Last November, I blogged about A Fill In The Blank Essay and creating drop down menus on Microsoft Word to lower the anxiety levels of my 9th graders learning how to write in a different format (DBQs) and make it easier for the teacher (me) to grade 150+ essays. Let me tell you, both the students and I looked like the walking dead after the process. So lets talk about the results:
Just as I predicted, my students felt a little less anxiety about the format of the paper. It was laid out for them. Topic sentence here. Paraphrase your document here. Explain why its important here. And it was easier for me to grade as well. There was a pattern to follow. I knew where to look while using my rubric.
Some students didn’t follow the pattern. They cited their explanation and followed it with a paraphrase of the document sans citation. Or they didn’t grasp the concept of paraphrasing. They went out of their way to quote something, even though I gave explicit instructions to not quote. As I write this, I can recall my Water Safety/Lifeguard Instructors reminding me to shout positive instructions (WALK!) instead of negative commands (DON’T RUN!) on the pool deck, because kids processed instructions better in that manner. I’m going to revisit my explanations of paraphrasing. Perhaps providing a series of small articles so they can practice paraphrasing before we start the DBQs. Or maybe adding it to the Mark The Text strategy.
The drop down menus and fill in the blank restrictions play havoc with the editing process. When students returned to the computer lab to make changes, they attempted to download their work from Turnitin.com from its original format. If the lab computers didn’t have the same software, then it couldn’t be opened. I had to do a lot of trouble shooting, saving it as a .pdf and importing it to Google drive and Google docs. Or opening it in the online Chromebook software and then transferring it to google docs. It burned a lot of class time.
As a result, I realized that working directly in Google Docs was more efficient. So as a result, I transferred my fill in the blank essay into google doc, removed all the drop down menus and restrictive fill in the blank boxes, and simply changed the color of the sentence prompts to red. Now, I add the instruction to students that where ever they see red, they need to follow the prompt and type over it. It also gives them a little more flexibility in fitting their ideas into the flow of the paragraph.
My goal of three DBQs in a semester was met. We did two fill in the blank (with additional document questions) and one in class/Bluebook style short answer (documents only). What I should have done was one fill in the blank (with additional document questions), one traditional (Essay prompt without format & remove the additional document questions), and one in class Bluebook style short answer (documents only).
But that, of course, might be on the back burner as I am currently preparing to teach a different course next year