February 23

Assessment, Feedback, and Writing with Scribo

If you’ve been in teaching for the last four or five years and you don’t know that feedback has a significant effect on learning, then you’ve had your head under a rock. My “ideal” of feedback would be when I see a good PE teacher teach practical….the constant calls of both encouragement and critique from the sidelines of the game while students play. Every student gets something…the students like me as a kid get encouragement to move, those more athletic get the feedback that they need to finesse their skills and become experts. Everything that PE teachers do in terms of feedback is formative. Everything is given feedback to improve the students skills for the future.

So, how can we make this constant feedback happen in every classroom without teachers taking home suitcases full of marking every day? And then how can we ensure that students are utilising the feedback that we give them?

For the past 6 months or so, we’ve been trialling software at our school to improve student writing. Scribo allows students to get instantaneous feedback on their writing through analysis of those things that software does really well and allows teachers to focus on things that they do really well. Scribo will allow students to self check their writing against 6 elements: Topic sentences, cohesive, paragraphs, vocabulary, sentences and spelling and grammar. The self check module allows students to highlight and change those things that combine to make good writing. For example, in the cohesive section, it will highlight that a student has used the word “and” 32 times in a paragraph, and then the student can use the connective explorer to determine whether there are some better word choices, or to decide whether sentences have become “run ons”. Students can then modify their work to include better punctuation and separate these into different sentences. All of this can be done without the assistance of the teacher, just with the software.

The real power from this software though, comes from the ability to give collective feedback. Once students write their responses, the system then analyses and gives feedback for the collective, and for the individual. This gives extensive feedback around different elements of writing, which students can check themselves, or the teacher can check. Previously, when I was teaching year 12, I would get everyone to write out a response in an essay which I would then take home, mark, then photograph on my iPad the best responses, and also some middle range responses, project these on the screen and as a class, annotate and discuss where the marks came from. With Scribo, it does the analysis and selection of those paragraphs, without the use of the teacher. Here’s then where the learning comes in. A group of students can write a response, and within 5 minutes the teacher can have feedback and can discuss what was good about the good work, without having to mark them, and within five minutes of them responding, while the feedback is still timely enough to be relevant.

As a teacher too, collectively, I can look at the analysis and pull out features, for example, vocabulary collectively. So, lets’ look at the vocabulary we’ve used as a class. You are presented with a word cloud of high-frequency words across all responses…you can then target your teaching specifically around vocabulary, which is an identified need based on that analysis, brainstorm further vocabulary that can be used, reflect on this as a class, and ask them to go back and refine their work prior to it being processed and analysed again. This could be done a number of times before you attempt to go in and grade the work based on content. In this way, the students are doing the work to refine their work, not the teacher. In the vein of “those that are doing the work are doing the learning” this refinement teaches students better about features of writing than receiving a response a week (or 6) later that is filled with feedback form the teacher.