Writing More Through Personalized Learning Platforms

A tip of the hat to Marshall Memo for pointing to this recent post by Mike Schmoker, author of RESULTS NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning.  In ‘Write More, Grade Less’, Schmoker argues that over the past thirty years, we have developed a number of ineffective and even counter-productive practices when it comes to student writing:

  • Overload: we grade for and comment on too many dimensions of a single writing assignment (which students ignore—because these comments discourage and  overwhelm them—with no clear direction on how to revise).
  • Infrequent writing assignments:  because grading papers very thoroughly takes so much time, we wind up reducing the number of assignments—though  frequent guided writing assignments are essential to becoming an effective writer.
  • Delay:  writing assignments are commonly returned weeks after they are completed–which nullifies any benefits for students.  And we seldom provide guided opportunities for students to revise their papers, based on feedback.

Schmoker goes on to offer detailed recommendations on more effective ways to improve student writing, including focusing on short, more frequent writing assignments, focusing on one trait at a time, and scheduling dedicated ‘writing days’.

If Schmoker’s cautions sound familiar, they should.  We’ve written before on what it takes to move from novice to expert in any field, including writing.  We know that writing practice should be distributed over time, and, as Schmoker argues, the key to developing a successful writer is frequency – students need to write a lot to improve as writers.

Our own personalized learning platforms (MyWritingWeb and Oasis) were built around the idea of facilitating the move from novice to expert.  Because these tools are web-based students may access them from anywhere at anytime, giving students many more opportunities to write.   And because they are student-centered, these tools do not require teacher administration.  Educators may utilize MyWritingWeb and Oasis to monitor a student’s writing growth using The Lexile Framework for Writing, though it is not necessary to ‘grade’ every assignment.  Instead, educators can simply assign frequent writing assignments and then monitor for content or specific traits.

Schmoker makes some valuable recommendations and it’s good to see a consensus building around the idea of what it takes to develop a good writer: targeted practice, more frequent and distributed opportunities to write, and self-directed activity.  For more on the value of personalized learning platforms, be sure to check out “Next Generation Assessments”.

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