Marc Helgeson

Grading Across the Curriculum and Beyond Essay-Based Assignments

Marc Helgeson, Language Arts Teacher
Rich Central High School


By expanding the creativity of his assignments, Helgeson is using Turnitin as an evaluative tool for students who are more engaged...students who are synthesizing and analyzing concepts and applying what they learn to their own cultural and personal context.

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! My name is Kenneth Balibalos. Joining me today is Marc Helgeson, Language Arts teacher at Rich Central High School and an MVP Winner for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Marc, thanks for joining us today.

Could you tell us more about yourself?

M.H.: My name is Marc Hegelson. I teach at Rich Central High School in Olympia Field, Illinois. I'm a high school English teacher. I teach AP Language and Composition, our sophomore honors humanities course, and ACT prep.

I think that Turnitin can change english teachers, history teachers... any kind of teacher. I think you have the ability with that app to change the way that we grade people, which is huge for us. It's not only life saving, but it's a huge change in the way we get to grade, give feedback, and make it better feedback.
Marc Helgeson, Rich Central High School

Turnitin: How are you currently using Turnitin and what are you telling other instructors?

M.H.: I use Turnitin. I've been using it since 2005, I believe, when I first started here. We've had it for nearly ten years, I guess. I've used it over the years to make sure my kids were turning in original work, but within the last year, I was fortunate enough to come into an iPad. And I've been using the iPad app and GradeMark and it has completely and totally changed the way that my classroom functions and I’ve just have been spreading the word to my colleagues about going paperless by using the iPad functionality and GradeMark and everything like that.

Turnitin: How do you begin the conversation of using Turnitin, especially for educators who teach subjects across the curriculum?

M.H.: I start off with, "Who here has ever had a student submit writing that they couldn't quite tell whether it was the student's or not?" And do a kind of informative poll and we'll all find some common ground. We have got kids who have turned in other people's writing. We have got kids that could really benefit from learning how to use more efficiently and more effectively. We have conversations about the paper clutter of the teaching life, having folders and stackers and paper just barreling at you from all directions.

One of the discussions that I had with one of our science teachers was, “If you have got lab reports...make it something simple like that. Have them try that outside of class first.” Wherever you can be comfortable starting I think is a good place. For math teachers the conversation was a little trickier, but they don't always just work with numbers. Sometimes they work with mathematicians if they ever do outside reports. That's always an option. And then I worked closely with a math teacher for my ACT prep program. We actually co-teached together. I think keeping it simple to start and then as you advance, you get used to it. You will find so many different ways to integrate it into your curriculum.

So finding that common ground is where the discussion starts. And I think that you could change especially English teachers, but History teachers any kind of teacher, I think you have the ability with that app that you have designed to just change the way that we grade people which is huge for us. It's not only life saving for us but it's a huge change in the way that we get to grade and give feedback but also make it even better feedback.

Turnitin: What has been the draw of Turnitin?

M.H.: Using the GradeMark especially with the iPad app, I think the online grading portion of it because it just makes life so much simpler. There is just far less clutter in the classroom between both students as well as instructors. I noticed that that's where people are starting to gravitate to. I had a colleague in my department who used the GradeMark iPad app for the first time and she came back the next day—actually I got a text message that night as she was grading that was like, “Oh, my gosh. I cannot believe how simple and quick and effective this is.” I think GradeMark is really where the instructor’s life becomes a lot easier. And to be honest the quality of feedback for the student goes up tremendously as well. Because they're getting much more detailed commentary by virtue of the fact that it's not handwritten. It's easier to read and understand. I'm giving them at length examples of all of the things I'm asking them to do which is fantastic. So I think that is the thing that people are drawn to throughout the other departments as well as my own.

Turnitin: What are some of the opportunities that you have given instructors to learn about Turnitin, and why go through the effort of driving adoption district wide?

M.H.: I'm one of those people that if you send me to a conference and I think something is valuable, I'll somehow try to figure out how to work it in the next day just to see what it's like. I think over the years that the walls between classrooms have broken down to a certain extent between instructors where sharing is common and sharing information, sharing data, that's common. So personally, I don't think that I would have as much success in my classroom if I hadn't been helped along by colleagues that have been here longer than myself. So, I feel the obligation to pass along my experiences and my knowledge or anything that I find to be useful to my colleagues.

