Students Eager for Access

October 21, 2011

When it comes to writing essays, 13-year-old Thomas Hamburger thinks using a pencil is overrated.
He’s used to typing his essays on computers, where he can look up help online and make changes to his assignments easily.
“When I use a pencil, I can’t see what I did wrong,” the eighth-grader said as he pulled up past essays on his laptop.
Now, at least once a week, Hamburger and his 1,200 eighth-grade peers at Sierra Vista Junior High School in Canyon Country will be able to check out laptops in their English classes and log onto MY Access!, a Web-based writing program for students.
The program, launched this year, is being phased in at schools throughout the William S. Hart Union High School District’s junior and senior highs, said Terry Deloria, director of special programs for the district.
With every word and sentence students write, the computer program provides individualized feedback on their writing special programs for the district.
They’re told whether there’s a problem with subject-verb agreement or if they need to work on their content by expanding paragraphs with new thoughts.
If they keep using the same word over again, the program will let them know and direct them to a computer window that lists synonyms.
“They have an opportunity to make those changes in the process and improve their writing,” eighth-grade teacher Loni Pennay said as her students tapped on the laptops.
The program is part of the Hart district’s $1 million Enhancing Education through Technology grant that funds the program for two years, Deloria said.
Students no longer have to wait until they turn in their essays to get feedback, because they can see their mistakes on screen. Through bar graphs and score charts, students can track the parts of their writing that are lacking, and work with their teachers to improve.
Eighth-grader Isaias Corado enjoys writing his essays on the laptops, and has already received feedback on his writing.
He frequently misspells words, so MY Access! keeps a tally of the words he’s spelling wrong so he can learn from his mistakes.
“It tells you what you are doing wrong,” he said.
Students are able to access the program on their home computers, and Corado says he can focus better when writing on a laptop.

As a teacher, Pennay can determine how well her students are doing and plan lessons specific to how well her kids are writing.
For instance, if the computers flag students for writing too many run-on sentences, Pennay can tune her English lessons to go over that problem.
And for Pennay, grading essays has become easier since she looks at everything online. “You don’t have to squint your eyes and try to read their handwriting,” Pennay said.
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