What Automated Essay Grading Says To Children

“Your thoughts and ideas and writing are so important that, rather than investing in other people to mentor you and nurture your abilities, I’m going to have you put your words into a machine so I don’t have to be bothered to look at them.”

It’s a mixed message.

I’m all for students writing more. There is not enough writing occurring in schools. But someone should be reading the precious texts we ask of our students. They are too important to be left to machines.

Or, perhaps, we should be rethinking what we ask students to write. And when. And why.

18 thoughts on “What Automated Essay Grading Says To Children

  1. Jenny says:

    And for whom. An audience beyond the teacher (but an actual person) is important at least some of the time.

  2. mselke01 says:

    Hmm… if a program CAN grade their essays, doesn’t that mean we’re doing it wrong? I mean, we aren’t at sentient level cylons yet, right?

  3. And…it also says that there is one “right” way to write, a way that the machine knows and that we need to aspire to.


  4. Stevan Kalmon says:

    What’s “mixed” about the message? It quite straightforwardly says that writing is purely an academic exercise, one so bereft of individual expression and nuanced meaning that a machine can determine whether it is done “correctly”. And that the written development of thought is not a playful opportunity for a community of learners.

  5. Melissa says:

    I think kids are smart enough to know this is a tool to make their writing more palatable to other humans. They use tools everyday and in every way. In the end, if applied in an ideal way, teachers will indeed read and give an essay a final grade. A good teacher will comment and offer feedback with the final grade. In the meantime, students will get the constructive feed back they need to think like a writer and string together words that make sense.
    I am a writer, and I think kids don’t write enough – just for the practice, to express themselves, to organize their thoughts, and to communicate feelings and emotions.
    The writing will always be about the writer first and the audience second. With that in mind, let’s give kids tools to be better and expressing themselves.

  6. Justin Reich says:

    First, a technical point. There is no technical limit to the complexity of the scoring system used by robo-graders. In other words, if you believe that students can be evaluated with a rubric–of any kind, of any level of complexity–then AES programs can faithfully replicate human scoring on those rubrics. Basically, if you believe that quantitative feedback (grades, scores on a rubric) has any role in coaching student writing, then it is important to realize there are not technical limitations to the feedback machines can provide. If a human can assign rubric scores to an essay with more than one possible right answer, with individual expression, with nuanced meaning, then there are no theoretical limits to the ability of technology to faithfully replicate these human ratings. (Not only that, but they can recognize deviant writings and kick them out of the system for humans to grade). If you don’t believe in grading, then yes, machine graders are not very helpful.

    If you do think numerical scores or Likert-type representations (beginning, getting better, good, exceptional) can help student learning, it’s worth taking the time to really understand how these tools work in partnership with humans to provide feedback.

    Second, I hope that people analyze this technology through the lens of our profoundly inequitable school system. I really don’t think there are places where students are getting careful feedback which will disappear because of these tools. There are rich neighborhoods where teachers have 80 students and can put tons of time into feedback, and poor neighborhoods where teachers have 150 students and can offer much less rich feedback, and long after assignments are submitted. In our present policy context, these tools seem probably irrelevant to the wealthy, and they potentially could really increase the quality of writing feedback that students get in low income schools. I’m all for more equitably distributing housing, school-funding, etc., but in the meantime…

  7. Luke says:

    Hi, Bud. I’m ignoring all the comments and writing this before I read any of them. I may make a total fool of myself by doing this, but I want my thoughts to be as pure as possible.

    I used an electronic scoring system for the first time this year. And it’s awesome.

    Students love it. They see writing as a game they can level up in. They also get frustrated with it because it has some hangups.

    I love it because they get immediate feedback. Yeah, it’s not as quality as my blue ink, but it’s right away. I can’t do that.

    I still read all they write. I still pull the best of it in front of the class to show it off. I still have conversations with each of them about what they’re writing. I still do all the good stuff that teachers should be doing and that is irreplaceable.

    I don’t want to go back to teaching writing without this. It’s too good for my students. Says the guy who is at home typing a comment on a blog post instead of reading a huge stack of essays like he normally would be doing.

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