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Starting conversations about learning and grades with textexpander

November 13, 2013

We write comments 3 times a year and give grades at the quarter and end of the semester. One of the things I dislike about this process is the tremendous amount of lag between me writing a comment or determining a grade and a student actually getting this feedback, and this has been true at every school I’ve worked at. It’s not uncommon for comments to take a week or more to get proofread, and then it takes time to get them out to parents, who then pass them along to kids. Often, by kids get their comments weeks after they were written which doesn’t do much to close the feedback loop and give students timely feedback in a way that can be beneficial to their learning. And of course, I dislike quarter grades themselves, a single number attempting to summarize what a student has learned, when we are really in the middle of the game and actually need to be having a conversation about learning rather than summing it up.

So I’ve tried to address both of these concerns in the small ways that I can. One thing I do is send my comments and/or grades to the student via email as soon as I finish them, and I usually enclose them in an email inviting them into a conversation. One side benefit from this is I get one more set of eyes to proofread my comments, but the real reason I do it is to continue a conversation about learning with each student.

But sending emails to 50 students can be quite tedious. Luckily, I have an awesome tool in my arsnel that makes this a cinch—textexpander. Text expander lets you expand short abbreviations like wwork with longer strings of text, like my work email address. But it is so much more powerful than that. I can also create fill in fields so that when I enter type the expansion shortcut, I’m prompted to enter values for the fields that are incorporated into the text.

Screen Shot 2013 11 13 at 12 08 06 AM

So now typing a long email with a grade and questions I’d like the student to reflect upon is as simple as typing “1qtr” and filling in the appropriate fields, and I can even add a field to allow me to add a personal note to each student, which I can quickly type, which means I can send personalized emails to 50 students in a little less than an hour. Not bad.

And the payoff is huge. I’m convinced that there is great benefit to students engaging their teachers in 1-1 conversations, even if only in email. I’ve gotten incredibly thoughtful replies from students that give me real insight into their learning and are disarmingly honest, like this:

Screen Shot 2013 11 13 at 12 14 07 AM

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2013 7:04 am

    Saw your comment and questions at the bottom for ensuring that kids keep reading and thinking about their comment.

    Made me wonder: what if the grades and comments were not final until they reflected on them in writing?

    • November 13, 2013 11:01 pm

      I really like this idea. If I can get to the point where I can calculate grades more than mere hours before the deadline, I will definitely try it. 🙂

  2. November 13, 2013 3:26 pm

    Nice idea, Grant. I have been using email conversations more and more lately. For example, before writing my last batch of comments, I asked students to reflect on their performance by answering several questions posed by email. Or, as we start a novel, they send email responses to guiding questions about their early impressions. We then build individual email chains that lead to personalized essay topics down the line–based on their developing interests.

  3. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist permalink
    November 13, 2013 10:51 pm

    Cool tool! I like how you work so hard to communicate with your students about their learning. I’m curious: what if you did audio or screencast snippets? You talk faster than you type (I presume) and you could get more information across. It reminds me of why I like doing screencast comments on papers. I also think something like a livescribe pen could help out because then it would be easy for them (and you, later) to jump to important snippets of the conversation.

    • November 13, 2013 11:00 pm

      That’s a great idea Andy. And as soon as I get canvas up and running for my class, I might try that.

  4. November 14, 2013 4:21 pm

    I have long wondered why a “textexpander” wasn’t part of word processors… it *was* part of my very first one, on my Amstrad back in the 1980’s. I have learned to make “autocorrect” in Word do the same for me…

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