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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Discussing: "The Death of Math" by Gary Rubenstein

Rubenstein bemoans testing culture's effect on Math education and suggests a better way forward. I feel his pain but think he's only half-right.

Gary Rubenstein in his "The Death of math" blog post is spot-on about the short-sighted nature of de-prioritizing away from vital skills like geometric proofs as a result of standardized testing pressures. Proofs are geometry and are by far the most valuable aspect of it. And it ain't about the math, it's about the way of thinking that geometry proofs cultivate (yes, I'm an English teacher that has come to love "ain't"--deal with it!).

But Rubenstein is a bit behind the times in the Khan Academy era. Sal Khan, my former boss and co-worker (a fact that I will brag about until the end of eternity), has worked out a better solution to a lot of the issues that Rubenstein tries to solve.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

K-5 Common Core standards in-progress!

EssayTagger's free Common Core Rubric Creation Tool has been very well received by teachers. But I initially only adapted the 6-12 standards. I'm finally gearing up for K-5!

Our free Common Core Rubric Creation Tool is quite popular. It's been used to create over 7,500 Common Core-aligned rubrics in just its first year! And easily half of our customer support emails are from people who want us to incorporate the K-5 standards.

Well, I hear you and I am working on it!! Check out the work-in-progress.

Want to help? 
I'd love some collaborators! This is difficult! Use the support widget on the website, respond in the comments below, or find me on Twitter (@KeithMukai) if you want to contribute!

Some background
For those of you that don't know, the innovative aspect of the tool is that it breaks down each standard into its assessable sub-components:

This solves the problem that teachers face when they look at the standards; the dang things are just too vague, cover too much ground, or just aren't assessable.

It was also a crap-ton of work for me! Those assessable sub-components aren't part of the official CCSS specification; I had to stare at each standard and find a concise way to translate the standard into its assessable sub-components. That's not easy. And I'm not necessarily going to get everything right.

So I also made the tool flexible so that if you don't like my terminology or the way I've done it, you can edit the labels or even add totally new subcomponents as you see fit.

You then end up with a rubric grid that you can further customize, add additional CCSS-aligned rubric elements, add non-CCSS-aligned rubric elements (e.g. "Class Citizenship" or anything else not captured by the CCSS). You can also add performance descriptors (the traditional rubric text we're used to seeing) in each grid cell. You can share your rubric online (post a link, Twitter, email, etc), print it, or download it as an Excel CSV file.

And, of course, since this tool is part of EssayTagger, you can apply your rubric to an EssayTagger assignment and produce Common Core-aligned results data as you grade!

The Common Core Rubric Creation Tool is free for anyone to try and there's no registration or sign in required.

That being said, I certainly would not be disappointed if you decided to go deeper into the EssayTagger world and create a free trial account in order to see what life is like when you grade essays in our system. And as I always have to point out: EssayTagger is NOT an auto-grader. You make all the evaluations, you provide all the feedback. We just make it easier and more efficient for you to do so!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Project: DIY Gymnastics Mushroom

In addition to running EssayTagger I'm also a high school gymnastics coach. This is totally off-topic for EssayTagger, but I didn't have anywhere else to post it!

My flares aren't perfect but they are fun!
A mushroom is an indispensable tool for developing pommel horse circles. It takes a ton of time just to get a basic circle but once you're there you can start working spindles, russians, flares, moores, back moores, spindle flares, swiss hops. Add some obstacles and you can also work loops and back loops.

The best part is that you can train all this on your own, in the offseason. You can easily get circles in 9 months. It's a lot harder to do it during our 10-week season.

Unfortunately mushrooms are expensive. The type in the picture on the left with a steel base costs about $950. Even the cheapo-looking plastic mushrooms are over $300. Ouch!

$300+ for this?!

So I wanted to engineer my own mushroom that would be strong enough to support my 157lbs, it had to be simple enough for my more handy high school gymnasts to build at home, and the raw materials had to be reasonably affordable.

I'm pretty happy with the results:

Tools needed
7/16" drill bit
1" flat bit
Mitre saw (or do the cuts at a hardware store)
Light duty staple gun
Box cutter
Measuring tape

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to configure an assignment for "Evaluation-only" mode

With today's release of "Evaluation-only" mode support, instructors can now evaluate end-of-unit and final essays without providing feedback comments. Here's how to get started.

