The kind folks over at Grammarly recently let me try out their service with my high school English classes. The service offers to help students continue to develop writing skills through automated instructional feedback in grammar and word choice, as well as plagiarism tracking. I tried out the teacher/student version, which you can learn more about at Grammarly.com/edu. Check out the video tutorial below and the pros and cons list. Please let me know if you have questions or comments and remember to check back weekly for more teacher tips, tutorials, and tirades.
Grammarly Pros and Cons from my perspective:
Students can submit their papers multiple times to receive maximum automated input that is more effective than a simple word processor grammar check.
The grammar checker saves time for me as it catches many mistakes. I am all about saving time as we all know that English teachers have enough on our plate already!
Grammar explanations give students clear guidelines.
Plagiarism checker prevents unintentional plagiarism and takes away the excuse of ignorance that students sometimes claim.
There is a blackboard option and convenient roll out instructions.
Some grammar suggestions misunderstand student intention, which can confuse the paper further.
The teacher side of the website is limited in information. I could see how many times a paper was checked, but I couldn’t see the actual mistakes or plagiarism to tell whether they were valid or not. I had to have students print their reports for me, which seemed like a lot of paper.
The plagiarism tracker is limited to online sources and is not the key component to this service (as opposed to services like turnitin.com).
At my school, 3rd quarter in the English department means one thing: research paper time. We do our best to build on the process every year so that seniors graduate with confidence and a working knowledge of writing research papers and I do think that in this case departmental support is important to effective teaching. Whether you are just starting the daunting task of planning the paper or are looking for a fresh take, I highly recommend the research paper resource product from Secondary Solutions, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect system or separately from TeachersPayTeachers. This Common Core Standards Based (ELA: Writing) product on teaching research papers is full of everything you need to help students grasp the concept of completing research, plagiarism, organizing their sources, using source information, MLA format, deciphering credible Internet sources, and more! In addition to the notes, handouts, and activities included in that resource, I would like to share a couple of my tips for teaching the research paper.
1. Think through the types of sources you want students using. We cannot reasonably expect students to decipher sources for credibility and usefulness unless we teach them where to start. I usually require that my junior students use a variety of 4-7 sources, including a minimum of one encyclopedia, one book, and one credible online source. In my experience, if I don’t put this requirement out right at the beginning, students wait until the absolute last minute and then use less than optimal sources. Check out this post for more info on teaching students how to determine the credibility of online sources.
2. Break it down into steps. Procrastination is a serious sport in my high school and sometimes my students want to give up before they even start because the task seems to overwhelming. Smaller steps help with accountability and attitude. Depending on the level I am teaching I break down my due dates into something like this:
Week 1: Verification of sources
Week 2: Thesis and working bibliography
Week 3 or 4: Draft
Week 5 or 6: Final Paper Due Date
3. Be sure that students ask themselves, “So what?”. In the information age, it is no longer important to simply find the facts. Students need to look into the causes, effects, or importance of their topics. Right now, my juniors are writing about topics related to The Great Gatsby and the 1920s. I let each of them pick a different topic from a list I created so they don’t feel like they are all writing the same paper. I emphasize the importance of discussing more than timelines, dates, and facts. I want them to take a critical view of the lasting cultural impact of their topic. I also have students present their research after the paper deadline, which gives them more incentive to bring out the relevance of their topic, otherwise we will sit through presentation after presentation of dates and places…
4. Explicitly discuss plagiarism in all its many forms. I used to have a line in my research paper prompt that informed students of my zero tolerance for plagiarism policy and I left it at that. However, I’ve learned over the past few years that students don’t always know (or at least feign ignorance of) the definition of plagiarism. Some students think that the only plagiarism is buying an essay or copying/pasting 100%. We talk ad nauseam about issues of paraphrasing too closely and taking other people’s ideas.
5. Include time for peer critique, editing, and revisions. After weeks of struggling through the research process it is so tempting to just collect those suckers and break out the red pen, but if we really want students to improve their writing we need to slog on until the very end with lots of instruction on the process that takes place AFTER the complete paper has been written. PS Did I mention that this resource also has a peer editing checklist?
What are your research paper challenges, tips, or ideas? What are your students researching this year?
