The comment automatically appears in the margin next to the student’s text.

FAQs:

  • Would all my students need this program? No, just the teacher. The e-Comments program syncs to multiple devices and saves to the cloud.
  • Can I edit these e-comments? Yes, they are customizable.
  • Can I add, format, and save my own custom writing comments to the e-Comment menu? Yes.
  • Can I record audio comments? Yes.
  • Can I record video comments? Yes, just make sure your hair isn’t out of place.
  • Can I use speech to text? Yes, save time typing personalized comment additions.

I’m not tech proficient. Is e-Comments easy to use? Yes. The one-page Quick Start User Guide and video tutorial will get you grading or editing in just minutes. No time-consuming and complicated multiple clicks, dropdown menus, or comment codes. This program is intuitive and user-friendly.

Check out the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics and TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE programs, and purchase or add the free trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Pennington Publishing's TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

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Writing Feedback

I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. The bright and talented ELA teachers who have recently joined our English staff at the middle school I recently left are looking for new ways to directly and indirectly (traditional lessons and in the writing context through writing feedback) teach all the elements of writing style:

Specifically, teachers wishing to return to some common ground of teaching writing focus on these categories of writing style for direct instruction and writing feedback:

  • Essay Organization and Development (Introduction, Body, and Conclusion)
  • Coherence
  • Word Choice
  • Sentence Variety
  • Format and Citations
  • Parts of Speech
  • Grammatical Forms
  • Usage
  • Sentence Structure
  • Types of Sentences
  • Mechanics
  • Conventional Spelling Rules.

    Writer Response

    Writing Feedback

As the author of the TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE program, I decided to include a writing style handbook within the program. And to keep up with the millennials, it’s a Chrome extension to insert hundreds of customizable comments into Google docs and slides and a Microsoft Word® add-in, as well.  Check out the introductory video and the e-Comments Chrome Extension on the Chrome Web Store.

Using e-Comments Makes Sense for Writing Feedback     

*Manually responding to essays in red ink can be time-consuming and frustrating. Teachers find themselves using the same comments over and over again, while most students barely glance at their final grade or rubric score and maybe skim the comments before cramming their papers into the depths of their backpacks. Using the computer to respond to student writing solves these problems.

*Having students submit their essays on the computer allows the teacher to insert comprehensive and prescriptive comments in half the time. Students can be held accountable to respond to these comments through revisions and edits.

*Using the insertable e-comments enhances the interactive writing process. The teacher-student interaction changes from static summative evaluation to dynamic formative assessment. This is not an “automatic” grading program. Teachers choose which comments to insert, according to the needs of their students.

*Teachers can edit the e-comments and add in their own personalized comments with text, video, speech-to-text or audio files. Imagine… inserting a quick audio or video  comment to summarize relative strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Unlike other e-grading programs, teachers can save their custom comments.

*Teachers can link to resource sites to provide additional practice or reference.

*Teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes” or use the back-and-forth “Reply” comment boxes in Google Docs. Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors! Or simply have students revise in red to show they’ve applied each side-by-side comment.

*Essay e-Comments can be synced to all teacher devices and comments save to the cloud.”

The Pennington Manual of Style is included in the comprehensive TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLEprogram. Purchase includes the download (into Microsoft Word for any Windows Version) and the teacher short-cuts.

It’s simple and safe to use. You can even back-up and import your customized and added comments on your computer.

This freebie will make life a bit easier for teachers this fall… I just released a new free comment insert program for Google docs that will save grading time and improve writing feedback. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Check out the introductory video and add this free extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!

*****

Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for program instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instructionand the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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10 Reasons to Use the e-Comments Extension

e-Comments Chrome Extension

e-Comments Extension

Good teachers know that students need detailed, instructional, and personalized comments on their stories, essays, and reports throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Most teachers spend at least 10 minutes red-marking and writing comments on a five-paragraph essay. Even with that significant amount of time, the teacher would have to rely on circling, diacritical marks, and abbreviations. The comments would have to be minimal and concise. The focus has to be limited to identifying what is wrong, not explaining why it is wrong or how to revise. No time for examples or suggestions as to how to improve the writing. Maybe a quick positive comment. Exhausting!

