Like most lessons in life the best ones come through serendipitous learning. I came to my use of recorded feedback, both audio and video, through a session I stumbled into at the Literacy Research Association. I had no plan to attend the session. I just had no where to go so I opened a door and sat down.

There a colleague, whose name I can never got, changed the way I fundamentally teach writing. The speaker send students auido recordings using digital tapes. I immediately began to use screencasting software for Word Documents. If I was using Google Docs, I used a Chrome Extension called Voicecomments.

It was “Good Change.” My time assessing writing went down. Students commented that the recordings help them to become better writers. In essence I enhanced my pedagogical tools through technology by making assessment more effective and efficient.

Kaizen. Japanase for “Good Change” Also the philosophy behind 121writing rebranding, redesigning, and relaunching of VoiceComments into Kaizena.

I was lucky enough to join a #PATUE and simultaneous event when Kaizena was launched. Immediately the Kaizena team blew me away. Nothing but “Good Change.”


Great Update

The update is full of good change:

  • A dashboard to track feedback.
  • Ability to notify different collaborators.
  • Ability to highlight text, record, tag, or leave a comment.

Screenshot 9:13:13 10:48 AM

The Kaizena Dashboard

Pedagogical Uses

The place in a GAFE, or any classroom for Kaizena should be front in center. I see immediate uses for teacher feedback, peer conferencing, retrospective think alouds.

Teacher Feedback

I am a big proponent of limiting the number of goals a writer works on at one time. Through conferencing the teacher and student should develop targeted areas of growth. fits this method perfectly. As a teacher I can go through and discuss the piece with the student. I can evaluate how well they met their goals, discuss revisions, and plan for future drafts.

If I was doing a collaborative writing assignment, which every good writing instructor knows they should do often, I can now give feedback to individual authors and the team as a whole. Good change.

Peer Conferencing

Kaizena will also be one of the most powerful tools for peer conferencing. Students could be given a rubric, or be aware of the author’s targeted areas of growth. They then use Kaizena to provide feedback. As a writing teacher this will help end the empty feedback loop often common during peer conferencing. Now as students have to highlight segments to record their feedback must be directly connected to evidence. This is a skills my students often struggle with.

I will also have a digital archive of the feedback writers give each other. Modeling and teaching peer conference is critical and almost impossible in a room full of students. With all the work archived I can go back and assess not just the product of writing but the process. Good change.

Retrospective Write Aloud

I stress to my preservice teachers all the time that they need to make their thinking as a writer evident to students. I also teach my preservice teachers taht their students should also conduct write alouds.

Write alouds do not have to be completed as we draft pieces. In fact that can often take us away from the deep thinking required to stitch ideas together in a set of coherent clauses. Instead I often encourage students to do retrospective write alouds once they have completed a piece.

Students are gvien a goal or choose one element of writing they want to highlight. They  have to use their piece and explain their design choices and their thinking as a writer. Now with Kaizena I can have students record their thinking. Once again their comments will have to be directly connected to evidence from their writing because of the highlighting tool. Good change.

I will be piloting these three methods with students in my writing intensive class this semester. I hope students will volunteer to share their work and I will share our progress here.

Once again a huge shout out to the Kaizena team.




I spent the summer presenting at different conferences, edcamps, and unconferences on the value of using digital texts and tools to model, teach, and assess text annotation. I have also discussed the focus on argumentative writing with many district and school leaders. I always stress though that these methods can be be done just as easily with pencils as with pixels. Thus In this post I wanted to share my initial framework for annotating for argumentation regardless of the tool used.

Annotation: What is it?

At it simplest form, mark-ups on a text. A reading strategy as old as texts themselves. Yet at its most useful annotation is more purposeful coding rather than mark-ups dotting a page (Fisher and Frey, 2011).

Purposeful Coding

Purposeful coding is the act of developing an evolving system to mark-up a text to help support your understanding. It requires active and analytical reading, but also scaffolds active and analytical reading. So purposeful coding is always in development.

Most important, annotation must help support your understanding of the text.This requires a purpose for both reading and for annotating. There is no text annotation without purpose. Annotating without purpose is simply known as highlighting. So purposeful coding has a goal oriented focus.

Annotating for Argumentation

In order to support the annotation of argumentative texts you need to agree on important purposes for reading the text. Your students will need a list of different methods for reading a test. In order to develop potential purposes, preferably with students participating, you could examine the Common Core exemplars of argumentative, specifically the discussions of quality that follow the pieces. You could also examine the pilot writing rubrics released by Smarter Balance.

Once you have a list of possible codes: Claims, Evidence, Counter-Claims, Transitions, etc. develop a logical key of codes.

