by Angela Hase, Teacher Consultant and High School Teacher Extraordinaire
Essay correcting consumes teachers. It eats away at our time, crunching minutes like Cookie Monster. Every comma splice, fragment, oddly used piece of evidence chips away at that “I’m only going to work on correcting for an hour, I swear” promise and crumbles into supper time, TV time… wine time! And that time isn’t just time reading students’ work: it’s time thinking about how to write concise, clear, non-rambling, instructive sentences that make sense and address something specific. Technology has helped some. I moved from handwriting comments on paper essays to typing comments on digital essays. (Or how I like to think of it: a move from a calloused middle finger to carpal tunnel syndrome.) But I still felt like I didn’t have the energy to type what needed to be said on every essay. Not only that, but students didn’t read them. They skimmed the comments looking for quick fixes. Giving feedback on essays felt more like a chore than a learning opportunity because if anybody was learning anything, it was me. I picked up my written feedback game, but students weren’t writing better.
What I really needed was time to do one-on-one conferences with students, so I could sit with them and go through their paper. But that’s not realistic for the majority of writing assignments.
Last summer I had a breakthrough. I went to a technology camp and Gayle Hyde, a superstar teacher who is a master at using technology, showed me Kaizena Mini. Kaizena Mini is a Google Docs add-on (open a document in Google Docs and look at the menu at the top). This add-on allows you to give feedback by speaking it. Speaking it! This add-on is similar to adding a comment. Like comments, you highlight an area or word that you want to make a comment on and instead of typing it, hit the record option to record your voice. The microphone built into your computer will do the recording. You get one minute and thirty second intervals to record your comments. I have found that most of the time this is enough time. If I do ever want to say more, I just add another voice recording. From my experience, you can add as many recordings as you need. In order for students to get the voice recording, they need to add Kaizena Mini as well. Once they do, they are able to see and play the audio.
This miracle of technology has changed the way I give feedback. Now I can read portions to them and tell them why something does not work. My students always have issues with pulling the right type of evidence to back up their paragraph’s point. With Kaizen Mini, I can read their topic sentence to them and then read the evidence and talk through why the evidence does not work for their paragraph. When they hear the voice feedback, they get the advantage of hearing my tone of voice and the words that I am emphasizing for meaning. On the flip side, my students like hearing my recordings. They like hearing their sentences read and hearing everything I have to say about them (mostly because I’m hi-larious and crack a ton of jokes!). Seriously though, the feedback is more meaningful to them. It makes more sense to them because I am able to spend more time going into the details. Really, it’s the closest I can get to a one-on-one conference.
I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if I’m just moving from carpel tunnel syndrome to laryngitis. My students haven’t mastered seamlessly working in compelling outside evidence, and I’m not really saving any time.
But it’s still worth it for me. Using Kaizena Mini makes the time I do spend more meaningful. It gives my feedback a stronger purpose. Students feel more connected to their writing and to the process of revision. We all leave an assignment better prepared for the next.
I guess I can shave off a little time for that (not from the wine time section of course).