A common theme in the educational technology field this year has been creating equity through technology. And it's true--a major benefit of meaningful technology integration in education is that it creates so many new ways for students to learn and show what they know. This means that students who were previously disadvantaged by traditional assessments and methods have a new opportunity to build toward mastery in their own way, at their own pace.
In all the excitement over creating alternative assessments and creative portfolios, however, we should not neglect the technology tools that have revolutionized how students can work on the kinds of basic skills that require practice to master.
With this in mind, I've recently worked with the SMA English 9 teachers on using NoRedInk in their classes. As a former English teacher, I can attest to the constant frustration of making grammar instruction and practice effective and engaging. Students do not enjoy direct instruction on the subject, nor do they appreciate the traditional drill-and-practice worksheets and workbooks that have been the foundation of grammar instruction for decades. Further, the students least likely to take the practice seriously are usually the ones who need it the most. And let's face it, we all know that students often just copy the answers from each other instead of really wrestling with the practice.
Our English 9 team tried a variety of methods over the past few years, from teacher-designed lessons to more hip grammar books, and nothing satisfactorily met the balance we craved or helped all our students improve.
Enter NoRedInk. After testing the free version for a year as a supplemental tool, our English 9 team decided to toss the grammar book and use the premium version of NoRedInk as their main tool. (Turns out, the cost per person for NoRedInk was equivalent to the cost for the grammar book.) The premium account will allow each teacher to:
--create virtual classes that will track student progress for them,
--assign diagnostics, assignments and tests on a huge range of grammar and mechanical skills (including MLA citations and embedding quotations!) and
--obtain data on the individual and group status and progress on each skill.
Further, the program is interactive, works well on any internet-based device, and automatically personalizes it's content and sequencing for each learner so that she can work toward mastery of a skill at her own pace. And the teachers do not have to recreate assessments or re-grade assignments over and over to make this happen.
Just this week, all three teachers received training, set up their classes and invited students to join. I had the opportunity to assist one of the classes in doing so when the teacher could not be there, and was floored by the immediate and positive student reaction.
They were smiling. Every single one of them was on task with the grammar diagnostic that had been assigned by their teacher. They were talking about the grammar rule as they worked through the questions with each other. And they asked me for clarification of the rule when they needed it.
Granted, this is an initial reaction early in the year. A final determination of the efficacy of this tool compared to other types of grammar instruction will not be possible until we have more data. But I am highly impressed so far.
For more information, check out www.noredink.com and try the free version for yourself.
Proofreading is a constant battle in education that is compounded by today's variety of digital tools that offer what appear to be shortcuts to students (ahem, citation creators!) but in fact are not always correct.
One such tool is Grammarly.com. Grammarly is a web-based grammar checker that can be used on most devices that have internet access. According to it's website, Grammarly offers proofreading, grammar checking, and plagiarism checking. Users can either type directly into Grammarly's web-based word processor or upload a document to it. Grammarly then underlines errors in the text and offers suggestions in the left margin. Users can either ignore or accept the suggestions.
How I tested the tool:
--uploaded previously created documents into the checker
--typed (purposefully) incorrect text into the checker
--pasted segments of text pulled from commonly-used websites like Sparknotes, Shmoop, Wikipedia and Literature Online into the checker
--asked other teachers in SMA's English and Social Science departments to try the tool
--asked two student writers (a freshman and a senior) to try the tool
--downloaded and used the Microsoft Word/Outlook add-in tool
Conclusion: Recommended with reservations:
Grammarly is initially impressive and has the potential to be an extremely useful tool, particularly for students. It is far easier to use than some of the other grammar and plagiarism tools on the market and provides better feedback than the typical word processing spellchecker. In my experience, more and more of my students need extra support in proofreading and mechanics, and this tool can serve that purpose.
However, bear in mind:
1) The plagiarism checker is not sufficient as it currently exists. In my experience, students frequently cut and paste lines from other sources, then change a word or two. Grammarly does not catch this kind of plagiarism, so I would not rely on it as a primary plagiarism checker.
2) Grammarly is not perfect and does not catch every error (and sometimes offers incorrect suggestions.) Students will need training on how best to use the tool without relying on it too heavily.
3) The "score" at the bottom of the screen is misleading and not useful. Students will need to be reminded that a Grammarly score is not a reflection of their actual grade on any assignment, nor should it trump a teacher's evaluation of the assignment.
Welcome to Tech Tools Review!
My role as Instructional Tech Coach often involves testing new tools or equipment for possible use at SMA. It finally occurred to me that sharing my findings might be useful. (I know, right?) Enjoy, and please comment back if you have additional thoughts!