Leveraging technology in the recursive writing classroom

This session demonstrates how to use technology to support the recursive writing process in Stage 6 English. The presenters are guided by the question: how can technology help us with the recursive writing process in senior English?

They aim to highlight how to leverage the best pedagogical features of the writing portfolio and support students to engage in an authentic compositional process and write with audience, purpose and context in mind.

This resource is part of a suite of conversations between the English Curriculum Team and teachers and school leaders from across the NSW Department of Education. These recorded sessions draw upon research and experience in subject English and present a range of evidence-based strategies for improving writing.

Audience: Stage 6 teachers.

Watch 'Leveraging technology in the Stage 6 recursive writing classroom' (1:00:05).

This presentation demonstrates how to use technology to support the recursive writing process in Stage 6 English

Dionissia Tsirigos

Welcome to EduTech 2022. For this session, you will need a pen and some paper or an online notebook such as OneNote or Notes on your device to make some notes and write down your ideas you'd like to investigate later.

Thank you for joining us today. My name is Dionissia Tsirigos and I am the English Adviser, 7-12 for the New South Wales Department of Education and I have taught in department schools as a head teacher for 20 years.

Jacquie McWilliam

Welcome and thank you for joining us. My name is Jacquie McWilliam and I'm the English Curriculum Project Adviser 7-12. My background is as an English teacher and head teacher, and I've always worked in South-West Sydney schools, semi-rural and metro.

Over to you, Tom.

Tom Gyenes

Hi, and thank you for joining us. My name is Tom Gyenes and I am currently the Secondary English Project Officer, one of the 2. I've been an English teacher in New South Wales public schools for about 20 years and a head teacher for 4.


Jacquie McWilliam

We would like to begin by acknowledging the Wadi Wadi people of the Dharawal nation who are the traditional custodians of the land where I am meeting with you today. We acknowledge the role of elders past, present and future, and the importance of observing the cultures, customs and traditions of Aboriginal Australia.

The theme for the conference is disruption, creativity, and diversity and this is a theme that resonated with all of us when it comes to technology. We've all worked in schools where there has been inconsistent access to technology at home for many of our students. There are many households where there is one computer or device shared by many people, and there might just be access to the internet via a phone or an iPad or no internet at all.

The notion of disruption and tech is often connected to the disruption the need to use technology can actually cause for a family, as well as the disruption of meaningless or purposeless writing activities in the classroom, and the disruption of simplistic bells and whistles or one size fits all, or revolutionary narratives when it comes to the tech use in classrooms. It's for this reason that when we plan to use technology, it needs to be very purposeful. Our creativity needs to keep the diverse experiences and needs of our students front and centre in our thinking, and in our planning.

Now for some context. Thanks, Tom.

Tom Gyenes

So, the context surrounding our presentation. Senior English teachers in New South Wales are in their 3rd year of syllabus implementation for the new Stage 6 English curriculum. Coming up to the 2nd round of the new structure for our end of schooling examinations, the higher school certificate, this new syllabus has placed significant emphasis on the valuable role of recursive writing and the significance of reflection as part of that process. This is providing an exciting opportunity to maybe reshape the way we teach writing and the ways in which we intervene in the teaching process with technology.

Hence our guiding question for this presentation, how can technology help us with the recursive writing process in senior English?

Dionissia Tsirigos

We all view the use of technology as something that must be considered as part of the learning environment, that complex array of variables in play when learning is going on in a school setting. The physical environment, the syllabus, the personalities of the teachers and the students, the learning materials. Being multi-literate, a state or skill that involves, among other things, the ability to harness the potential of technology to facilitate learning is vital in our world.

The teacher's development and incorporation of this skill must be connected to a particular purpose, and that purpose must be grounded in the curriculum. The need to facilitate recursive writing practices provides us with just as such a purpose and connection to the curriculum.

To start off with, so we don't worry those who are joining us, who are not English teachers or from New South Wales. The beauty of recursive writing is that it’s actually relevant for any subject, wherever you're writing from, it doesn't matter what subject it is. If you have a task and students need to write for them, then the recursive writing can take place and the writing portfolio is particularly helpful for this process.

Tom Gyenes

So, while we've been unpacking the various syllabus documents, and in our conversations with teachers, our personal experiences and our connections with the research, we saw a need for a more purposeful approach to writing – that is some of the background for this approach – one that supports students to think of writing as a real act of communication, an act that has purpose, a context and an audience, and not just a mechanical activity that happens just to put down some information or prove your understanding in a test situation.

Published authors write to communicate important ideas. They take their time writing and go through a complex process from daydreaming, through drafting, collaborating, editing, rewriting all the way to publishing. This process of review, reflection, reconsideration, rewriting, and honing is sometimes referred to as recursive, a recursive process.

In the context of our new syllabus, the one that demands students learn to craft their writing and reflect on their process and experiment with different kinds of response to the texts they are reading, recursive writing offers many opportunities for teachers and students to create a mindset that views writing as more meaningful. In order to develop this notion of recursive writing in the Stage 6 courses we wondered if a writing portfolio assessment task might give teachers and students the structure to support the development of recursive writing practices.

