Some technical improvements for the HS English teacher–before the flood

I’d like to engineer my classes smarter than the Army Corps of Engineers did the Mississippi flood control system and NOLA (and MR. GO) when contemplating inevitable flooding.  It floods because it flows. There’s no avoiding it. The trick, then, is in anticipating and planning for the flood. (I enjoyed Harry Schearer‘s “The Big Un-Easy,” a 2010 documentary on what really caused the devastation in New Orleans, 2005–it wasn’t the hurricane–, and I think you will, too.)

Faced with class sizes of over 30 next year, my brain is hunting for solutions to the flood of work I’m faced with–an innundation of work that will effectively drown my professional ability. I know this river, having worked on it for 25 years now, and the class size, along with new standards-based grading and increased accountability mean that I either adapt a new approach or drown.

Already the flow is huge. As I have discussed elsewhere in The Wikiness, the job of HS English teacher has become increasingly technical, as standardized curricula reduce teacher choice and increase assessment burdens. Even if he is not a creative, responsive human being who wants to give his students his best, he will still need to work over 70 hours a week grading and implementing assignments.  The move to online programs like turnitin.com, while allowing for paperless grading, also makes the job more unpleasantly technical and confining. It’s a feeling of being leashed when one cannot take a set of physical papers on one’s desk into another chair, or another room at one’s discretion.  Now to grade, he must be at his computer.

One engineering feat that will seriously decrease the amount of time per paper would be something my cursory research suggests is feasible–right now:  a robust grammar and spell checker that would catch the major faults–faults I am busy painstakingly marking for every single paper. In turnitin.com I take an average of 12 minutes per paper, and most of them are spent “grademarking” every fragment, run-on, misspelling, and lack of parallelism. It’s tedium tremendum, and makes the job such an unpleasant grind (after the first 15 or so papers, that is; prior to that, it’s not so bad getting close to students’ writing).

If the technical side of grading–the mechanics, spelling and grammar–were taken care of, I could focus on the more important side of the writing–the logical and argumentative.

I found these options out there, but they all cost money, something I am unable to easily afford at this time.

There’s the intriguingly titled “Gingersoftware,” which claims to be the “world’s leading” solution.  Has anyone used it? How thoroughly does it proof the paper? How much data return to writer and teacher?

Coupled with the “gamification” of a turnitin.com grademarking (e.g., “10 or more negative grademarks and the paper cannot earn more than a B, 15 or more, no more than a C, etc.”) software like Ginger’s could stop a student from submitting sloppy work, a circumstance that puts the student in the unintended but inappropriate position of making his teacher do his copy editing.

Here’s another solution I found that offers to grade the paper, with caveats:
How difficult would it be to make such software part of the process of submitting work?

Some limiting conditions spring to mind–student access to computers and bandwidth, for instance. But if the software were reliable–what a boon this could be for the English teacher! The paper that takes me 12 minutes to grade would take two. I would not have to be an over-qualified proofreader/copy editor to my students!

I could then still give individual feedback to each of my 30+ students/classroom and thus differentiate and meet everyone’s needs.  I would thus “stay afloat” when this river rises.

If any readers have experience with such grammar/spelling programs, please comment or let me know on twitter @abendelow. Thank you, reader!

2 responses to “Some technical improvements for the HS English teacher–before the flood”

  1. Great news. Turnitin will be adding writing analysis tools into GradeMark to check for spelling, grammar, usage, style and mechanics powered by ETS e-rater technology. It should be ready later in the summer. Here's more info: http://turnitin.com/static/products/coming_soon.php

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  2. Thanks for sharing the great news, RayH. The administrator of the SAT, AP, and GRE exams has licensed its writing rater software to turnitin.com. It would seem to make the site invaluable to national assessment prep programs.

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