Revision Assistant Case Study: Wheeling Middle School

Easy-to-Understand, Actionable Feedback that Results in More Revision



Looking for Easy-to-Understand, Actionable Feedback

Wheeling Middle School serves a small student population (approximately 200) in Ohio County, West Virginia. Approximately fifty percent of the school’s students are enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Aimee Jones, a teacher of language arts for the seventh and eighth grades at Wheeling Middle, believes that successful feedback provision encounters several significant challenges. For one, it is very difficult to give feedback to all of her students quickly enough to make a strong impact on their writing. On top of that, it is difficult to find the time to make sure that every student fully understands the feedback they receive. And, even if a teacher can succeed in delivering timely, individualized, accessible feedback, that information can only be digested piecemeal by the students. In other words, though writing is an holistic process, she remarks that it is very difficult to successfully teach it in a holistic fashion. Lastly, Ms. Jones had difficulty in getting her students to understand the importance of reviewing and revising multiple times.

Recognizing the need for more writing instruction support, her state’s department of education sought a technological solution. The school system implemented a program that showed great promise, but unfortunately, caused much frustration and had little impact on improving students’ writing skills. Students had a difficult time deciphering and applying the instant comments and scores the system offered. The program’s feedback, “was using words they didn’t understand….[feedback] has to be ‘to them,” direct, and written in their language.” The scoring system also proved confounding, as well. The software’s scores would increase if essays were revised with gibberish; and they would lower if students would make legitimate changes that even Ms. Jones believed led to improvement. Therefore, the schools dropped the software and another solution was sought. This is when they discovered Revision Assistant.

Implementation

Ms. Jones and her colleagues were excited at the prospect of using Revision Assistant because, once they were introduced to it, they saw that, “It seemed like it was a really perfect fit for our kids. There were so many things about it that I kept thinking to myself, you know, the kids are really going to understand this, they’re going to like this.” It should also be noted that one reason the school system was looking specifically for a technological solution was because it understood that students were going to undergo state assessments on computer. Many of the students in the community only had access to computers at the school. Therefore, Revision Assistant would not only assist them in improving their writing skills, but it would be used to improve their technology skills, as well.

Implementation of the tool was executed through a train-the-trainer model. Ms. Jones was one of a group that attended a training session at the district’s central office, and then each person went back to their respective schools to impart that training to their colleagues. Revision Assistant was used in classes for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. When working with her students, Ms. Jones first demonstrated the tool to them, showing what it could do, and gave them time to explore it themselves. Once they were comfortable with the interface, she reviewed the assignments to which the students were going to write responses. Students wrote their first drafts on paper initially, and then typed the content into the system. After their essays had been entered, the students’ reactions to Revision Assistant’s feedback were extremely positive.

Results

Revision Assistant offers students “signal checks,” which are symbols, similar to cell phone signal icons, that measure the strength of students’ essays against several rubric criteria. Students can receive a maximum of four points (shown as signal bars) for each criterion. As Ms. Jones puts it, “one of the things that they really liked the most and was so understandable were the bars and they...wanted to keep going back and revise again because that is something that is in their world, something that is so familiar to them….they wanted to raise those bars every time.” In fact, she observed quite a few students revising an essay twelve to fifteen times.

The ideas that they were putting in were more unique to them, things that were pulled out of them because of the feedback.
Aimee Jones

One eighth grade student in particular, Ms. Jones recounts, was, “not keen on writing; it’s not her favorite thing to do.” However, she took to Revision Assistant very well, since, “she understood it and it was something that she could put into practice.” In fact, the student’s reaction was not only quite positive, but also tinged with amazement. At one point the student even asked Ms. Jones whether she had written the comments the girl had received. In Ms. Jones’ view, Revision Assistant’s feedback seems to have been written with the students in mind; it speaks directly to them, almost as though it were part of a “live chat.” She believes this results in increasing their comfort and ease with the program.

The results were very encouraging. Ms. Jones admits that she even began to change her own writing instruction, spending less time on the superficial features of writing, and focused more on the act of revision itself. She was able to use Revision Assistant to take a more holistic approach to writing instruction with her students. And all of her students, regardless of their working skill level, responded very well to this change. The students who typically struggled with writing, “were digging deep...they really enjoyed it. They felt successful.” Ms. Jones attributes much of the improvement in their writing to the fact that they could understand the comments, and were comfortable with the feedback. Consequently, her students’ writing became more organized; it had more flow. But even more significantly, “the content of what they were writing...the ideas that they were putting in were more unique to them, things that were pulled out of them because of the feedback. And….they thought in a more profound way, I think, when they were choosing what they wanted to say and what they wanted to include in their writing.”

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