Jacquie McWilliam

Recursive, but simply means to repeat to go back, it comes from the Latin ‘recurs’, meaning returned, and then the verb – and I apologize, I'm not going to say this correctly – ‘recuré?’ meaning “run back”. That, for me, and for us as a team creates this beautiful image of the writing process. We begin at one point and then as we progress through this journey, we keep coming back and assessing our progress as we move forward. We end up with a product after completing this back and forth movement and we have gained and developed a significant set of knowledge, skills and understanding.

Thinking about this in relation to writing leads to a 5-step process which begins with prewriting. This is where the students are reading, thinking, planning, and pulling apart the task. Secondly, we have drafting and getting students to actually start writing is key. They don't need to start at the intro, but they should be writing in response to their plan. Then we have revising the reviewing stage, which is also likely to involve rethinking after feedback has been provided, and then we edit which is often a to-and-fro stage, which leads to the final process of refining, and we finish by publishing the final product.

We hope you can see that this is a flexible process. There is going to be a lot of back-and-forth movement, and this is a process that can be utilized in almost every subject area. The writing process approach means we focus on working in ways that expert practitioners do. Real writers like real scientists or mechanics or musicians, brainstorm, try it out, get feedback, do it again, collaborate, hone, draft again for example, as part of a recursive process that leads to more effective practices and end products.

To give you a taste of the approach to technology we are going to take in this presentation let's consider for a moment the role of feedback in the recursive writing process. At many points in the process, the teacher is going to want to support the student's development of skills by providing useful feedback. This can be challenging on a number of levels, the time it takes to get to all the students, the physical act of putting the teacher's thoughts onto the student's work in a way that is effective and actionable. t's the sort of situation that made us wonder to what extent can technology intervene here and make these processes more effective?

What is key within this space is the move towards meaningful blended learning. The technology is serving a very specific purpose, there are clear structures in place that support implementation of these processes well. It also helps avoid some of the major problems that can come with technology, including lower cognitive work, disengagement from their peers, over reliance on the internet for sources of information without actually processing and personalizing this information. And then you have the anxiety about being viewed as the ‘digital natives’ who do not actually feel capable of fulfilling that requirement, or that expectation.

Before we move on, we would like you to consider these questions. How might recursive writing be a useful process in your subject area? What would help you better facilitate this process? You might think about this in relation to assessment procedures, core knowledge that needs to be mastered or philosophical goals.

Pause the presentation and spend 2 minutes thinking about these questions and make some notes that are relevant for you in your teaching area. In a history class, the recursive process could be used for source writing or empathy tasks. In a science class, the inquiry question can lead to the recursive writing process. There are many other subjects that could use this process other than English.

Dionissia Tsirigos

We hope you could see some connections with the subject area and can make personal connections based on your own experiences of writing. In terms of our focus, we have moved beyond thinking about tech in relation to the bells and whistles, and we're thinking about it in relation to the purpose it serves in helping us meet a learning goal. This led us back to the syllabus documents which guide how we implement the curriculum.

Let's now anchor our thinking in relation to the English space to a particular group of students in a particular English course. I promise, all the English-iness is just a few minutes. English Standard is an English course with the highest numbers of in enrolment for the final Year 12 examination in New South Wales, which is called the Higher School Certificate.

The course encourages students to reflect on their own processes of writing, responding, composing and learning. It provides a university pathway and is designed for students to increase their expertise in English to enhance the personal, educational, social, and vocational lives. These students come into the course with a diverse range of literacy skills, and they are provided the opportunity to study texts that include widely acknowledged quality literature from the past, as well as contemporary texts from Australia and other cultures.

This at least gives you an outline of the course we will be discussing and the kinds of students you can expect to be in front of you. More specifically, there is a mandatory module in each year that focuses on the experiences of being a reader and a writer. This is, in Year 11, ‘Reading to Write’, and in our Year 12 year, ‘The craft of Writing’. The prescribed texts or mandatory texts as they are also known, are short, with the emphasis on deep engagement with the craft of the writer. They’re wide opportunities for students to experiment with and reflect on their own writing. There is a lot going on here, and the recursive writing process is integral to this development of knowledge skills and understanding.

What does this look like in relation to specific curriculum requirements? Well, unpacking these documents helped ground the thinking in this specific set of the syllabus, which is the manifestation of the curriculum. It should then be really clear why establishing a recursive writing process and connecting this to technology in a way of authentically enhancing the writing process, alongside other essential skills like collaboration and communication.

Now, these are just a few key elements of the rationale for English in Stage 6, but really what they do is they highlight the specific opportunities that we have in this syllabus to connect to the recursive writing process.

We hope you can hear that within the Stage 6 English there’s a clear expectation that students will read widely, collaborate and experiment with their writing as part of the recursive process. To give a quick visual of the requirements of this process, we will look at the structure of the Year 12 English Standard course.

