Dr. Anita De La Isla is the Director of Language And Literacy at Coppell Independent School District in Coppell, Texas. CISD uses NoRedInk, an online writing platform designed to build strong writers through interest-based curricula, adaptive exercises, and actionable data.
Dr. De La Isla was kind enough to answer some questions about the challenges students and educators are facing in these pandemic times, and the role NoRedInk is playing in keeping students actively engaged and evolving as writers.
Can you discuss some of the challenges you’re seeing at your school as students struggle to meet grade-level writing standards amid the pandemic?
As public educators, we find ourselves immersed in a great time of change as our schools are faced with new and difficult challenges. This experience brings opportunity for growth and our current situation is no exception. One of the greatest challenges we've encountered is being able to maintain stability and meet the individual social, emotional, and educational needs of learners while balancing all the chaos and uncertainty that a pandemic brings. Additionally, the pandemic has continued to stretch educators’ time, resulting in even less one-on-one instruction for students than before. I believe teachers across the nation are going to be crunched to ensure every student is meeting their learning targets.
None of us has experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. We are learning and adapting. Our students are learning and adapting. It's a continuous ebb and flow. I've learned to give an abundance of grace and know that I've also needed to be the recipient of an abundance of grace. The beauty of all of this is that writing is therapeutic. We've seen some of the most beautiful writing emerge because of the pandemic.
Do you think the pandemic is exacerbating the current achievement gaps? How?
Absolutely, particularly as it relates to distance learning and students in low-income households or rural communities not having proper access to adequate computer devices and stable internet. This disparity between those students as compared to students in more affluent, urban areas is widening the gap.
Why is student engagement and student voice critical to boosting writing skills and bridging the achievement gap?
In Coppell ISD we are committed to transforming our classrooms into enriching literacy environments. We strongly believe that students should be immersed in a community of writers where their voice, ideas and opinions are valued. NoRedInk equips us with a writing curriculum that is based on our students’ interests. We’ve seen that when our students write about what they know and are passionate about, their engagement in the writing experience increases. And when student engagement increases, student writing improves. We also believe in giving our students multiple opportunities to practice writing daily. We are committed to growing the writer, not just in improving a single piece of writing. Each writing piece should be an opportunity for reflection and growth in the transferable skills that can be applied across genres.
What is technology's role in education?
Technology should leverage the instruction. In other words, Edtech should offer enhancements that otherwise would not have been possible without it. Right now, there’s no question that technology is the lifeline of all education amid the pandemic. All of these tools make it easier for educators to monitor, assess and provide feedback to learners. With so many teachers tasked with ensuring their students remain focused and engaged from afar, Edtech platforms like NoRedInk empower teachers to gauge student strengths and weaknesses, personalize instruction, and provide frequent feedback. The platform also tracks progress in near real-time for students in the classroom or at home.
Can you highlight some of the ways you’re using NoRedInk right now?
The beauty of being in our second year of implementation of NoRedInk is that the transition to remote instruction was near flawless. Our learners were used to using the platform and didn't skip a beat. It also allowed us to deliver equitable instruction and provide just-in-time feedback to our learners regardless of whether they were learning in person or virtually. NoRedInk has allowed us to align pre-assessments to our High Priority Learning Standards so that we can progress monitor our students on the standards that are most essential to each grade level. We also plan on having students submit a minimum of 1 writing piece per grading period through NoRedInk so that teachers can provide clear goals and feedback when conferring with students. We love how the writing process has been scaffolded for learners on NoRedInk. Students have access to explicit instruction and examples all along the way so that if they get stuck, they have immediate built-in feedback and support.
Do you have tips for school leaders regarding how they can inspire, empower, and challenge all students as critical thinkers, readers, writers, and communicators amid the pandemic?
My greatest advice would again be to give an abundance of grace, remove barriers, give readers and writers the opportunity to grow their wings and then step back and watch them soar. They will exceed your expectations every single time. We as teachers may not always know what is going on at home and it might be impacting their learning and performance. Therefore, every student needs a little more engagement and a little extra wiggle room. So, make sure to utilize educational tools that strengthen student engagement and allow for more positive feedback.