To that extent, I have presented at my school. I am presenting at our district Light Institute. We have three schools in our district and I’ve got a seminar that’s trying to be presented there. And I really just want to get out the word that this app and this website it's incredibly useful, and it's changed my life. It’s changed my teaching. It's changed my feedback to such an extent that keeping it to myself almost feels kind of criminal. I think that people need to know about it.

Turnitin: Personally, for you, how have you been using Turnitin in your classes and in what ways have you been expanding just beyond the traditional paper and essay-based assignments and if so why have those types of assignments?

M.H.: Well, I'm looking to expand the ways that my students can demonstrate what they know or what they’ve learned and give them more ways to be successful in the classroom. I really felt that over the last couple of years teaching some of the classes that I do, we get really stuck in the essay rut. And I feel like having them work outside of class on their own, at night in front of their computer, where they have more of a chance to sit and think and process that they have been able to expand their capabilities to do more creative work because I don't think that in the past that I have been giving my kids as many creative opportunities as I wanted too.

Like most classes we had always done the poster or little skits here and there. But when I really started to adopt the iPad, Grade Anything, I really started to hold them accountable. Instead of doing a one-off skit in class, I would say, “Go home, write a script, practice a script, work with a partner…” So that way they are not just doing a skit in class, but they are actually thinking and considering scenes, stage direction, etc. When we study drama we study all of those conventions and holding them accountable for that as well. It’s not just watching a play and analyzing how it's a tragedy or a Greek tragedy or whatever. It's going through and then creating their own. Because they're synthesizing all of that information and really pushing themselves to demonstrate that they can't just think about it they can actually know it and then do it themselves. That's the angle that I've come from towards

Turnitin: Do you have any other types of assignments that you do in expanding the creative front?

M.H.: Yeah, we do reader response assignments for example, we read excerpts from Les Mis and we're watching one of the films now. And one of the things they are doing is going home and taking the excerpts that they read and then their experience of the film in combination with my history teaching partner, Mr. Kaylen, they're going home and they're doing reader response. And the reader's response is designed around an essential question.

The question we're dealing with romanticism and realism in our classrooms. He is talking about the French revolution, but they're going home and picking up the essential question and they can be as creative as they’d like in their response as long as in some way it responds to the essential question.

And it's really allowed for me as an instructor to get inside of my kids' minds more to see what they're thinking we're discussing in class or with literature, but it's also a way for them to expand on all of the great ideas that they're coming across and then putting them in their own words, putting them in their own context culturally, personally, whatever. And they're working with ideas more, and it's not just this repetitive one essay after another. It's a bunch of different types, especially with reader response. They've done fake Twitter conversations. They've done short stories, poems. They've created YouTube accounts where they've uploaded videos and you name it they have tried it this year. And it's been really fun to sit back and share and read and talk about. It's been really fun.

Turnitin: The fact that now they're able to engage in a lot of these creative elements. What have you seen from your students? What is the effect on student learning outcomes?

M.H.: A ton more engagement that is the biggest thing. They are much, much more engaged. One thing we did recently is we read the Diary of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain while we were exploring the idea of satire. And it's a satirical look at Adam and Eve and they had a funny take on it. It's really just stereotypes of men and women. They had to do their own little skit as a response to it and they're just placing it in their own context. So instead of Adam and Eve existing in the garden it was turned into by one group of students—and we always make the boys play the female role and the females play the male role, just to stereotype more effectively on the other side and be satirical, they turned it into a couple watching the Super Bowl together and what does the one gender think the other gender is thinking while they're sitting next to each other.

They are just so much more engaged with the concept and then they get the concept. And that way when we go and apply them to our essays or our unit exams, they have really got the material. The example I was just talking about was an AP class so when we go through and do the national sample and we write the satirical essay analysis they were so much more engaged with the material. They got the idea of satire, and they were really, really honed in on it. It's been a joy for them to expand what it is they have been thinking about and just really prove that they know it.

Turnitin: As a last question, what has been the biggest benefit of using Turnitin for you personally as an instructor as well as institutionally?

M.H.: Personally, the benefit is engagement with ideas and with each other especially because most of those projects are ones that we share. And institutionally it's seeing across different areas where our kids are successful. Getting our kids opportunities to be successful and demonstrating what it is that they know. And I think those are the major benefits that we've seen just with our experience.

Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Marc Helgeson, Language Arts teacher at Rich Central High School.