Students must start with the common module, ‘Texts and Human Experiences’. There are then 3 other modules, one of which is ‘The Craft of Writing’, which can be a standalone or can be studied concurrently with the other modules. This is because this module once again, about the act of reading to write, and here students are strengthening and extending the knowledge, skills, and confidence as writers. It's pretty amazing to have this in our courses now.

This is assessed within their final examination and students will need to write a creative piece of some kind. It could be imaginative, persuasive or discursive, and reflect on their writing in their own piece, or that within a stimulus. In our planning, ‘Module C’ is where we would have our recursive writing process and it would be structured as a portfolio assessment so that students are encouraged to write extensively during their studies, then given the opportunity to choose a number of their texts to develop recursively, for their portfolio presentation.

These 4 key phrases from within the module description of ‘The Craft of Writing’, which we're only going to focus on for a few minutes, promise, suggest an emphasis on transferable, real world and authentic exploration of concepts and skill development. Within English this is part of a more general philosophical and pedagogical move within the subject to try to make writing more authentic, purposeful, and meaningful. To go beyond literary analysis essays to encourage lifelong writing practices that would benefit students in a range of future careers where they have to use a process approach, which will often include collaboration, reflection, and the use of technology to make meaning.

The emphasis is on extending student knowledge, skills and confidence as writers providing students the opportunities to write for authentic audience, in this case that includes their peers, and providing students the opportunities to reflect on the complex and recursive process of writing to further develop their ability to apply their knowledge of textual forms and features in their own sustained, cohesive compositions.

So, it's clear really, in both Stage 6 English or in all the Stage 6 Englishes is in general, and in this module in particular, the recursive writing process is a must. But what else is a must is to write for authentic audiences, collaborate with others, read widely and use these texts as models and stimulus to develop an extended response to complex ideas and communicate those complex ideas well, tackling complex topics.

Jacquie McWilliam

It's easy to see that there is a lot going on in this module and Stage 6 English in general, and that it offers students and teachers a lot of opportunities to develop a deeper engagement with writing, including through the process of developing and refining their work. The concept of writing as thinking. This is something that the literature supports as a way of using writing to develop critical thinking and reflection skills.

But it is also a way to move students away from thinking about writing as something that is only used to package and present completed ideas. There are endless opportunities for reconnecting with a more purposeful approach to writing as a practice that will serve students well generally. It helps students see that writing is an act of culture an act of communication, and as an act of developing self.

Tom Gyenes

We really wanted to make sure that as well as the product that students will create at the end of the unit, we are also focused on the learning process. This will mean that students’ skills are being extended as well as their ability to transfer skills to other courses and other subjects. This led us to exploring how technology could be utilized to enhance the collaborative nature of recursive writing and in turn, support reflection. Interestingly, reflectiveness in any subject area is called the key competency by the OECD.

The recent changes to the New South Wales Senior English Syllabus and thus the final examination for almost all courses, has resulted in reflection also being formally examined. Now this is a particular type of exam style reflection, but for many students and teachers, this type of reflection has resulted in a shift in their thinking.

The diagram on screen is used to represent the cycle that this kind of reflection can require. So, students have to start reading widely, utilizing technology to capture aspects of their surroundings as inspiration perhaps, and then experimenting based on what they have read, seen or heard or thought. They then move on to planning a piece and writing in response to more specific criteria or a desire for experimentation, they self-reflect, rewrite based on that reflection. They also collaborate and peer reflect, submit their work to their teacher to get more feedback, and then in the end, refine and rewrite again and again. A whole unit dedicated to this kind of structure will mean that by the time these students get into an examination, they are used to this process of reading and reflecting.

They will also know how and why to read a text to stimulate a writing experience, which then results in them reflecting on how that reading experience influenced their writing choices. It's a beautiful process, but it's one that students need a lot of support with to develop a good pattern and a good process.

Jacquie McWilliam

We wanted to focus on learning with technology rather than simply using technology. There is a growing body of research which highlights common pitfalls with technology in the classroom, it suggests that students only think of themselves as learning with tech if the class is on the same path, not split off into independent or atomized individuals, and they are having meaningful collaboration, sharing ideas, being challenged by discussions that draw on their own ideas. So, there's relevance, there's substantive communication, and the tech is used as the trigger for this learning.

Students have also indicated both anecdotally and through the literature, that they want to move away from certain uses of technology. Livingston's 2012 meta-analysis for the effect of blended learning is particularly relevant for us and our focus on using technology to support recursive writing. According to Livingston, effective blended learning is that which is a digital manipulation that triggers learning activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding. However, as Gyenes illustrates, in a high school setting technology needs to be a strategic element of the learning environment, but it should also be used as a scaffold for meaningful discussion and planning.

Effective blended learning must provide enough time, variety of learning materials and opportunities for collaboration for it to be effective. The teacher is structured facilitator, this avoids the traps of simple gathering and presenting of information that requires low cognitive load.

