Action Research Project – Using JING to Create and Implement an Online Writing Tutorial

Description of Context

I conducted this study within my student-teaching placement in Salem, Va.  Every classroom at the school is equipped with an LCD projector and wireless internet access.  In addition, teachers may check out “Computers on Wheels” or COW carts, which house complete classroom sets of laptops.  Teachers also have the ability to request Smart Boards, digital camcorders, and Mimeo devices.  My classes all followed the 7th grade Civics and Economics curriculum.  To implement this project in my classroom, I utilized a COW cart and LCD projector.

Description of Students

All of my students are 7th grade students (12 and 13 years old) studying the Civics and Economics curriculum.  I chose to implement this project across all four of my class periods.  Each class exhibits its own characteristics in terms of the classroom dynamic, but in terms of academic ability, I have observed uniformity from group to group.  The one exception would be my 4th-period, which consists of a much broader spectrum of abilities – from some of the highest achievers in the grade to some of the lowest.  Several students in the class have IEP’s and four complete the VGLA rather than the SOL.  Fourth period also contains the students with the lowest writing abilities.

Description of Activity

I completed this action research within the larger framework of the “Managing and Monitoring Student Growth through Writing” assignment.  The activity I implemented in the action research project constitutes the first instructional intervention within the MMSGW assignment and the student products serve as the second MMSGW writing sample.  The question I asked in approaching this project was “How can I help my students become better writers?”  I specifically wanted students to understand the elements of a persuasive writing piece:

  • Clear topic sentence, which states the argument
  • Factual evidence to support the argument
  • Concluding statement that summarizes viewpoint

To achieve this goal, I created an online writing tutorial using the program Jing.  In the tutorial, I narrated an analysis of a “good” and “bad” model of a persuasive writing piece using the first MMSGW prompt to make the concepts more familiar.  I then discussed how the “good” example illustrated the desired elements (bulleted above) and discussed how the “bad” example showed what not to do.  In class, we watched the tutorial together and then reviewed the elements of a “good” piece by making a list on the board.  I then distributed the writing prompt and blank outline that would serve as the students’ final product for this activity.  After discussing the writing prompt, students watched the tutorial individually using laptops and headphones, while referring to their notes from a previous class session to begin generating ideas for their written response.  I made the link to the tutorial available through the class website and informed students that they could view it outside of class as they completed their writing assignment over the next several days.

Data Gathered

In carrying out this project, I came away with two major sources of data.  The first category was final product – the student responses to the persuasive writing prompt, with the outline they had created using their class notes.

Student A outline

Student A response

The second main source of data was a survey the students completed after turning in their persuasive piece.

student survey

Condensed Survey Data

Question 1 Question 2 Question 3
Period 3 4.1 3.9 3.1
Period 4 3.6 3.9 3.1
Period 6 4.0 3.3 2.7
Period 7 3.6 3.8 2.5
Weighted Total 3.8 3.7 2.8

Data Analysis

Having established a general baseline with the first MMSGW response pieces, I evaluated student responses from this action research activity for evidence of growth in students’ abilities to craft a persuasive paragraph.  Using a rubric for each student, I evaluated each piece for presence and completion of an outline, accuracy of information, use of supporting facts, composition, and grammar/usage/mechanics.  A sample rubrics are shown below.

Student A rubric

Student B rubric

I also analyzed the student survey feedback for evidence of the effectiveness of the digital action plan that I implemented through this project.  The survey data allowed me to look for possible trends across class periods or to identify disparities in student responses from one class to another.  I will discuss my findings in more detail below, but one point of interest is that I observed a trend across many student writing pieces that showed students had trouble distinguishing relevant from irrelevant background information.  I used this observation to design the subsequent phase of the MMSGW assignment by creating an instructional intervention that would give students practice with choosing relevant information.

Findings and Reflection

Writing skills are an important element of any student’s schooling, regardless of the curriculum area.  In one of my blog entries, I discussed the importance of building strong skill sets during the middle school years.  While content is still important, most of the social studies content in the middle school curriculum will be repeated in some form at the high school level.  It is more important that middle school students receive adequate opportunities to develop their basic skills that will allow them to succeed at the next level of curriculum.  Thus, I used this action research opportunity as a way to incorporate writing skills into the curriculum during my student teaching internship.

Using the rubrics and my own observations and evaluations as guides, I believe that the majority of my students improved in their ability to construct a persuasive writing piece.  The outline they completed prior to writing their response proved to be a great way to scaffold their learning of this skill, as it broke the task down into smaller, more manageable parts.  In speaking to grade-level language arts teachers at my placement school, the consensus was that most of the students would not have been exposed to creating such an outline prior to my implementation of the activity.  If no other growth had been observed, the fact that I had provided an opportunity to develop a new skill would have given me a measure of validation.  The final products did illustrate improvement for almost every single student, in that topic sentences clearly stated the student’s position.  Concluding sentences also improved, as students were able to summarize their argument without simply repeating the topic sentence.  The one area of composition in which I observed inconsistent growth was in using factual evidence to support the argument.  The majority of students improved from their first MMSGW response by actually using some kind of supporting details.  The inconsistencies arose from whether or not the student could then use the supporting details to explain why it backed up their argument.

I also analyzed student survey responses to gauge the effectiveness of the online writing tutorial.  In general, the students in the 3rd and 6th period classes found the tutorial the most helpful in preparing to write their persuasive piece (see data above).  These two classes also stay on task better than the 4th and 7th periods, which could indicate that the degree of helpfulness is related to the amount of effort the students were willing to put into the activity.  Each class generally agreed that having the tutorial available online for repeated individual access helped more than if we had simply worked through it using a handout or the white board (3.7/5 overall).  I also surveyed my students to find out how many times they viewed the tutorial outside of class.  A response of “2” meant that the student only viewed the tutorial during our class session.  The average for this response was “2.8” indicating that the majority of students viewed the writing tutorial at least once outside of class before submitting their writing sample.

Based on the combination of these two data sources, I conclude that a large majority of my students improved in their ability to formulate a persuasive writing piece.  In addition, the online tutorial method worked better than a more traditional method, though having a more concrete comparison would provide a more substantial basis for this claim (see below).

Implications for Future Work

In thinking ahead to the possibilities of implementing an action research project in the future, the main area that I would like to address is comparing different approaches across class sections.  In this project, I implemented the same digital technology strategy in all of my classes, but a differentiated approach would yield data that could be compared more easily.  In the context of this specific project, I could have used the online Jing tutorial in one or two classes and then used non-digital methods in other classes.  This would allow me to observe whether a distinct difference in student products emerged in either of the two groups.

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