We're super-excited that we were able to launch our new "Evaluation-only" mode in time for most schools' final exams. Finals are the strongest case for when to use "Evaluation-only" mode; it's too late to provide helpful feedback and the kids won't get much out of it anyway with their minds already on summer.

Enabling "Evaluation-only" mode
Create or edit an assignment as you normally would. You'll notice a new option: "assessment mode":

Click the droplist and select "Evaluation-only" mode:

Latest update: "Evaluation-only" mode - just in time for finals!

EssayTagger is all about helping teachers provide targeted feedback that will promote student growth. But mid-stream fast formative assessments or end-of-unit summative assessments don't always require extensive feedback. Now EssayTagger supports both "Evaluation + Feedback" and "Evaluation-only" assessment modes to support those situations.

First, the lingo
It's taken me a while to wrap my brain around the following two terms, so let's review them just to be sure we're all on the same page:

Formative Assessment is a kind of check in with your students in the middle of a unit to see where they're at, see where they're struggling. The goal is to then use this information to make on-the-fly adjustments to your plans and instruction to help the students reach the goals you've set out for them. Formative assessments should be fast, simple, and low-stakes or zero-stakes (i.e. not for points). And they have to come early enough so that there's still time left to adjust course as needed. If you just want to quickly "take the pulse" of the room, there's no need for extensive feedback comments.

Summative Assessment is the end measurement point. Did they reach the goal? How many of the target skills can they actually demonstrate now that the unit is complete? Because summative assessments come at the end of the learning process, providing feedback or further coaching at this point is somewhat pointless. When students hand in a final essay at the end of the school year are they really going to absorb your extensive comments as they start their summer vacation? Shyeah, right!

EssayTagger's default mode: "Evaluation + Feedback"
Our primary emphasis on feedback comments places us outside of the world of fast formative assessment and summative assessment. In this mode instructors select a feedback comment from the appropriate quality column or add new reusable comments as needed:

Extensive feedback makes sense when a further draft is expected and students have a chance to incorporate or address your comments. Ideally all writing assignments would have a write-review-rewrite cycle built into the schedule.

The new "Evaluation-only" mode
With today's new release, instructors can opt to configure an assignment to focus solely on evaluation.

Drag-and-drop the rubric element like you normally would. In this example, we are dragging the "Thesis" button to identify the essay's thesis:

But now when the "Thesis" evaluation options pop up, we see that there is only a single choice for each quality level:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Adapting traditional rubrics for EssayTagger: Nevada Opinion Writing Rubric (5th grade)

EssayTagger represents an evolution of the concept of a rubric. Here's a specific look at how I adapted an existing rubric to take advantage of the EssayTagger world.

If you're new to the EssayTagger world, here's a primer on how EssayTagger rubrics are different from traditional rubrics.

Tearra Bobula, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary in Carson City, NV, asked me to adapt the Nevada Opinion Writing rubric. It initially presents a bit of a challenge. It consists of five main sections that each contain a subset of 2-4 additional elements:

(click for larger view)

Let's take a closer look at the first section:

(click for larger view)

Each row of this section pertains to the Statement of Purpose/Focus, but assesses slightly different aspects of that overall area. I would break these four sub-elements down to something like:
  • Statement of Opinion
  • Focus
  • Maintain Purpose/Focus
  • Provides Context
So when I adapted this rubric I treated each sub-element as its own rubric element:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Latest Update: Administrator Report emails

A simple new convenience feature driven by teacher feedback from my friends at El Camino Real Charter High School out in sunny southern California.

El Camino is embarking on an ambitious effort to coordinate classroom expectations across all teachers. Such an effort requires a bit of a culture shift--your classroom is no longer an isolated private island--as well as some technology support to ease the logistics of so much collaboration and sharing.

Specifically, they needed to be able to share their graded essays with their administrators and other teachers in the school. The interim solution was to print hard copies (ack, no!!!) or manually copy-and-paste the hyperlink to each student's graded work.

In order to support their efforts (which are perfectly aligned with my own philosophy of enhancing school-wide collaboration through data unification), we added a simple Administrator Report feature which emails a list of each student's results and provides a link to their graded essay:

Administrator Report email (fake test data for demonstration purposes)