How NoRedInk Teaches Grammar

Review | Language Arts

How NoRedInk Teaches Grammar

Former Teach For America member explores middle school grammar program.

By Andrew Plemmons Pratt     Nov 14, 2012

How NoRedInk Teaches Grammar

Teaching grammar was always a challenge for me. The holy grail of instruction models for many fellow ELA teachers in the TFA DC Region cohort was "multisensory grammar," a creative approach to teaching how to use the parts of speech that involved visual, kinesthetic, and narrative elements. But it was a significant management challenge because it required every student to have their own set of six colored markers and to use them to mark up worksheets with laser-like precision. If only there had been NoRedInk.

NoRedInk is an adaptive online application that uses students' personal interests to teach grammar. As a former English teacher, and, before that, professional editor, I'll admit to a strong bias towards a program that teaches proper use of semicolons. That said, if you're an ELA teacher jealous that the math folks have been getting all the fun with sites like TenMarks, Manga High, and Virtual Nerd, your time has come.

The site was designed by high school English teacher Jeff Scheur and has been through the Imagine K12 accelerator program. (That's the same incubator that helped other edtech hotshots like ClassDojo, Socrative, and Bloomboard.) So while multisensory grammar is still a brilliant approach if your management is sterling, NoRedInk will have your students getting their Biebers and commas in order in no time, and without dried-out markers. (Click here for a Justin Bieber-themed example question.)

Signup on the site is simple and in Teacher mode, you'll need to first create a class, which, like an Edmodo section, comes with it's own unique code you can pass to students so they'll see the right lessons when they login.

There are four major categories of assignments and assessments you can create: Apostrophes; Commonly Confused Words; Subject/Verb Agreement; Commas, Fragments, & Run-ons. Errors in the latter are a pet peeve, so I dove in with that.

Creating an assignment allows you to customize the number of questions and to schedule it. You can then select the sub-skills within the category, and the level of detail reveals a lot of educator experience baked into the application (Click here for a screengrab of the example assignment details).

When students login, they're prompted to select various personal interests in categories like sports, TV/Movies, and music. They can even enter their pets' names or automatically import in their Facebook friend's names. NoRedInk then generates questions using that cache of proper nouns. My interests included "Recent Presidents" and "The Hunger Games," which generated questions like this: "George W. Bush hopes that you'll forgive him, and start hanging out with him again." (Click for a screengrab.)

When I made mistakes trying out my first comma-centric assignment in student mode, the adaptive tools helped me spot my errors, beginning with alerts like, "Oops! Not quite. Try once more to fix the sentence." (Click for the screengrab.)

And when I still didn't have my semicolon in the right place, the coaching got more specific--and more colorful: "Oops. We're specifically testing your understanding of Commas with Conjuntive Adverbs. We've limited the question area to the highlighted box below. Make any changes necessary to that and then click 'Submit.'" (Screengrab.)

That kind of pointed, specific coaching is exactly why personalized learning tools like this could prove so powerful in your classroom. Explaining this point to one student is great, but explaining how to fix the same or a similar mistake to 25 kids in rapid succession would take up far too much class time. Moreover, with NoRedInk, once students have finished an assignment or quiz, mastery data is immediately accessible to the student and to the teacher. A results dashboard color-codes mastery levels for each specific grammatical objective. (Screengrab.)

Audrey Watters captured more of creator Scheur's thinking in her recent write-up on Hack Education, including why the "fix-your-own-sentence approach" is more powerful than multiple-choice questions when it comes to grammar. Now back to editing.

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