For me, grading essays is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching high school English (see my top 10 here). I don’t have a problem with deciphering handwriting or subjectively evaluating a written piece. I have a problem with the incredibly long hours I dedicate to the (sometimes thankless) sport of essay grading. I teach 1 advanced placement and 4 college prep English classes, which average 30 students per class. I know that many teachers have it far worse than I do, but I have to work very hard to keep my head above the essay-filled water! While we’re talking essays, you should totally check out the newly revised Essay Architect Writing System. Here are some of the tips I have gathered along the way to make the essay grading a little more manageable:
1. Stagger deadlines: I teach 2 American lit, 2 British lit, and an AP language course. To make my life a little easier, I try to create long-term plans that insure that my classes will not have essay deadlines on the same week. Sometimes deadlines collide and I regret it later, but as we all know the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. I’m not sure if I could do this as effectively if I taught the same subject all day. It drives me a little crazy when my classes get off from each other, but maybe with some thoughtful planning, it could work out.
2. Find a happy place: I have to have a place where I will be most comfortable and productive. It is a place where I won’t be too comfy and fall asleep, too distracted and lose my train of thought, or too ill-prepared and struggle for the right pens and paperclips. It seems like every year my happy place changes. One year it was my home office. Another year I loved the big wooden table in our scarcely used library. This year has found me (probably too often) at Starbucks cozied up with a venti skinny mocha, extra espresso shot. Where is your essay grading happy place? I think it is time for me to find a new spot.
3. Develop a rubric: There are many great ideas for rubrics floating out there, but you have to select something that clearly outlines your priorities and policies. I require students attach the rubric to every paper so I can just circle some areas that need work and save time on note writing.
4. Require proofreading: I do not have time to grade papers that don’t capitalize the beginning of a sentence or accidentally write form instead of from. I find that requiring students to get papers proofread in advance helps to catch those small things. I usually have students attach a draft with proof that 1-3 people proofread and made suggestions and we have a little chat about finding competent proofreaders. One of my goals for next year is to look into how to save some trees on this step with google doc editing.
5. Set a timer: To help keep me on a pace, I set a timer for 4-7 minutes depending on the paper and my preferences. When the timer goes off I know I need to make final remarks and move on. I just started this one this year and so far it has been helping a lot.
6. Sort papers: This one causes quite the controversy in my own head, but I use it occasionally when I really need to get psyched up to read papers. When I am having a rough time getting started, I will sort them with a couple of the students who usually excel in writing on the top, the less successful in the middle and the middle of the road at the end. When we are talking timed-write I sort by handwriting, making sure that the tough ones don’t all end up at the end when my eyes are already falling out. The controversy here is found in the worry that I will unconsciously pre-judge a paper giving it an unfair advantage or disadvantage based on the initial sorting. I try to only use this technique when I need that extra push to get started. I’d love to hear your opinion on whether or not this is legit or totally messed up.
7. Create a key: Create a key so that students know that RO means run-on, IC means incomplete sentence, CM means needs more commentary, etc. Post that key in your classroom and give students a handout copy to keep in their binders. This will save a ton of time in comment writing.
8. Grade the whole stack: We all do it. We get into a paper stack and we start the bargaining. “If I grade 5 more, I get to check Facebook, then if I grade 2 more, I can watch 10 minutes of my show, etc”. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary, but I think that staying in the essay grading mode without breaks for a whole class helps grading go by faster and is arguably more fair to all students as I am in the same mind set for all papers.
9. Require self-assessment: I ask students to grade their own papers according to my rubric and attach the rubric to their paper. This gives me some insight into their metacognition and helps students think more effectively about how the paper will be graded, causing more corrections before turning it in.
10.Create feedback notes: This adds a little bit of work in the short-term, but helps me tremendously in the long-term. When I am grading papers, I make a note of common successes and errors. Then, when I give back papers, I go through things I loved and areas of improvement on a powerpoint quoting students anonymously. Students look through their papers as we talk to see if they had the same successes or areas of growth. For many, this forces reflection on my comments and helps to make the correction or continue the success in future papers, thus making papers-to-be easier for me to grade.
What are your tips and tricks for efficient essay grading? I’d love to add to my list and save myself some sanity as we go into the next semester!