After a 2-month hiatus, it's time to pick up the pen and compose a new post!
The summer ended in a blur followed by a break that was all to short, but now we are plowing along, full speed, through what has been an exciting—and exhausting—semester already!
As we continue to explore the ways in which technology can revolutionize teaching practices, I am amazed by the enthusiasm, ingenuity, and creativity of the those educators who are not only embracing that technology but diving head-first into expanding its utility in the classroom. One fine example is former MACer, Jeff Scheur, who recently won the Citi Innovation Challenge for his web tool No Red Ink. Plagued by the woes—and seemingly endless task—of grading papers rife with errors, Scheur sought a way to engage students in grammar practice without the overtone of punishment. No Red Ink uses students’ real life interests and social preferences (media, friends, etc.) to construct learning opportunities and grammar lessons to strengthen literacy skills and scaffold students’ development as writers. As a future science teacher, I see a wealth of advantages in this tool from it’s ability to provide the instructor with detailed output on student progress to enabling students to practice basic skills without taking away from critical class time.
When dealing with literacy practices, high school teachers are continually torn between two poles. They want to develop students’ the higher-order skills—like finding and integrating evidence, writing succinctly, and reasoning through an argument—but must also foster the students’ local-level skills like grammar, word choice, and proof reading. Though teachers may wish to assume the latter subjects have been taught in elementary and middle school, students’ often enter high school lacking much strength in the elements of writing. When you combine this dichotomy with ever-increasing class sizes and high-stakes testing demands it’s no wonder many teachers are feeling overwhelmed by extensive grading and thus limit the use of a “writing to learn” curricular approach. A tool like No Red Ink enables students to recall prior knowledge of basic writing skills and hone areas in which they struggle, allowing high school teachers to focus more on higher-order skills while continuing to support their students’ literacy foundation.