The SAT, which high school juniors in Michigan are now required to take, is causing angst among teachers and students, but a new writing curriculum designed by a Michigan State University spinoff company could help.
In January, the Michigan Department of Education announced the SAT would become the state-administered college assessment exam beginning in 2016 after the College Board, which administers the test, won the three-year contract. Until then, students could take either the ACT or the SAT.
Writing was optional in the ACT, but will now be required by MDE as part of the SAT, said Jeff Grabill, associate provost for teaching, learning and technology. The 2016 SAT essay switches from argumentative writing to passage-based analytical writing, serving as a requirement in Michigan’s English Language Arts assessment plan.
“The new SAT writing prompt is much more complex than the ACT writing prompt and asks students to do some fairly sophisticated reading and writing work,” said Grabill, who’s also director of MSU’s new Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. “Teachers have to teach students how to do analytical reading and writing. They have to look at a piece of professional writing, understand what’s going on and then respond in writing to articulate their understanding of how that professional discourse works. It’s a very different set of basic skills.”
To help teachers prepare, Grabill and a team of MSU researchers, in partnership with the Oakland Intermediate School District, went to work.
Eli Review – a writing and peer review tool developed by educational technology company Drawbridge, an MSU spinoff – unveiled its 2016 SAT Essay Curriculum. Grabill is one of the founders of Drawbridge.
The curriculum includes writing tasks, peer-feedback activities and revision tasks that focus on close-reading, analytical writing and five-paragraph structure.
Unlike other prep programs, the curriculum incorporates what the researchers know about peer learning:
- Feedback and revision are the most powerful components of writing.
- Designing effective reviews can help students become better readers and reviewers, which helps improve their writing.
- Teaching revision helps students make better decisions about how to respond to reviewers’ feedback.
- Evidence-based teaching makes visible students’ strengths and struggles so teachers can intervene in timely, strategic ways.
While some teachers may be incorporating such instruction in their classrooms, many don’t have the resources. And that’s where Eli comes in.
“There has been a tremendous amount of growth on the part of all my students while using Eli Review as a part of our writing work,” said Michael Schanhals, a teacher at North Muskegon High School. “We were able to extend and develop our learning during the second trimester and add high-level standards and increased rigor by the end of the year. It’s been remarkable.”
Drawbridge was founded by Grabill, Bill Hart-Davidson and Mike McLeod, all faculty in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures, and researchers in the Writing in Digital Environments Research Center.