Ahead of the Code
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Ahead of the Code

What my students said: May 25, 2021

Spending the first three quarters of this year exploring Writing Assistance tools allowed me to think deeply about feedback and what kind of feedback improves student writing. I had my own ideas, feeling like the teacher feedback was the most important in terms of improving writing. I listened to my students once again, and after giving my students an informal, oral survey of feedback and what feedback they want and what helps them the most.

This is what students said: “You need both teacher and student feedback to make your writing better. Both are equally important.” The teacher is the “big brain…who knows about the technical aspect of writing.” They need student feedback because “…kids understand better…” So where does the feedback from Writing Assistance tools play into this?

Many of my students think that a Writing Assistance tool can correct writing, but only a student’s understanding of writing traits (ideas/details/elaboration/support/description) will improve the quality of writing. Students believe the computer can point out errors faster, but sometimes the computer doesn’t show everything that is incorrect which causes not many students to trust the computer 100% of the time. They like using the Writing Assistance tool for analysis, depending on the purpose of the analysis and the writing. For example, they felt the computer did a good job of correcting grammatical errors, fixing words, and punctuation, but it could not do what people could do and see the entire story. For example, people can see the entire mood and effect of a piece — computers can’t.

Having an authentic audience to read your writing, someone you trust, makes the writing matter and not just an exercise. One writer wrote on his partners writing, “I really like this! I got confused with mine, and after I read this, I realized what I had to do. So besides that, this is a super good poem! 😊” My writers WANT to write after receiving feedback from their peers like this. It validates what they are doing, shows them how different writers interpret a prompt, and a peer compliment is so much better than a teacher compliment. I am not sure using the computer for analysis has the same effect as this authentic audience.

Another takeaway from talking about feedback with my students is that students need different kinds of feedback, depending on their writing and confidence levels. Some kids want more praise. Some kids want brutal honesty. Some kids are in the middle. But the consensus with students was they wanted to know HOW to fix specific problems that occur in a writing piece. That’s why many like Writing Assistance tools — they point out the mistake and tell how to fix it. Sometimes teachers like to point out what’s wrong with a piece of writing, but don’t give suggestions or model HOW to make improvements.

So when it is all said and done, students in my class will benefit from all kinds of feedback and writing correction. Using Writing Assistance tools will give kids the ability to independently check their writing for correctness — like a teacher would without taking a ton of time. But when it comes to the quality of the writing and improving the piece, only the human eye — whether student or teacher — has the ability to do this. That is what my students tell me, and what I have observed with my own eyes this year.

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Denise Mumm

Denise Mumm

I teach 8th grade language arts in Kimberly, Idaho. I am entering my 35th year of teaching, and I still love 8th graders! I am married and have 2 grown boys.