 

The teacher has to write the same comments over and over again throughout a stack of student papers. Upon receiving their graded work, students simply glance at their final grades before cramming the essay into the bottom of their backpacks. There has got to be a better way… Check out the e-Comments Chrome Extension on the Chrome Web Store.

 

10 Reasons to Use the Free e-Comments Chrome Extension

 

1. The e-Comments app has more user options and functionality than any other comments insert program, yet is easy to learn and user-friendly. I’m the English teacher who wrote the comments. I’ve taught at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college levels. I am not technologically advanced by any means. I searched far and wide to find a developer who could talk non-techie and code the e-Comments extension so that any teacher will be able to use each program feature. Unlike other complicated and time-consuming programs, the e-Comments extension allows you to insert comments into students’ Google docs and slides with just one click.

After installing the extension from the Chrome Web Store, open up a Google doc and click the e-Comments icon added to your Chrome toolbar. Use the slider to turn on the program. Click on the one-page Quick Start User Guide in the dropdown menu to guide your exploration. Print it or minimize it or just start using the program (it’s quite intuitive) and you’ll figure it out on your own. Later, watch the ten-minute video tutorial to master the entire functionality of the e-Comments program.

2. Sharing essays via Google Drive is environmentally responsible, saves money, and provides an automatic portfolio of student work. The e-Comments extension syncs to the cloud and works with multiple devices. Your students don’t all have to have their own computers, Chromebooks, or tablets to use this program. Unlike other comment insert programs, only the teacher needs the e-Comments extension. Even if you still require paper submissions, you can still save time and provide better writing feedback by printing off a comments page for each student.

3. The Common Core-aligned e-Comments provide a common language of writing instruction and discourse for teachers and students. When department, grade-level teams, or a whole school uses the same terminology, students benefit from the and cross-curricular instructional continuity. English, social studies, math, and science teachers using the same lingo? That’s powerful. The comments identify, explain, and show students how to revise their writing issues. You will significantly improve the quality of your writing feedback with the e-Comments extension. More importantly, your students will significantly improve their writing.

4. Teachers can provide comprehensive writing feedback using e-Comments in much less time than if grading manually. Using essay e-Comments cuts grading time in half. If it takes 10 minutes to red-mark, write comments, and grade a five-paragraph essay, it will take only 5 minutes to insert comments using essay e-comments. With a batch of 120 essays, this means a times-saving of 6 hours (120 x 5 minutes = 6 hours). Now that’s a grading hack that works!

5. Easily switch among four comment banks if teaching or tutoring multiple grade levels: Grades 3‒6, Grades 6‒9, 9‒12, College and Workplace. Even if teaching one grade level, you never know when you’ll need to add a remedial or advanced comment or two.

These instructional comments will help your students learn!

6. Customize! Teachers can edit and save the comments with their own words, formatting, and links. Because the comments are comprehensive, teachers will often choose to narrow the instructional focus by deleting portions of comments for individuals or all of their students. Or add to a comment with a personalized remark. The program lets you export (back-up) and import any changes to your computer or restore default comments.

 

7. Teachers can add, format, and save their own comments and writing categories to the e-Comments menu. Type, use speech-to-text, copy and paste, or record audio and video. This e-Comments feature is perfect for adding on custom comment categories for different writing assignments. For example, say your students are writing a response to literature essay on a class novel. Having a separate category and your own set of canned comments on that novel will allow specific writing feedback and nicely complement the other comment banks. Or a unit on poetry. Or a specific research report on ecosystems. Or?

 

8. Teachers appreciate not having to write the same comments on each essay. For repeated errors, teachers simply highlight the text. Quick and easy.

9. Teachers can easily check whether their students apply the advice given in each comment and incentivize student revisions. Our video tutorial demonstrates a quick and easy accountability management system to ensure that your students are reading, understanding, and applying the comments to their writing.

10. Using e-comments prior to the student’s final draft changes teacher response from mere summative assessment to a dynamic and interactive coaching experience. Students can ask questions about the comments in the “Reply” text box under each comment and teachers can respond. So can peers! The e-Comments are formative assessment… assessment for, not of, learning. Of course, teachers can use any means of evaluation, such as rubrics, and management systems, such as Google Classroom, in conjunction with the e-Comments Chrome Extension.