COVID has shown us that many students struggle with self-paced, individualized learning, and they value the collaboration and reflection that comes with the teacher guiding how they engage with material and utilize tech tools. They like being creative, but don't want to make digital products just for the sake of it and they do not consider themselves to be learning unless this purpose is clearly linked to their learning goals. They need this to be contextualized, for example, you need to tell them, we're exploring this creative writing stimulus tool because it will help you to develop your understanding of figurative language and you will be able to expand your ability to create imagery and be able to apply this when you are examining unseen texts or writing your own creative compositions.

This leads us really nicely into our next point. We are social beings, and many students want to be collaborative, interactive and collegial for the most part, and they don't like it when technology forces them into independent interactivity, they want to explore subject content while using tech as opposed to the tech itself being interactive. For example, the drag and drop box situation, students prefer the teacher being available to explore a topic and have connected have a connected learning environment. They do not like to feel like they are working alone. This means we are looking to create a learning environment which is connected. Technology allows the teacher to guide and facilitate the learning and the collaboration.

I'm sure these realities do not come as a surprise for many educators, and it's important we keep these in the back of our minds as we are planning the use of technology in the classroom, particularly the recursive writing classroom.

Now, we would like you to spend 2 minutes thinking about these questions. How are you currently using technology to support a specific learning goal? And how is the technology helping facilitate this learning goal? Make some notes of relevance to you and your teaching area. We really want you to be reflective and honest in your thinking. Sometimes we can get caught up in the technology and forget its purpose.

Tom Gyenes

So, we're going to move on to the concept of the portfolio. Portfolio assessment is defined as an, “ongoing process involving the student and teacher in selecting samples of student work during a specific period of time and according to predetermined criteria” and that's to try and show how much the writing has progressed and how much the students have put effort into it. It's also the procedure used to plan, collect, and analyse the multiple sources of data maintained in the portfolio. It considers, importantly, the student as a full partner in the process of assessment rather than a subject of assessment.

Portfolios, therefore, are a strategy for deep learning and purposeful writing that could benefit from interventions based in digital technologies to leverage some of the skill development we are hoping to see during that process. These interventions are intended to facilitate effective editing, self-analysis and communication with peers and the teacher, for example.

Many universities and a lot of research around portfolios suggests 3 broad categories when it comes to thinking about the purposes and structure of writing portfolios. Please note that the type of portfolio you choose to set up may sit in more than one of these categories. The categories are really an encouragement to think carefully about the purpose of any writing portfolio during the design and implementation of this as an assessment task if that's what you're going to do.

In our context, we really wanted the students to be able to showcase their working process, not just the final product, and hence that focus on number one there you can see is in a larger font. So, for this reason, we've chosen to focus on that first option, the working/course portfolio. This is one that demonstrates the owner's growth and development by showcasing the works in progress and those edited and refined. The expectation here is that the content included is not just polished final pieces,

there's an expectation that this will show how and why the work progressed. Use of the working portfolio can also really help the teacher with diagnosing areas of need. With a working portfolio, setting this up within your learning management system or LMS is essential. The teacher would have key check-in points with students and dedicated planning, drafting, editing, feedback and revising lessons in line with the recursive structure and the students’ needs.

Just a quick overview of the other 2 then, the 2nd option, the assessment portfolio this showcases achievements and skills in a particular area in relation to specific outcomes or standards. This would work in terms of a final assessment submission of the portfolio of work, where the emphasis isn't on displaying the learning journey, but on demonstrating final outcomes that have been achieved.

The 3rd option, the showcase portfolio, this is really evoking a sense of achievement through demonstration of one's best work. We might consider these to be like a creative arts portfolio, for example, where students are showing the range of their artistic skills. This one also isn't quite right for output purposes because we really want to chart that specific growth.

As teachers, it's essential we have this thinking in our mind, so we're able to make the most effective use of the opportunities this form of assessment provides both the student and the teacher. Thinking through these 3 categories may also help us make good decisions about how and when to intervene with technology.

The UNSW website, that’s the University of New South Wales, if you're watching this from a different country, has a fantastic resource emphasizing the importance of a portfolio being seen as both product and process. Their definitions are as follows as a product, it holds the work records and documents a learner has produced during the course or program and represents an edited collection of their learning achievements. But our particular interest is in this next dot point.

As a process-oriented tool, it enables learners to monitor their own learning systematically, reflect on their learning performance, present a coherent count of their achievements, and obtain feedback on their learning. There is much here that could be beneficial to students and teachers during Stage 6 English. Notice the focus on a partnership and the systemic processes which require a rethinking of the nature of the relationship between the teacher and the student. The emphasis on process and criteria further reinforces the idea that there's an opportunity inherent in the writing of portfolio structure for the experience to go beyond merely collecting and marking student work.

Plus, the connection to peer feedback procedures means that students are also developing their own authority over the content they are trying to master. Given all that we have said, why would a focus on process be particularly important during any Stage 6 course? What would make such a focus challenging for students and teachers?

