Tech in the English Classroom: How Kaizena and Twitter are Game Changers

Over the past two years my main focus has been essentially one thing: feedback! How can I leverage student feedback in the English classroom to improve my teaching, to create a more student-centered environment, and to allow students to communicate their learning to me in a manner that offered differentiation and promoted collaboration?

Those are some big goals, and I find myself turning to tech tools with SAMR and TIM models in the back of my mind to engage and promote inquiry in my classroom. Focussing for this blog post on my AP Language and Comp class, a grade 11 class, I have had some luck using two particular tools: the new and improved mini-Kaizena feature on Google Docs and of course, Twitter.

First, let’s look at Kaizena. The assignment: students were asked to choose a topic that inspired curiosity in them and to write a non-fiction opinion piece. Our study of rhetorical modes and devices throughout the year meant that they were required not only to employ those tools in their own writing, but I wanted them to outline what tools they choose and how those choices allowed them to achieve their purpose with a specific audience in mind. In the past, students submitted a typed outline where they filled-in a table and described paragraph numbers and rhetorical devices that they had employed, but the descriptions lacked depth and the learning wasn’t jumping off the page for me. This year, students did the same thing but instead of writing out their rhetorical choices, they used colour to highlight the sections in their google docs and then inserted Kaizena voice comments to describe their rhetorical choices. In an instant, I could see that students were going far deeper, explaining not only why they used a particular tool but how that tool allowed them to achieve their purpose. The second half of that equation was always missing in the past. Students did have some tech challenges, and when Kaizena went “down” the night before the assignment was due, many students showed resilience by finding alternatives — many simply inserted their explanations using the comment feature on Docs. Either way, for this assignment, students had the choice of topic they would write on, could use colour to categorize their different devices, and finally, they could use their oral communication skills to describe their learning in greater detail. What a great tool.

Students using Kaizena to explain their rhetorical choices in an essay

Students using Kaizena to explain their rhetorical choices in an essay

We are also using Twitter as a backchannel in our class during our study of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. The notion that digital natives are more able and willing to employ this technology is, in my opinion, a myth. Kids have been taught for years of the dangers of social media, and I have observed initial reluctance to use the tool. That being said, with a little encouragement (I’m giving some marks for Tweets that make big picture connections between text and self and text and world) students have been using the tool as a backchannel. The night before writing an in-class prompt, students pose questions to their peers using our hashtag, #HurleyAPEnglish. Questions about character motive, themes, and connections to everything including the film Gone Girl have been tweeted. Using Storify, students can see both of my sections’ tweets collected in one place and they can then identify trends. One hockey player who was missing class due to an away game was tweeting from the bus on his way to Lake Placid! That type of engagement never would have happened before. When I hear frustrations from kids like, “140 characters just isn’t enough, Mr. Hurley”, it gives me the opportunity to talk about the power of choosing the right words for the right moment and simplicity. One student even posted a link to her google doc essay and asked anyone if they could help her with peer editing. By the time I found the link, she already had three students who had seen the tweet providing editing help.

Students using Twitter as a backchannel

Students using Twitter as a backchannel

When I think of the power of technology to transform my classroom, I come back to these two tools and the opportunity for students to engage, collaborate, ask questions, and to direct the learning that happens in the classroom from the ideas they share outside of the classroom, whether it’s the back of a hockey bus or at the lunch table. As for my action plan, it’s still a work in progress. Thanks to @DerekDoucet1 for encouraging me to write this post. Please feel free to share how you might be using technology in your English classroom to engage your students.

5 thoughts on “Tech in the English Classroom: How Kaizena and Twitter are Game Changers

  1. Hey Brent, I’ve been following Cohort 21 from afar – I became aware of it through Derek Doucet, an ex-colleague of mine from Greenwood College School – and saw your post this morning. I really like Kaizena as well, although I had never thought of using it this way. I teach Chemistry and Biology but there is definitely a way to use the ideas and techniques you describe here in Science teaching. Thanks for the new ideas!

  2. Hi Brent,
    I’m an English teacher at Ashbury College in Ottawa, and feedback – timely (underline, emphasize, multiple exclamation marks), targeted, and valuable – is my nemesis. I have used Turnitin in the past, but find that my Quickmarks are too wordy. I would be worried that using voice comments through Kaizena would also become verbose. Is there a limit to the length that a voice comment can be in Kaizena? Also, does it only work with Google Docs, or would it work on other platforms?

    Thanks for you time.

  3. Hi Brent!

    Great post! I was unaware of Kaizena on Google docs- — what a great tool, for bot students and teachers! I have a number of students who prefer to, or need to, talk out their thinking before or during their writing, so this tool would be fantastic for when they write outlines or rough drafts of essays, as well as to assess thinking. I appreciate your reflection on twitter in the classroom – I have seen that although my students suggested using twitter, their personal uses for twitter are distinctly not academic. We’re starting a twitter project after March Break for Antigone, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s encouraging to see that your students have been so engaged. Thanks for sharing the spontaneous peer collaboration aspect of twitter — I can only hope for such great things in my class, too!
    Please keep posting. 🙂

  4. Hey Brent,
    I like Andrew Hall’s comments about the wordiness. I think that feedback is important and that chunking it and prioritizing it is key. What are the major issues that are most pressing, and let’s focus on those before we try to hone other skills. Once those skills have been addressed then consult prior feedback to address other aspects of their learning.

    I love that you’re using Kaizena and Lorraine Brown is as well. She had a student email her after receiving verbal feedback through Kaizena.

    ” I was so worried when I saw my mark for inquiry, but listening to your audio comments completely helped me so much! Thank you so much for putting them there, because I was super worried until I listened to them. I literally cannot thank you enough. Would you still like to conference with me? I am so sorry about the inquiry I feel like i was rushing to put everything in and consequently did not explain enough, nor provide sufficient evidence for the second paragraph.
    Once again, I am so grateful for your voice notes! ”

    You are providing a rich learning environment in which students are not only driving their learning but are receiving the support and guidance needed to improve.

  5. First off, hello to Brad and Andrew – thanks for joining this great conversation. Brent this is a great post that highlights how a meaningful and authentic use of EdTech can transform the classroom. I’ve introduced Kaizena to some French language teachers with the purpose of freeing up more time for facilitation and feedback. They’ve jumped in with both feet and with no regrets!

    I think that the way you’re using Kaizena to provide meaningful feedback is a true redefinition of the teachers role in the learning process. Growing Success demands of teachers to ‘rethink their role’ and this is a great way of shifting the learning process back to students and making them accountable – by using assessment as learning – to feedback. So many times, teachers give great and descriptive feedback and don’t know what the students take from it. By using collaborative tools like Google Apps or Microsoft 365 we can ask questions about student work, and get their responses.

    This is also a great post to use as a starting point for those teachers just starting down their EdTech journey. It shows how finding the EdTech that works is a process, not just a decision. It also shows the importance of making students a part of that decision!


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