*****

This resource will make life a bit easier for teachers who want to improve their writing feedback… and save time doing so. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues, with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Record the screen and add your own custom comment sets. Check out the introductory video and add this free extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!

*****

Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for program instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

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Writing Feedback Research

Since the burden (and privilege) of teaching writing falls so exclusively on the teacher or workplace supervisor, it makes sense to learn what works from the research on writing feedback. Let’s take a look at the decades of research and add some practical tips based upon those research implications to help you improve your writing feedback skill-set. Also, at the end of the article, I’ll share an approach to writing feedback that will alleviate some weight from that burden. Yes, you can save time grading or editing stories, essays, and reports, while improving the quality of your writing feedback.

Let’s get on the page about what we mean by writing feedbackFeedback is a form of response focused on helping someone meet a goal. It is communication which helps someone understand something more fully or practice more effectively.

Writer Response

Writing Feedback

What Kind of Feedback is Effective?

1. Specific, Not General

According to Hattie and Timperley, “Feedback is often lost on students because it’s too vague. Comments like “great job,” “good writing,” or even “needs better organization” fall flat with students because they’re not tied to specific words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs in writing.”

and

“…studies which demonstrated the most impact on student learning involved students receiving information about a task and how to do it more effectively. Much lower impacts were related to praise, rewards, and punishment–forms of response that don’t have the characteristics and focus of feedback.”

Use focused, not unfocused feedback. “Focused corrective feedback was more useful and effective than unfocused corrective feedback” (Sheen, Wright, and Moldawa 2009).

2. Immediate, Not Postponed

Writing feedback is most effective when students “have an immediate opportunity to try out the suggestions in their writing, allowing for meaningful application of what they have learned from the feedback. Focusing on individual students’ immediate writing needs, this ongoing feedback is a form of differentiated instruction that complements the teaching of mini-lessons to small groups or to the whole class” (Peterson, S.S. 2008).

When writing feedback is postponed, little is acquired, retained, and transferred to the next writing assignment. Accordingly, summative feedback is of little value. Relying solely upon rubric scoring for writing feedback produces no statistically significant correlation with improved writing skills.

3. Routine Revision

Writing instruction “routinely engaging in revision is associated with better writing performance. Students who were required to routinely revise scored highest on the National Association of Educational Progress. Those who were never asked to revise scored poorly.

The power of feedback is its value in facilitating revision, such as revising an essay or revising one’s understanding of a concept. Revision is one of the key differences between expert and inexpert writers. Expert writers revise. Beginning and inexpert writers don’t revise much. Or at all” (Jeff Grabel Michigan State University).

4. Formative, Not Summative

Good writing instruction often requires students to complete multiple drafts. Writing feedback research has universally concluded that writing guidance on initial drafts is superior to comments upon final drafts, in terms of facilitating writing improvement. Comments on drafts of writing provide students with timely information about the clarity and impact of their writing. When students receive feedback while they are writing, “they are more inclined to use it to revise and edit their drafts than they would be if they received the suggestions on a graded, polished copy” (Nicol, D.J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. 2006).

Simply put, revision is how students learn how to write–not the 1–5 scores on an ending holistic rubric.

5. The Earlier the Better

“Give feedback on the content, organization and style features of the writing in early drafts.  If students focus on writing conventions early in the writing process, their flow of ideas may be curtailed. – In addition, students may edit sentences that will later be cut during revisions.  Give feedback on adherence to writing conventions when the writing is almost complete” (Peterson, S.S. 2008).

Teachers should not accept sloppy copies. Students must be taught how to use grammar and spell check (Google Docs has a brand new tool which identifies issues and suggests revisions). Students need to share their best efforts at each stage of the writing process. Establishing high expectations and writing standards improves student performance and lightens the editing load of teachers. Teachers should spend writing feedback time on writing advice, not editing.

6. Error Explanation

Simply circling errors or using diacritical marks produces ineffective revision. Writers do not know what they don’t know. Simply writing FRAG does not explain why the sentence is incomplete or how to fix it. Other than typos, writers rarely make mistakes when they know better. When errors are simply marked without explanation, students will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

A focus on error analysis is essential. “Students who receive feedback on their written errors will be more likely to self-correct them during revision than those who receive no feedback—and this demonstrated uptake may be a necessary step in developing longer term linguistic competence.