Jacquie McWilliam

So, thinking about this, and a little bit of a reflection moment for you again. In what ways do you think writing portfolios might allow you to better facilitate the kinds of thinking, working, and writing that you would like students to be doing in Stage 6? What knowledge, understanding, and skills do they need to develop? And why would a writing portfolio help you to facilitate this kind of learning? So, stop, pause the presentation, and spend a couple of minutes thinking about these questions. They are quite big questions, and we would like you to make some notes with some relevant ideas for you and your teaching area.

Dionissia Tsirigos

So, before we go on, I just want to remind everyone that when we say Stage 6, what we're meaning is the final 2 years of high school. So, Year 11 and Year 12 is what it's known [as] in New South Wales.

And when we’re talking about that, let's look at what this research and learning from home has taught us in regards to technology and how that can enhance a student’s learning experience if embedded with quality pedagogy. So, part of this includes an effective learning management system. In our state the 2 systems that department, students and teachers have access to are Google, so the Google Suite, Google Classroom, and Office 365, the Microsoft Teams Suite. Every student and every teacher in every New South Wales Department of Education School has a login that will grant them free access to the tools provided with G Suite and Office 365. This choice can both be liberating as well as challenging.

As we've just stated technology is the scaffolding, or the focus so it’s important whatever platform is chosen is one all the students can and do have access to, and it's all about you knowing your students in your classroom space. So, the next few slides will look at how quality pedagogy with explicit instructions, scaffolds, and a strong, challenging classroom climate can enhance students recursive writing process through office 365 G Suite.

Some of the issues you might have thought about could potentially be resolved through the set up on the Learning Management System (LMS). We don't want this space to just be a place where students and teachers upload documents and assignments with very little authentic interaction. You can use your LMS, and we will focus on MS Teams, to design your learning to support your classroom climate and create and develop group peer and individual activities that students utilize within their writing process. So, students must know how and why to use the space.

In Year 12, it isn't really the ideal time to have this learning take place or set up for the first time. This must be taught in the earlier years and the platform should be consistent throughout the school to avoid cognition overload for students. In the latter part of this presentation, we hope we're able to show you how technology united with the working portfolio as assessment can support the following:

  • It can support differentiation.
  • It can be used as part of a flipped classroom.
  • It can be used as a place for group activities.
  • You can use it for supporting peer editing.
  • supporting self-assessment and self-editing
  • guided teacher-led discussions and,
  • supporting student-led learning
  • and in turn foster the development of the recursive writing classroom.

Rather you, for example, you can flip your learning, sharing a resource such as a short story to be read as homework. In the first 10 minutes, the students are able to give clear instructions within the task to complete. This could be a setting activity, so it could be a writing for setting, students have read the short story for homework and then they're able to identify the setting and its significance in the narrative. Finally, they're able to create a short piece around setting and this could be their own personal experience but making setting the main focus of a 200-word short piece. This is not a complete story, but rather from the previous few lessons on the learning management system where the teacher has been able to work on the importance of setting with their students. They can apply all of that knowledge and then upload the task and then have a group chat with class discussions and note-taking around that. There are many opportunities in the learning management system for this to arise.

Tom Gyenes

When it comes to the assessment cycle, we really wanted to explore what this process would look like. So, how do we actually structure this? What does it look like in the classroom? At all times as teachers, we have an evolving context in front of us and the technology can assist in that process. Technology is an intervention that can be used to assist you with a problem when it arises. It is one of the tools and sets of skills that can be used to support the students in front of you. What's the intervention and to what benefit is one of the key questions we would ask. Well, we want to connect to the assessment cycle and use that process to guide our planning.

Hence, this brings us to the New South Wales Education Standards Authority, or NESA, and their guide for using syllabus outcomes in standards reference assessment, it's a bit of a mouthful, but we're going to unpack it in a in a very practical, hands-on way. While this diagram may not be familiar to you, we assure the process of it is. Teachers, we think, almost automatically apply this sort of thinking as they plan whole units of work. The processes behind assessment tasks, for example, and even individual lessons or a specific activity, even a short activity of 10 or 15 minutes in the classroom, has got this structure floating behind it.

We kick-off with identifying what evidence of learning is required in relation to the syllabus. We plan and implement feedback processes throughout. We check in at key points to make sure students are making progress and then, they submit their final work. We go back and provide feedback, and the process starts all over again with the learning we have gained as teachers impacting on that next Stage of learning that we construct. This is a recursive process the teacher is going through at all times. We're moving back and forth and this centres upon the student's progress as they move through the stages of their own recursive writing process.

