Illuminating Writing Instruction: What Revision Assistant’s Spotlight Taught Us about Independent Learning
By Samantha Spencer
In the Fall of 2016, my fellow English teachers and I were determined to meet two major goals: 1) change how we teach writing and 2) develop new approaches to effective standards-aligned instruction and assessment. Towards this objective, we piloted Turnitin Revision Assistant, an online program that impacted us and our students in ways we did not expect. The tool helped us to change our day-to-day writing instruction practices, empowered students to direct their own learning, and made writing exercises more “real” and applicable to disciplines beyond English.
As the new English department chair of El Camino Real High School (a large, public charter school in Los Angeles), my task was to guide the department in adopting writing methods aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We quickly realized that to do this, we needed to measure our progress with data. When we came across Revision Assistant, it looked like it could answer our needs. Its technology could assess student writing and use the resultant data to provide immediate feedback to them while they were writing.
Revision Assistant also offered us an additional benefit that was not available to all users at the time: Spotlight. We used its Spot Check assignments to get a snapshot of students' writing skills before we began our instruction. Spotlight provided us with immediate rubric-trait scores that we used as baseline data to measure progress. These scores also helped us find exemplar essays from the exercise to use in self- and peer-review assignments. Students took advantage of these exemplars to understand the meaning of the rubrics.
And that’s just what they--and I--did. My students and I compared the different writing approaches in the essays by the rubric scores. We identified what types of evidence, uses of language, and ways to organize a paper would lead to higher scores. Right away, I recognized that my students had just engaged in the holy grail objective of an ELA teacher: the ability to create self-directed, reflective learners who use inquiry and research to communicate and solve problems.
Not only that, but their scores improved. Per our original goals, teachers using Revision Assistant developed more cohesive writing instruction plans and rubric-aligned writing scores aligned to CCSS metrics. More importantly, our students were writing more each day. They took ownership over their own learning and writing by utilizing Revision Assistant’s scores and feedback. Our students have written more words per assignment, revised more drafts, and improved their rubric-aligned scores than than ever before.