Technology is allowing teachers to go “beyond the grade” with essays to drive learning and better outcomes.
Essay-writing is about so much more than simply improving students’ writing and citation skills. It’s also about critical thinking, and that’s why essays have always been such an essential tool for teachers— they provide insights into students’ current state of thinking and understanding, and allow teachers to identify opportunities for targeted, strategic intervention.
The problem is that grading and providing feedback on paper-based essays is often a tedious, time-consuming process, and that can lead to teachers missing out on extra opportunities to drive learning and help students achieve better outcomes. However, as more digital tools become available, teachers are becoming increasingly empowered to “go beyond the grade” with essays.
“Technology is increasingly opening the door to a more fluid dialogue around essays, giving teachers the flexibility to have more detailed conversations around feedback,” says Jason Chu, Director of Product Management at Turnitin, a cloud-based platform dedicated to evaluating and improving student writing, and a D2L partner. “At the end of the day, it’s allowing them to provide students with more engaging, differentiated instruction.”
Here are five ways technology is changing the way teachers grade essays:
Better, faster feedback
The most obvious advantage technology offers teachers is the ability to provide better and more timely feedback to students. According to a survey conducted by Turnitin, 80% of students expect feedback to help them receive good grades, and 60% say they are likely to use their feedback if they receive it while working on a task or immediately after they’ve completed a task.
These days, online platforms offer digitally streamlined, mobile-optimised essay grading experiences—especially when seamlessly integrated with a learning management system. They are a one-stop-shop where students can upload essays they’ve written that teachers can then grade while providing immediately accessible feedback.
Online platforms also allow teachers to take that feedback beyond messy hand-scrawled notes. They offer digital tools that enable better, more instructive feedback with voice and text comments that can be left on specific phrases or entire assignments; custom or predefined drag and drop comments; and the ability to grade with standards-aligned rubrics that show students how particular parts of their work impact their grade.
A learning opportunity in every draft
Automated feedback tools let teachers empower students to take ownership of their writing. By offering students specific, targeted suggestions on early drafts, these online tools encourage students to turn in essays they have already revised and improved. Targeted feedback and actionable comments help students proactively deal with issues around things like clarity and focus, language, organisation, and evidence. They highlight strengths and weaknesses in students’ writing, pointing out areas that need attention so students can make the necessary revisions and resubmit their essay to improve their skills and scores.
While automated feedback tools help students think more critically about their own writing, they also provide teachers with instant data to help them make informed assessments of student writing skills more easily and objectively. This helps teachers differentiate instruction and drive better learning outcomes.
Empowering peer collaboration
Some online platforms allow teachers to distribute essays anonymously amongst the class so students can give their peers meaningful feedback. It’s a process that can be a real driver for change in student writing. By encouraging discussion and reflection amongst students in the classroom, students can gain insight into how their peers write and use anonymous feedback from their peers to learn what they can do differently and improve their own skills.
Allow students to own their own ideas
Online platforms include originality reports and plagiarism checkers with massive databases of indexed web pages, student papers and scholarly journals and articles that cross-reference essays to ensure the originality of ideas. Such tools allow students to take ownership of their own ideas, and teachers to instruct students on how to properly cite when they’re using someone else’s work—something that’s particularly important in an age that’s seeing an increasing boom in the digital “essay mills” business.
Connect with students where and when they needed it most
Together, all these capabilities—the tools, the streamlined experience, and the peer collaboration—allow teachers to directly or indirectly reach every learner how, when and where they need it most. Some students learn better visually and some learn better from their peers. Some learn better from targeted audio comments and an increasing number are learning on multiple devices. However and wherever students are learning, online platforms and digital tools allow teachers to keep track of students, and their performance over time, and help them to grow as writers and critical thinkers.
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