Jacquie McWilliam

But what does it actually look like for students? Well, the recursive writing process actually fits pretty beautifully with this idea, while not in exactly the same way, there are some really interesting connections. When the teacher has planned the formative and summative assessment strategies, these become the centre of the student's writing world. As the teacher implements the steps in that learning journey, the student begins to read, explore, and experiment, and they start planning and writing. Then we have key check-in points to check whether they are making progress, we give feedback and then the students reflect and rewrite or they might collaborate. The teacher then modifies their pathway or continues as planned, depending on the evidence their learning has shown. Then the students continue to refine and reflect and rewrite and so on and so forth. We hope that this illustrates how the reflective nature of both processes actually go hand in hand.

Now let's connect with the technology. There are lots of other ways that technology could be used, but our focus remains on the recursive writing process. In this diagram, we have tried to combine the 2 key processes. On the vertical axis is the recursive process of the teacher applying strategic thinking through the course outcomes. Across the top we have the student recursive process through the planning, writing, and redrafting of the portfolio. We will unpack both processes through a different diagram.

But for the moment, this highlights the relationship between technology and the recursive writing portfolio structure. It's important to note here that the learning management assessment submission process, that can be part of every square here, and it runs from the start until the end of the unit and that final assessment submission point. What we are trying to show here very briefly is where specific technology application can play a purposeful role through the rest of this process.

The emphasis is on the way the teacher makes a decision about the use of technology. What aspect of my requirements will technology help me achieve at this specific point in the students process where they need it most? While the focus here is what on what pen and paper doesn't do as easily, sometimes pen and paper technology may actually be all that is required. Take a moment to read through the diagram we are just going to mute now for a little minute, and we hope you can see our philosophical point as well.

So, we hope you can see the tech is one part of facilitating 2 processes that are vital to working tandem.

The students process through the writing portfolio, and the teacher's work is supporting this through formative assessment and structuring of learning activities linked to the outcomes. In the following slides, our focus will be on 2 or 3 ways technology can become part of the process to support the teacher in their support of the recursive writing process, or support the student and their reflection, collaboration or refinement.

Firstly, we have the question, well, what evidence of learning is actually required? For us in New South Wales this connects to the purpose of the module, along with the key knowledge, understanding and skills that are required in relation to the outcomes. So, for some context, the craft of writing assessment must be 25% overall, and it must deal with various types of writing and show the recursive process, if possible.

In its simplest form, setting up assessment submission through a Learning Management System means avoiding hard copies, but the analytics for a teacher that they can take from this, can take this information to a whole other level. They can see when a student has accessed the material, when the student has submitted the material and can provide students with feedback directly onto the digital task itself. G Suite and Office 365 each offer nifty little feedback processes in terms of rubrics, which also cuts out a significant amount of printing and time for the teacher. If the student is working in this space within the document itself and throughout the unit, you also have easy access to their work in progress.

Through Google Docs you also have the opportunity to create a comment bank. Sometimes when giving feedback, you find yourself saying the same thing over and over. This is really time consuming, but it also doesn't tell you whether they're actually going to do anything with that feedback. Flip this process by setting up comment banks for common issues and have that link to a revision activity that you can complete at the start of the next lesson. You will end up with groups of students revising the same things and they can then, be working together. The students are on the same path as people in that class, but that path is personalized.

But we also need to know where they are at, at the start of the unit and this helps us be able to assess how they have developed throughout the unit because of the learning that has been provided. Something as simple as a Google or Microsoft forms set up as an HSC style examination question requiring the student to engage with an unseen text, write in response to that, and then reflect on their writing, as well as throwing in a few self-marking multiple-choice questions that are linking to key terminology. That can be accessed by the teacher to develop an understanding of current need, but also easily repeated at a later stage in the unit to see the areas of growth and areas of continuing need.

They do not need to be writing long responses, but those connected to specific knowledge or skills. The self-marker aspect gives students immediate feedback on key knowledge and the feedback for the longer responses that the teacher will take longer to read, could contain general outlines of what students were expected to include. This could connect to the HSC marker feedback, or it could be a reflection question where the student may need to answer that thinking about the process that they undertook and what they wrote. You can also set up forms in such a way that students receive a copy of their response, and then this can go straight into the early stages of their writing portfolio.

Dionissia Tsirigos

So then, when it comes to helping students unpack the assessment, a shared mind map via something like [Microsoft] Whiteboard or [Google] Jamboard can be a quick way of helping the teacher to identify what aspects of the task they do and do not understand. If they were planning the response and continually referring back to this, the students could also reflect on how their knowledge is continually developing.

Using the same technology but for a totally different purpose, the question formulation technique could be explored. Research suggests that questioning can support metacognitive learning, enhancing memory, recall, building literacy skills and strengthening interpersonal skills and empathy. If using this to unpack the assessment question, students will work in groups, or individually to respond to a question posed by the teacher in relation to the process they are going to undertake.

They focus using the following 4 rules:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Don’t stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any questions at that point.
  3. Write down every question precisely as it's been asked.
  4. Turn every statement into a question.

After a set amount of time, students can then categorize questions as open or closed, prioritize questions, discuss next steps, and reflect on what they have learned from the process, using their technology along with it. Best of all, they can't lose any of this. They're all readily available, and as the teacher, we can always refer back to all of these key points in their learning process.

