Study on collaborative writing to get a follow-up at CVCS this fall

Submitted Photo Jenell Krishnan, former ELA teacher at Cassadaga, received an “Outstanding Paper” award at the American Education Research Association. Andrew Cusimano’s eighth grade classes were observed in Spring 2016 and now a similar study will take place during the 2018-19 school year.

SINCLAIRVILLE — A study focusing on online-collaborative writing conducted in Spring 2016 is getting a follow-up study beginning in the fall at Cassadaga Valley Central School.

The study, spearheaded by Jenell Krishnan and Andrew Cusimano, observed 40-50 eighth grade students. Within the study, students’ independent and collaborative writing were compared. Using the applications Google Docs and DocuViv, the online collaborative writing was monitored and assessed. The biggest finding from the study was that students’ independent writing improved after collaborative online-based group writing in terms of length and quality.

“People are writing for each other more than anytime in history for work and leisure,” Krishnan said as to why studying and promoting writing in general was important.

Cusimano is currently an ELA teacher while Krishnan is a former ELA teacher at Cassadaga. Krishnan is now pursuing her doctoral degree in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. The research practice was also a collaboration with Dakuo Wang, a research scientist at IBM, and Soobin Yum, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California.

“I want to serve the district and the kids in the best way possible,” Cusimano said as to why he agreed to participate in the study. “I think preparing our kids for college and career is making sure that they’re using up-to-date technology.”

Cusimano said he has trust in Krishnan’s methods and was on board immediately when she approached him about the idea.

Insight from peer-to-peer collaboration during the group work was attributed to the reason why students’ independent writing was improved. The online aspect of the study allowed students to instantaneously observe fellow students contribute to an essay, a feature that Krishnan said was a key factor in the results.

“We think that writing in groups first helps students set the stage (for independent writing) in a really important way,” she said.

She cited the ability to watch a fellow student structure a sentence in real time as an important factor to improving student writing.

“It’s a look into how someone approaches writing,” she said.

Krishnan said this aspect of the writing process wouldn’t be possible without GoogleDocs, or a similar program. With GoogleDocs, students can contribute to an essay simultaneously and watch groupmates write almost instantly as they construct a sentence on separate computers connected by internet.

The writing samples that were analyzed were essays that tasked students to develop a strong argument for a particular topic.

“We could see significant improvements especially with the struggling writer,” Cusimano said. “But it was very a small study.”

Cusimano said the peer-to-peer aspect of the writing was key. He noted that the influence of the students’ peers can be more effective in some scenarios.

“They’re more apt to listen to someone in their peer group,” he said.

He warned that the influence should be at least monitored or guided so that students are not learning bad writing habits when working in groups. In addition, he said a struggling writer could benefit from working with a strong writer.

“Suddenly (the two) are in a group together and this person is modeling good writing peer-to-peer,” he said.

In addition, he said confidence levels among students were noticeable higher and their willingness to ask for help increased.

“We really feel that (the study) represents college and career readiness,” Cusimano continued. “We have to be able to work together. We have to be able to use technology.”

A follow up study at Cassadaga will take place during the 2018-19 school year. The second study will observe three different collaborative essays including an argumentative piece, a literary analysis and a research paper. The follow up will also observe data from students attending a school in California which Krishnan has access to.

“The first (study focused more on DocuViz and (the follow up) will focus more on the collaborative writing,” Cusimano said.

DocuViz is an add on Chrome application that complements GoogleDocs. DocuViz generates a visual representation of the amount of work each student is contributing to the collaborative writing.

“What’s important to understand is (online-collaborative writing) is another option or another tool that teachers can use in the classroom,” Krishnan said.

Kirshnan wrote a paper detailing the results of the study that received national recognition at an American Education Research Association conference in San Antonio, Texas. Krishnan was awarded the “Outstanding Paper Award” by the Writing and Literacies Special Interest Group. Krishnan and Cusimano presented their research during the conference.

“It puts Cassadaga Valley on the map,” he said.

Cusimano said it was important to bring his experience back to his students to show them the world is bigger than just the district and Chautauqua County.

As for the follow-up study, Krishnan said, “I’m hoping to shed light on how formative assessment can be used at the secondary level so we can promote collaborative writing in the classroom.”

“I’m really excited to be back at Cassadaga Valley and I’m looking forward to continuing my research with (Cusimano),” she continued.

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