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Using Turnitin to Help Developmental Students

by Jennifer Haber, Professor of Communications at St. Petersburg College

When I first found out about Turnitin years ago, I used it strictly as a way to check students’ writings for plagiarism. It would give me an originality percentage, and I was able to identify if students had used sources and cited correctly. But, two years, I realized that Turnitin was much more powerful than I had originally thought, and I began using it in different ways. In fact, Turnitin became a means of providing feedback and having students work through writing as a process.

I found this feedback particularly important in my developmental classes. The students needed quality feedback that was clear and focused. They also needed to understand that writing is a process—not just a product. So, I used Turnitin with my developmental students for our three-step process.

I gave the students a topic early in the semester and then had them submit their rough drafts to Turnitin. Once I retrieved their papers from Turnitin, I would provide feedback in three main areas: focus, development, and organization. I would provide students with detailed comments on their papers. For instance, I might write, “I see that you made the point that dogs make good pets, but I didn’t see an example to show me why.” Using the audio component, I would then tell the students what I wanted them to focus for their next submission.

For the next submission, I would focus on words and sentences. I would highlight three ineffective words and one effective word and do the same concept with their sentences. I used the yellow highlighter for words, and the blue highlighter for sentences. Again, using the audio component, I would tell them the goal for the next submission.

I did this again with grammar and mechanics, following a similar process. After the three-step process, they were ready to submit their final papers for grading.

The outcome was amazing. First, students realized that writing is a process. In fact, on my evaluations, I consistently see students write comments, such as “I never realized that should write in steps” or “My writing improvement because I worked on it in chunks.” Second, students learning what an important tool Turnitin was for them. Last semester, three students from the previous semester visited me during my office hours to ask how I could get their professors to use this great tool. Third, their writing improved. One hundred percent of my students during the fall semester passed the class with a C or higher and have found success in other writing class. Finally, though, the most important outcome was that students learned to enjoy writing.

Related Resources: 
Turnitin Revision Assistant
Finding Integrity Beyond Integrity