Now we have the structure of the assessment itself. How will this evidence be gathered? To make the check-in points as easily as possible or as easy as possible, it's best to have the students use a platform that can access at school and if possible, at home, depending on your student's needs of course. That means you need to know the devices they have access to. You could create a quick and easy form for them to complete early on in the year, well before you get to the assessment point, so you can design around the needs.

For New South Wales Department of Education Staff, the Digital Learning Selector is going to be a huge help once you work out the platform. There are ample templates to utilize along with instructional and support resources that we, in our team, think are amazing. In the first stage of setting up the portfolio, you can outline within this template when the check-in points will be, identify their draft goals, indicate the feedback structure and outline when they will be required to personally reflect on that progress. Because this is all embedded within the template, this is then shared via assignments and every student has access to this information and once again they can't lose it.

But even better is, when you're exploring their work during this check-in points, it's an amazing well-being check opportunity as well. You can see how every student is progressing and then make adjustments based on their needs.

Jacquie McWilliam

Thirdly, we have the what content learning experiences instruction, will allow students to demonstrate these outcomes. This requirement goes beautifully with the working portfolio, as this structure would have targeted check-in points as Dionissia has just pointed out. The students would be demonstrating specific knowledge, understanding or skills, in relation to prior knowledge that you've just addressed with them in class. In relation to particular moments in the learning journey, digital ‘quick write’ tools can help you support the “I don't know where to start” student because the start is done for them, their job is to continue it along.

The, “I've written enough!” student and, “It's all I can think of” student is provided specific prompting points in relation to key language features or devices. These kinds of tools help students explode a moment and build an imaginative piece around specific stimulus and best of all, they are quick writes. They are designed for short, regular bursts of writing and also are low-stakes, there's no pressure, they end up with lots of pieces with the opportunity to then choose their final pieces. There is also a growing body of research that highlights the significant impact that consistent, low-stakes writing can have on the development of student's literacy skills, but also their collaboration and general communication with their peers.

Then we get into a common conundrum, the “did you research this?” conundrum. When students are writing about a topic [that] they really know nothing about, and it shows in their writing. Because they see shock value or the grimy reality of life, or it's just something they find intriguing or interesting. Well, research around the benefits of a portfolio also highlight that this style of task allows students to write about topics that require reflection and enable students to express their feelings, thoughts and judgments comfortably, while also exploring an area of personal interest.

The world of coded has actually resulted in the creation of lots of wonderful online tools that students could use to stimulate this writing experience and help take them out of their current postcode and quite possibly into another time and space. But why do this? What is the technology actually allowing you to facilitate in this particular moment in the learning journey? Well, it allows them to have choice, explore an area of interest and write in response to stimulus that actually inspires them, but note the structure on the screen. It's not just free reign here. It's still structured writing time. They're not expected to write an entire piece, but there are key targets they need to focus on as they progress.

I would use a timer and I would give the instructions at each point, as well as giving them instructions in their portfolio document. You could easily modify this structure to reflect specific knowledge or skills that you want them to demonstrate. For example, in this one, I'm wanting them to utilize a motif throughout their writing. The research also doesn't require significant cognitive demand. They’re just dipping their toe in and trying to explore a world beyond their own.

Tom Gyenes

Now we come to number 4 — feedback. A word we've touched on quite a lot. So how will the feedback be provided? This is a particular area that can be supported by the careful choice of technology. It makes the process more time efficient for both the teacher and the student. So, for example, something like class OneNote can help students organize all their work, but more particularly their thinking and learning and writing, and interaction with feedback they get from the teacher.

Audio recordings which you can see there on the extreme right, the little symbol. So, audio recordings can be inserted by the teacher straight onto the individual students OneNote page. Students can engage directly with that feedback. It's on their page and no one else can see it, only that one student, and then they can plan their response to the feedback that's provided.

A separate problem for some students is keeping track of feedback, then applying it at a later date for the next assessment task for in the following term, for example. So how many of us have found ourselves giving the same feedback to the same student multiple times? So, OneNote, but also potentially other forms and even good old Excel could allow you to support students keeping track of their feedback. So, a really important practical issue.

It's great that they've recorded their strengths and weaknesses at one point in time, but in these apps or learning management systems, the students can be guided to revisit this form or OneNote page prior to their next assignment. With any kind of feedback, whether it be an audio recording of a feedback session or typed into a document there must be explicit time to revisit and reflect on how they have implemented this feedback.

The impact of this is two-fold. There is the act of listening and listening, but also of applying, clarifying and hopefully learning from this process. The clarity of OneNote is that their previous work with teacher’s feedback applied is only ever one click away.

So, feedback groups is another thing we'll look at quickly. These are set structures that lead students to engage with the piece and explore its desired impact. You might set up a writing group that engages face to face and shares their writing, but they then utilize the shared digital document to record comments, then they must agree or disagree with the comments of the rest of the group and add 2 of their own, for example. This structure would need a very clear rules and procedures, and this can help students develop a trusted writing group.

