Revision Assistant Case Study: Hostos-Lincoln Academy, Bronx, NY

Feedback that Extends Teachers’ Reach



Writing and Future Success

Located in the South Bronx, New York, one of the poorest congressional districts within the United States, Hostos-Lincoln Academy serves students from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. TC Niemann, an English teacher at the school who instructs students from the 6th to 12th grades, remarks that the value of knowing how to write well is, “the difference between languishing in poverty and getting access to higher education. The ones who learn how to write get out of the neighborhood and those who don’t, stay.” Mr. Niemann explains that one of the most significant challenges to helping students develop their writing skills is finding the time to provide individualized instruction. It takes a lot of time and attention for one to work with a large number of students with special needs, mark hundreds of papers with fast turnaround, help students understand the feedback one provides them and to try to get them to act on that feedback. Mr. Niemann was looking for a way to extend his reach

Implementation

Recognizing the high stakes at play for his students, Mr. Niemann had a strong motivation to overcome these challenges. He set out to search for tools that could help him provide feedback more efficiently. He came across information about Revision Assistant and contacted the people administering its pilot. Soon after, his school became a participant. Revision Assistant intrigued Mr. Niemann because it went beyond simply providing scores--its aim was to help students become better writers by putting them into the driver’s seat of the revision process. Mr. Niemann thought that the system was worth a try if it could direct students to go back and revise their written works.

125 students from the 7th and 10th grades and Advanced Placement classes participated. Revision Assistant developers were on hand in person to observe and work with students and teachers as they used the tool. Mr. Niemann began an assignment with pre-writing exercises. Working closely with his younger students, they would organize and structure their initial drafts before submitting them into the system. Advanced students started more independently. Students would then proceed through revision, reaching out to Mr. Niemann if they had any questions. Rubrics were shared with the students, but more attention was paid to the rubrics at the end of an assignment so that the younger students would not be so bewildered by them. Once final drafts were submitted to Mr. Niemann, he conducted tasks on his own that Revision Assistant was not designed to do, such as fact checking, before assigning final grades.

Results

When introduced to Revision Assistant, students welcomed the opportunity to try something new. According to one of Mr. Niemann’s students, Andy, “It made me feel like I was stepping into advanced territory where...it felt like this was uncharted...I have never seen anything like this, so it made me feel, like, privileged, especially for a Bronx student to get that kind of thing.” The students demonstrated strong levels of engagement with the system and reacted positively to the challenge of trying to increase their signal checks. Mr. Niemann recounts the case of one particular student who was typically disengaged, had low confidence and often failed to come into class. When she began using Revision Assistant, however, she showed up for class more frequently and kept up the effort to revise her assignments. Another student told him she thought that students could use more practice similar to that offered by the tool. In Mr. Niemann’s view, Revision Assistant, “was a real extension of my reach in that [the students] would be in control of their own revision. [They would] click a button and they would say, ‘Oh I need to change this one,’ and then they might call me over and [ask] me, ‘how do I make this better?’...which is a conversation that needs to happen more often than it does.” By supporting this kind of conversation, the tool changed the dynamic of his relationship with his students. Rather than being an authority figure who enforced the rules and established measures, Mr. Niemann became the students’ partner in trying to figure out how to beat the machine’s “game.” In his words, Revision Assistant, “makes me an advocate, instead of an opponent, and that’s worth its weight in gold.”

One thing that I never get in a regular, in-classroom writing assignment is five drafts of a paper from all the students in the class… Everybody went back and tried to change something and that was a huge win.
— TC Niemann

From Mr. Niemann’s perspective, the system demonstrated some encouraging results. Besides engaging the students, he saw evidence that more students took greater effort and care in reviewing their works before submission. In receiving feedback immediately, they could act on it right away. One of his students, Evlyn, recounted that, “When I saw the [signal checks] I knew what I had to do. When I saw the essay I saw...what I needed to focus on specifically...I knew how my essay could be better with this information.” Mr. Niemann concurs with Evelyn, noting that, “often the feedback was very directed toward a specific problem in the writing and it...was worded very carefully. Often when you’re working with 25 students in a classroom and trying to give comments on the fly, you don’t craft your responses as carefully as the program did.” Another of his students, Guadalupe, believes that using Revision Assistant’s feedback helped her increase the clarity of her writing. And Mr. Niemann observed students applying the skills they developed when using Revision Assistant to other tasks outside of the system.

Mr. Niemann believes that Revision Assistant allowed him to direct his attention to the students who most needed his help, and it let him get to them before they became disinterested in an assignment: “One thing that I never get in a regular, in-classroom writing assignment is five drafts of a paper from all the students in the class...There was not a student who crumpled up the paper, threw it into the desk and walked out. Everybody went back and tried to change something and that was a huge win.” Students, when using the tool, were more likely to regard him as as a valuable resource they could call over whenever they needed guidance. In this context, he believes that Revision Assistant’s instant and on-demand feedback offers students the support they need while it also offers educators the ability to extend their reach.

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