Revision Assistant Case Study: Riverside Middle School

Increasing the Speed of Feedback to Enhance Its Impact and to Reinforce Students’ Self-Esteem



Finding a Way to Provide Feedback in Time to Make a Difference

Riverside Middle School, situated in a rural community within western Pennsylvania, serves 350 to 400 students, of whom around one-third are socio-economically disadvantaged. Chelsea Kordecki, an English teacher for about 170 seventh and eighth grade students at the school, used Revision Assistant within her classes in the spring of 2015. Ms. Kordecki had typically found it a challenge to provide all of her students with the substantive feedback they needed to improve in time: “the speed in which I am able to respond back to a student to actually give them feedback is something that I really struggled with prior to Revision Assistant. The time-frame to read a paper, to be able to actually meet with a student was time consuming, especially with 170.” In addition, younger students do not always appreciate the value of the feedback she gives them. Students often ignore comments she has written on their papers, rather than figuring out how to apply the notes to future writing. This is, in Ms. Kordecki’s view, partially because they do not have an opportunity to apply the feedback to their writing right away, and must wait until the next assignment: “I definitely think with effective feedback the students have to have an immediate response and an opportunity to work on it right then and there.”

Ms. Kordecki admits that her introduction to Revision Assistant was somewhat serendipitous, having heard about the program from a colleague who had attended a conference at Carnegie Mellon University. Always looking for better ways to help her students improve their writing, she applied on behalf of her district to participate in the 2015 spring pilot of Revision Assistant and was accepted. She had seven of her classes (around 140 students in both 7th and 8th grade) use the system for three writing prompts.

Before each Revision Assistant assignment, she provided her students with brief lessons on the type of writing they were going to employ (e.g., informative, narrative, argument). As part of these lessons, she would review with them the rubric associated with each prompt. She also used the writing assignments as an opportunity to walk the students through each specific step of the writing process itself, from brainstorming to peer review. Additionally, she would have her classes talk about the feedback they received from Revision Assistant and how to use it best, “because it wasn’t just an answer for them, it didn’t just tell them, ‘well you need to correct this area.’ [The feedback] made them take a step back and think about the writing process and how they were applying the details they needed to answer the prompt.”

Results

Since Revision Assistant provided students with feedback immediately while they were writing, Ms. Kordecki had more time to monitor their progress with the tool’s reporting features. She used those data to determine where the class was in their understanding of the material and how that level of understanding stood in relation to the expectations of her state’s standards. Subsequently, she would differentiate her instruction, as appropriate, and gave more personal attention to those students in more need of it.

Students have had the opportunity to build upon their current writing skills by implementing the feedback provided when they were using the program without actually waiting for a peer or myself to review their work. Positive feedback as well as constructive criticism helps reinforce self-esteem and confidence in my students, and in my experiences this pushes them to become better writers themselves.
— Chelsea Kordecki

Ms. Kordecki worked Revision Assistant into her courses so that her students had plenty of resources and opportunities to improve. When first introduced to the system, students needed some guidance on how to use the tool’s comments. But, after only a couple of drafts, they began to understand the feedback and how to apply it. Besides class discussions on the rubric, the feedback, and the writing process, students could ask Ms. Kordecki for help, although many times they would also turn to one another during peer review for assistance. Her students responded very well to the signal checks; for them, increasing the “signal strength” was very much like a game. The signal checks served as motivators that did not discourage the students, “because if they do not receive the highest score at first, they know they did something, not necessarily wrong, but something that they will have to improve upon. So it has really helped them to realize that there are more than just one step to writing; they have to often draft several times before they can [deliver] their best output.”

Ms. Kordecki saw her students’ writing skills, and attitudes towards writing, improve with the use of Revision Assistant. “They’re excited to input the feedback,” she observes, and, “they definitely think about the process of writing a lot more.” This includes putting more care and thought into the steps of pre-writing, revision, editing and peer review. Ms. Kordecki notes that since the students know that she and Revision Assistant are always paying close attention to their essays, that awareness, “definitely causes a lot more accountability for the students and that excites them as well, as it helps them to understand that each process and each step of the way is going to improve their final outcome.” One student in particular previously had a fear of writing, but as she drafted and received the instant feedback, whether the comments were positive or constructive, “it all of a sudden created a brand new confidence.” Ms. Kordecki observed this result emerge from her students as a whole, or, as she says:

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