So, it includes explicit teaching. You've got to teach them how to spell check, how to use track changes, for example, or any features of any other technology using and particularly, you must teach explicitly how some of the principles behind peer feedback, you know how to be positive and supportive in your comments. Track changes, use vocabulary and the terminology to set up together as a class, the terminology of peer feedback and it must be explicitly taught and extensively practiced and modeled by the teacher.

To explore ways forward with this, explore the Digital Learning Selector, if you're a New South Wales department teacher, and try out apps such as Socrative, which removes some of the risk and fear for students. It can be teacher led at the start and then move, to peer and then finally self-reflection on the work.

Jacquie McWilliam

Then we need to think about the student's progress. Is there sufficient evidence that students have made progress as a result of these experiences? Do they need extending or do they need extra support? The use of portfolio assessments helps to determine students’ weaknesses and areas of improvement, and a lovely pathway for teachers and differentiation emerges.

The key with differentiation is focusing on the area of need. Is it content, the process, the product or the learning environment? Something like Immersive Reader in Word and OneNote and lots of other software can help students access content, explore syntax, take in information, and make sense of concepts, and utilize their skills without which they might not be able to access the learning. In this case, our focus is on differentiation of the content, the process, and then the learning environment. This knowledge would then help the teacher plan for the next stage of learning based on how the student has interacted and utilized that tool.

In the progress stage we also have the question, well, how can tech help self-reflection and continual refinement and planning? The nature of the portfolio assessment improves the ability of students to correct their mistakes and improve their writing. This is where assessment templates constructed by the teacher can assist this process.

Whatever tool you use, they will each have their own advantages, and we're going to focus on Sway now. Teacher created templates that can be shared with all of the students, the template structures, the writing process with cards mandating student, followed by peer or teacher reflection and feedback, this can be in audio or text form followed by further student work. So, you have this really nice process in progress of writing, reflection, refinement. The teacher can ask the student to reply to feedback and make plans in the next text card then reflect on how they went enacting those plans in the next instalment of their writing.

Once complete, the student's individual template will include a flow of cards demonstrating the process of writing with feedback applied at key points, as well as the student's responses to that feedback. The student can then play the sway in present mode to see a narrative of their developing writing. Something as simple as track changes can help the student see the changes and process the drafting process. Version history of a document is also a lovely visual way of showing what the material started as and ended up looking like. I always show students the drafting work of famous authors like Wilfred Owen, where there are strikes, cross outs and huge changes in the work so they can see that this is an authentic writing process.

Tom Gyenes

And so, we return finally to our 2 recursive structures. Apart from process and recursive thinking, being generally educationally sound in terms of what kinds of mindsets and skills development they encourage for both teachers and students, there is another benefit to the kind of thinking that we've been suggesting, and that's on the way we think about technology in the classroom.

If you are planning with one eye on your own process in relation to the outcomes and syllabus content, and one eye on where the students are at in their own processes, it is difficult to think simplistically about the educational use of technology. It's difficult to get too caught up in bells and whistles and difficult to accept a one-size-fits-all narrative about technology. Thinking in the way that we have suggested in this presentation, we hope, disrupts some of the uses of technology that do not start with learning intentions and end with specific questions about what the technologies intervention will help us achieve in the learning environment. What does thinking about technology in this way bring up for you?

Here's an overview of the lens for viewing the recursive writing process. Take a moment near the end of this presentation to remind yourself of these 4 interacting aspects. Then another moment, perhaps to consider a similar process or an analogous process or activity or an assessment task within your own subject area, if that's not English, that would also benefit from a recursive process like this. Can you perhaps diagram it just quickly on a piece of paper in a similar way to what we've demonstrated here? And finally, which one technological intervention that you've heard today could help you to develop specific, very specific student skills within this process that you've identified.

Jacquie McWilliam

This is the list of research that has influenced our presentation today. Feel free to explore these materials further, and we would just like to say thank you for joining us and if you have any questions, please let us know via the links that are on the screen.

Dionissia Tsirigos

Thank you.

Tom Gyenes

Thank you. Thanks for joining us.

[End of transcript.] 


The following structure guides the session:

  • What is recursive writing?
  • English Standard, Module C – The Craft of Writing and strategies to help students go through a complex process from daydreaming through drafting, collaborating, editing and re-writing, all the way to publishing.
  • The process of review, reflection, reconsideration, rewriting and honing, is sometimes referred to as a 'recursive' process.
  • Ways to design a portfolio as assessment.
  • The assessment cycle and the students’ composition cycle.
  • Ways to review your approach.


This accredited professional learning is connected to the domains:

  • Professional engagement – Standard 6 – Engage in professional learning
    • 6.2 – engage in professional learning and improve practice.


Syllabus outcomes from English Stage 6 syllabuses © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2021.


  • English (2012)
  • Stage 6

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
Return to top of page Back to top