Teaching Senior English means that I get a lot of pieces of writing (usually essays) flying my way, and they come in LOTS of different forms: some are pieces of paper left on my desk/under my office door, attached to emails in various file formats (word, pdf, pages etc) that I can’t always open, or attachments are pictures taken of handwritten work which is notoriously hard to read, very difficult to comment on and just plain annoying, some are supposed to be sent in magical emails that I never receive and some are given to me in the yard/library/corridor, so out of context end up-somewhere (sometimes lost-sorry!)

At the end of last year I was sick of this and looking for some kind of solution. I felt like I was wasting a lot of time and mental energy just compiling all the work I was getting, remembering all the things I’d been given, well BEFORE I even got to looking at, giving feedback on and marking the work. In teaching time is a finite resource, so I hunted around on the internet looking for some kind of program that would allow me to streamline my process for giving feedback and collate all student work in one system.

I ended up landing on Kaizena, which is an education technology company that I found out about somewhere on the internet. I think maybe I was also taken by the name, based on the Japanese word ‘Kaizen’ which is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement.

I’ve spent 5 weeks of the school year using Kaizena in my classes, so here will outline, based on my experience, what Kaizena can do, what its strengths are and what improvements would improve it.

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What can Kaizena do?

Kaizena allows you to make online classes which students can easily add themselves to if you give them the class code (Kaizena also have a unique print out sheet that you can print out for students too). Once you open up Kaizena your dash will look something like this (see image below).

Two important aspects that you can get to from here include:

  1. Lessons: lessons are what they sound like, little mini lessons that you can create and then attach as a comment to student work. If you find yourself writing the same comment over and over again (and what teacher doesn’t?) then you can actually create a lesson in it. Say, for instance, how to structure an introduction could be a lesson that you create as a link, a video or a comment. You can also share lessons with other users. I haven’t used this function too much yet, but I think it could be really useful for giving students time to use and respond to feedback. Once given feedback, students can complete the lessons that they were given in your feedback as part of a DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) session (for more on this see Alex Quigley @huntingenglish or David Didau @DavidDidau-links at the bottom of this page).
  2. Skills: This function basically allows you to create descriptive rubrics for particular skills. In a sense you can show students where they got to on a skill, where they’ve shown it in their work and where they should aim for next.

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Below is a picture of what the actual dash looks like as you are reviewing a students work. Basically you create an individual conversation stream with each student that you both you and they can access. You can highlight their work and write or record comments as well as use the skills/lessons mentioned above as comments.

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Strengths

  1. It is absolutely fantastic to have all of my student work in one place. I don’t have to go hunting for it, or be worried about losing it. I have spent less time following up with students because they all know where to submit their work.
  2. Less time focused on homework in class. I ask my students to upload their work before we get to class, that means I can check that it’s there before class even starts and I can go straight to the students that haven’t done it. Less time wasted, which is always a win in teaching.
  3. Building individual conversations with my students: Now I have a record that is all kept in one place of what feedback I have given and what work students have produced. I think this will be invaluable when it comes to report writing and parent teacher interviews. A by product, however, is that it has normalised asking me question/for help via Kaizena. Some students who may not ask questions in class are happy to type me one on Kaizena and it becomes a part of an ongoing conversation that I am having with them about their work.

Things to improve upon:

  1. Glitchy app: One of the frustrations that I have had with this system has been that there are still a few glitches with the technology, which undermines its usability. If I ask my class to all go on Kaizena at the same time, I have generally found that there are a few students who are unable to log in, have somehow been deleted from the group or can’t get a conversation/document to load. This seems to happen more when students are using the app rather than the web browser, but it does mean that I can’t really get all students on the app all at once using it. Hence, I’ve asked students to submit work before class or check my feedback outside of class. This will only work if you have students that are motivated enough to do this.
  2. Writing comments on images of handwritten work: Whilst the comment highlighter is pretty intuitive with typed work, it is not the same for handwritten work. Below you can see a screen shot of comments made on a photograph that a student sent me of their paragraph. Unfortunately, the highlighter tool isn’t great at highlighting just the word/phrase that I wanted to comment on. This means that the feedback I’m giving to these students is less effective. One fix would be to get students to type everything they hand in, but as all our exams are hand written, I can understand why some students just want to practising handwriting work.

Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 5.58.58 PM.png3. Functionality on an iPad: the final issue that I’ve seen with this technology is that the functionality isn’t really great on an iPad. Whilst I use a desktop, my students only have iPads in class. A lot of students have tried to open up their work in class in order to see my comments, but found that the iPad doesn’t effectively show them where the highlighting is on the document. This means that they don’t know which part I’m exactly referring to, so this is a problem. I’ve asked my students to look at their feedback at home on a desktop, but really think that this is an issue and does discredit the work needed to give them feedback in the first place.

One important thing to note is that I have flagged these issues with Kaizena and that they have been very responsive in helping me with these issues. They haven’t solved all of them for me, but have said that the feedback has been passed on.

Ways forward

One potential solution I can see to the issues above is that you could use Kaizena as a plug in for Google Docs. This means that you can use some of the added functionality (eg. audio comments) in Google Docs. In order to get all your students’ work in one place you could have each student have one ongoing Google Doc for your subject. Each piece of writing they do could just be added to this document. Once students have added the Kaizena plug in, they are able to view all of the Kaizena created feedback you give. Whether this is worth it will be up to the teacher and students. Potentially some teachers don’t need the added functionality of Kaizena and can just use the comment function in Google Docs. Google Docs, however, won’t readily allow students to capture work that is handwritten.

Hopefully this review is helpful to some who are looking in to potentially using Kaizena. If you have any ideas of other ways to streamline and enhance feedback using technology, I’d be glad to hear them!

Kaizena: https://kaizena.com/

Alex Quigley on DIRT: http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2013/10/dirty-work/

David Didau on DIRT: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/tag/dirt/

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