As part of her keynote, Dr. Maha Bali invited us to build on Ian M. MacKay’s “Swiss cheese model applied to COVID19 prevention” in order to think about the application to writing pedagogy and the use of these tools as well as about systematic and individual challenges that could hinder our work.
A research group of around two dozen educators, teacher advisors from four National Writing Project Sites met in monthly meetings in the 2020-21 school year to examine what we commonly call “writing assistive technologies” and how they are affecting our teaching. the writing of our students and the field of teaching writing in a broader sense. This project is called “Ahead of the Code” and yesterday we got into one open conference, Invite colleagues to take part in our research, make our practice public, and share some ideas from our research on tools that range from grammar and spell checkers to automated essay evaluations.
What I found most compelling about our talks of the day is that many of the questions that teachers explored this year went beyond our initial questions like “What are these tools” and “How can I use them” into deeper, more substantive questions Moved questions about what algorithmic tools really are, how they work with assumptions about academic language, and what purposes they ultimately serve. There have been a number of creative ways these teachers have pushed the boundaries of writing assist technologies that were previously seen as limiting (e.g. a particular tool) as well as rethinking the use of those tools to better integrate them into a process-oriented pedagogy (e.g. Feedback that can feel overwhelming). I hope more of their reflections (and resources from the meetings) are on. will appear our group’s blog soon.
As part of our day, we were greeted with a keynote DR. Maha Bali | (@bali_maha), Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, whose work includes Hybrid pedagogy and as the founder of Equity unbound. As part of her keynote, our conference planning team had worked with her to think the keynote session through, and she wanted to build on Ian M. MacKays.Swiss cheese model applied to COVID19 prevention“To think about the application to writing pedagogy and the use of these tools, as well as about systematic and individual challenges that could hinder our work. Although we didn’t have quite enough time to think through the version I made during the keynote talk (since it gave us one of the Liberating structures Protocols), I wanted to share a few brief thoughts and my picture here.
When constructing my version of the Roumy Cheese model, I tried to systematically think about where we were with writing lessons in general and with the use of writing aids. That said, I didn’t write down the tools in my model. Instead, I focused on the context we are in teaching writing, which encompasses various causes of inequalities in teaching English, including necessity Linguistic justice (Baker-Bell) and many years of recognition from Students’ rights to their own language (NCTE / CCCC); neither is the way teachers have to balance tensions between students’ native languages and dialects, some of which may be seen as contradicting popular notions of “academic” or “real” English. In doing so, I went from “bigger” to “smaller” and moved from left to right, starting with the school culture and the prevalence of the workshop structure in ELA classrooms, by and large on the far left and then to some of the ideas of The work by Graham et al. about the use of “Model-Practice-Reflect” and explicit strategy instructions towards the center.
Moving to the right, I thought we should look at the movements of individual teachers during the workshop, including an analysis of mentor texts, effective design of transparent assignments, and generative (versus punitive) grading guidelines and practices. Then we dig deeper into individual teacher’s decision-making and consider how students intentionally build up time for counseling and the framework of intentional peer feedback. These steps within the classroom are then supported by timely and effective feedback also outside the classroom, the last piece on the right and the best way to support student authors in their further learning and growth.
What’s noteworthy is that in my model I don’t talk too much about any particular write assist technology. If there are moments when these technologies could be deployed (at the system-wide, school-wide, grade-level, or individual teacher level), I would argue that a seasoned teacher can likely find a way to do it (even if using the tool, such as a teacher training program) E.g. a grammar checker or a plagiarism detection service may be used in a way that differs slightly from its original intended use). For example, during the conference we talked about how we could take a gamified grammar experience and invite students not only to think about correcting mistakes (like correcting commas in a row), but also to take these sample sets and adopt them adapt your own writing. Or another colleague talked about how she got students to choose a writing aid technology in order to focus on one element (precision, for example with the Hemingway editor) and would then be encouraged to choose a different technology and focus next time, such as a grammar check.
There’s probably a place to think more explicitly about the write assist technologies by inserting them into the Roumy cheese analogy. That’ll have to wait for now. Once again, I thank Maha Bali for introducing it to us in order to broaden our reflection on the systematic challenges we face in education. And as we move from questions about the tools to substantive questions about their use (and repurposing them from their original uses), I am encouraged to see how we can continue to stay “ahead of the code.”
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