Students are likely to attend to and appreciate feedback on their errors, and this may motivate them both to make corrections and to work harder on improving their writing. The lack of such feedback may lead to anxiety or resentment, which could decrease motivation and lower confidence in their teachers” (Ferris, D. R. 2004).

7. The Right Amount

Too many comments can overwhelm and dishearten developing writers. Instead of marking and explaining every writing error, Peterson suggests “… identifying patterns of convention errors, rather than every error in the paper. Students are more likely to learn how to use a convention correctly if they attend exclusively to that type of error when editing their writing” (2008).

8. The Right Ones

Not all writing issues are created equal. Clearly, some are more important to focus upon than others. Maxine Hairston (1981) suggests that certain errors are perceived as higher status than others. This researcher found that these errors were seen to be more egregious by most teachers: nonstandard verb forms, lack of subject-verb agreement, double negatives, objective pronoun as subject. Other errors are perceived as low status and may not warrant marking: unnecessary or inaccurate modifiers, use of a singular verb with data, use of a colon after a linking verb” (https://teaching.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/not_all_errors_are_created_equal.pdf)

Additionally, it makes sense to focus upon teachable writing issues. Writing issues which are generalizable have great need for writing feedback than once in a blue moon issues.

Plus, subject-verb agreement issues can be remedied (despite exceptions, there are rules); however, writing tone and style are tougher to teacher. Hence, provide writing feedback that will get the greatest bang for the buck.

Teachers tend to mark errors and comment on content or process. Instead, writing researchers suggest that teachers should comment on both. Choosing to concentrate on errors that can be easily explained to the student with the greater likelihood of producing positive transfer to subsequent writing assignments just makes sense. For example, errors in speaker tag commas can be easily remediated because the rules are relatively unambiguous; errors in commas isolating dependent clauses are harder to remediate because the rules are more ambiguous and context dependent.

9. Variety of Communication Modes

The same format of writing feedback can bore students and diminish attention to what has been said. In an interesting study regarding using audio comments with a control group of written comments, Dr. Martha Marie Bless found a statistically significant difference in the amount and quality of student revisions and skill acquisition in favor of the audio comments (Walden University 2017).

10. Accountability

All too often, students glance at writing feedback and do little or nothing to revise or learn from teacher comments. Teachers who incentivize writing revision with points, praise, privileges, etc. tend to get better results.

Technology helps hold students accountable for their revisions. Microsoft Word® provides Track Changes and Google Docs offers Revision History to check whether or not students have worked to improve writing from draft to draft. Using different color font or pens, writing, achieves the same end.

Sources Cited

  1. The Power of Feedback by John Hattie and Helen Timperley, in Review of Educational Research 77 (March 2007): 81-112.
  2. Seven Keys to Effective Feedback by Grant Wiggins in Educational Leadership 70.1 (September 2012): 10-16.
  3. Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers by Nancy Sommers in College Composition and Communication 31.4 (December 1980): 378-388.
  4. Training Advanced Writing Skills: The Case for Deliberate Practice by Ronald T. Kellogg and Alison P. Whiteford in Educational Psychologist 44.9 (2009).
  5. The effects of word processing on the revision strategies of freshmen by Gail Hawisher in Research in the Teaching of English 21 (May 1987): 145-159.
  6. A Multimodal Task-Based Framework for Composing by Jody Shipka in College Composition and Communication 57.2 (December 2005): 277-306.
  7. Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston, Stenhouse Publishers (2012)
  8. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2007 writing report card  Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics

*****

Here’s a resource that just might make life a bit easier for teachers committed to providing quality writing feedback for their students… You can both save time and improve the quality of your writing feedback with the e-Comments Chrome Extension. Insert hundreds of customizable Common Core-aligned instructional comments, which identify, explain, and show how to revise writing issues with just one click from the e-Comments menu. Add your own comments to the menu, including audio, video, and speech-to-text. Record the screen and develop your own comment sets. Works in Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, etc. Check out the introductory video and add this extension to your Chrome toolbar: e-Comments Chrome Extension. Includes separate comment banks for grades 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and AP/College. Cheers!

e-Comments

The e-Comments Chrome Extension

*****

Why not use the same language of instruction as the e-Comments program for program instruction? Mark Pennington is the author of the TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, Differentiated Spelling Instruction, and the Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit.

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