Then choose a a disciplinary text with an argumentative structure. Context is very important, as it is a source of evidence and a place to ground the issue. Every content and trade area should work to identify mentor texts. Overtime student work samples, from disciplinary based writing tasks, could be collected and used as anchor sets.

Model the act of annotating argumentative texts by modeling purposeful coding through multiple reads of the either the same tex or with multiple texts. Start by having students identify parts of the text that most affect meaning: claims and evidence. Code the document for the
central claim— the thesis or argument. Code the text for supporting claims. Then code the text for evidence.

Next code for organization. Have students try to number the Claims supporting claims and the evidence. Have the students annotate common transition words used in argumentative writing.

Then you could code for argumentation. Code the document for possible counter-claims and refuting evidence. Code for sources. Ask first, if sources are present. Then judge the credibility of that source.

Annotating with purpose is critical. Annotating with too much purpose is disastrous. As a teacher do not require t students to use all their codes all at once. Scaffold the act of purposeful coding by returning to a text and reading that text with a different purpose in mind. And of course, make sure to model every step of the way.

Remember, annotating argumentative texts is just one of many important methods to improve the argumentative writing of students. Most important students need exposure to multiple perspectives in disciplinary based argumentative texts. Annotation just provides an important tool for text based analysis.

The effective teaching of argumentative writing also requires the use of mentor texts; the creation of argumentative mini-lessons, both virtual and in-class, but always on demand; and most challenging identifying and providing feedback to encourage growth.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2011). Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text. Solution Tree. 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN 47404.

Slider Image:”Highlighter.” Snowmanradio, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

It has happened already, and it is only going to get worse.

When it comes to using digital texts and tools for meaningful, purposeful, and connected learning students born whiter and wealthier  are afforded more opportunities than their peers. This disparity will become another reaffirming gap in the quality of education between the have and have nots.

If you read the trends in the Pew Internet and The American Life project you will notice that access barriers have greatly leveled off (with broadband access still an issue). In fact minority students now spend more hours with screen time when compared to their white peers.

So what’s is the problem? 

It is quality screen time not quantity of screen time that will matter most in education.

I already see this problem in full swing in the state of Connecticut. When I walk into high SES schools students are using computers to complete Voicethread projects, discussing literature on blogs or Edmodo doing multimodal compositions in music, creating wikis in social studies. In other words they are using computers to redefine what it means to be literate in today’s digital society.

I wish I could say the same about students in low SES school district. It reminds my of a maxim my advisor was always fond of, “Those who need are help the most will get it the least.”

In many schools in poor urban and rural districts the computers are used for assessment and remediation. Instead of focusing on new comprehension and composition skills students are tethered to a machine doing self-paced reading classes or looking up  a book they read to see if they earned a few meager points for a free pencil. Whoo-hoo.

Once again the rich are getting richer.

A Deficit of Skills is Emerging

The lack of quality of screen time is already reeling its ugly head. In fact in a recent study with conducted by my peers and I at the New Literacies Research Lab found that  even after adjusting for CMT reading scores, there was a significant difference bon the mean scores of a measure of online reading comprehension between students in a high SES schools and students in a low SES ORCA score, F(1,203) =12.763, p = .000; partial eta squared = .052). This simply means even after accounting for the known gap in reading ability the wealthier and the whiter kids are better at locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information in online spaces. 

The Common Core and SB 458 Could Make this Worse

Assessment is THE major focus of recent reform efforts in Connecticut. Much of this reform will center on the use of technology to provide faster and more responsive computer adaptive questions (computers picks your next question based on how well you do). There is also the potential to rethink assessment sand embed data mining procedures in computerized activities. I applaud these efforts.

Yet I worry about screen time. Quality screen time

There simply are nowhere near enough desktops, laptops, or tablets in Connecticut’s 165 school districts to provide this level of computerized assessment. Even if there were enough machines every Internet accessible device would have to be monopolized for most of the year to ensure a short enough teting time frame for the results to have any chance to mean anything.

This push to test the Common Core online will exacerbate the screen equity. So could recent changes in SB 458. The law requires two week and six week assessments to be completed in every school identified as needing improvement. Chances are the state or schools will purchase some software package. Say goodbye to your last chance of signing out the computer lab.

Fight for Quality Technology Access

It is one of the major education equity issues of our time. How will schools be able to claim students are graduating college and career ready when all they can do on a computing device is select a multiple choice answer? I fear teachers everywhere are going to need to stand their ground. We need to ensure our computers are not relegated to simply tools for analyzing data. We need to ensure digital texts and tools are used to open dreams.