Making Writing Meaningful and Relevant for High School Students

“With NoRedInk, students saw their writing skills change for the better. It created a sense of empowerment that they could do the work and learn.”

Kirk Macnider, Assistant Principal

Hoffman Estates, Illinois

  • Lack of student engagement in English classes
  • Low student confidence in writing
  • NoRedInk Premium
  • Grades 10-11
  • Improved writing skills
  • Improved engagement, collaboration, and ownership of learning
  • Improved confidence in writing

Students often ask, “Why do we need to learn this?” Kirk Macnider, an assistant principal at Schaumburg High School, remembers asking that same question.

“I know from my time as a student and teacher that students know very well when what they’re doing isn’t meaningful or impactful to them personally,” he said. “Students in the last five to ten years know that the careers ahead of them are different than the past or may not even exist yet. The key is to help students intrinsically learn critical and universal concepts that not only help them grow academically, but also allow them to grow as lifelong learners.”

Before moving to Schaumburg High School, Macnider was an English, reading, and automotive technology teacher at Hoffman Estates High School. Like Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates is part of Township High School District 211, one of the largest high school districts in Illinois. While teaching at Hoffman Estates, Macnider decided he needed to tackle the challenges of student buy-in and real-world relevance head-on, so he developed a course called Autos/English. His vision was to create an English class where he could teach students reading, writing, and presenting skills by focusing on cars, transportation, and technology. “I wanted to teach kids with materials that would grab their attention but still hold them accountable to all of the critical learning standards of every other sophomore in the district,” he said.

Macnider invited sophomores who had enrolled in Automotive Technology 1 to sign up for Autos/English. To support this endeavor, NoRedInk Premium was used extensively in Autos/English. NoRedInk Premium provides a complete, adaptive writing curriculum for students in grades 6-12.

“Using the typical textbooks and worksheets in English classes over the years certainly has value, but they might not be as efficient or as effective with our current population of students who have had cell phones, internet, and social media as part of their lives from the moment they were born. We talk a lot in education about allowing students to ‘own’ their learning and to share the education load, and NoRedInk is a way to guarantee that’s happening,” he said.

While teaching Autos/English, Macnider used NoRedInk’s online curriculum, which includes diagnostic tools and assessments, targeted skills practice, a writing platform that guides students through the drafting and revision process, and instructional resources.

He began each unit with a Unit Diagnostic to see what students already knew, then he selected lessons based on their needs. Within NoRedInk, every exercise is generated from students’ interests, and mastery-based assignments require them to demonstrate complete understanding of a skill before advancing.

“NoRedInk was a natural fit for my teaching methodology, and it supported the way I operated my class. It is important to students and educators alike that however we spend our time, it is done with efficacy. In auto tech, we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. If a wheel falls off or a car breaks down, it can be extremely dangerous. You have to do your very best, and if you can’t, you have to communicate that need and ask for help,” said Macnider.

To reinforce that idea, Macnider would walk around the classroom to mentor students and offer help as needed. “Feedback is critical for all learners,” he said. “Sometimes students wanted to jump ahead, but NoRedInk made sure they kept trying until they understood. I also encouraged them to talk with each other. It’s not about ‘gotcha’; it’s about mastery and learning.”

According to Macnider, students would often get so engaged in their learning that they’d lose track of time. “At times, students became so engaged in NoRedInk that I’d have to stop them. I’d say, ‘You’ve been talking about pronoun-antecedent agreement for 30 minutes, let’s move on!’ It was great to see them have that sense of self-efficacy and persistence with the program,” he said.

As students applied their skills, Macnider guided them through the writing and revision process using several of NoRedInk’s features, including Quick Writes, Guided Drafts, Self Review, and Peer Review.

“Students used NoRedInk to produce, evaluate, and improve their writing. Once they had the confidence that they could write clearly and accurately, they were no longer embarrassed or afraid of writing. They wanted to write, and NoRedInk was the springboard that allowed that to happen,” he said. “The result was thoughtfully written, passionate essays.”

In particular, Macnider appreciated the Peer Review process. “With NoRedInk, students could read each other’s work in real time, and I could interact with their work at different stages. That collaboration was very powerful. From start to finish, students had lots of opportunities to become successful, and that’s where the real growth happened,” he said.

After students practiced new skills, Macnider assigned Growth Quizzes in NoRedInk. He used that data to show them how much they had improved since the Unit Diagnostic.

“With NoRedInk, students saw their writing skills change for the better. It created a sense of empowerment that they could do the work and learn. Because they could see their results, they saw, maybe even for the first time in a long time, that they were just as capable as other students. This encouraged them to work even harder,” he said. “At one point, one of my classes completed more questions in NoRedInk than any other sophomore class in the district. They understood that sometimes learning is hard and takes time, but they didn’t give up and they did it right.”

As students achieved success, more students wanted to enroll in Autos/English. “One of the biggest successes was that enrollment in Auto Technology 1 went up to five sections and students wanted to continue into their junior year in the Autos/English pairing,” said Macnider.

In 2019-20, after Macnider left to join the leadership team at Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates High School began offering Autos/English to juniors. “The Applied Technology Department Chair has been thrilled with how students in Autos/English have progressed through the scope and sequence of courses in automotive tech. He said that of all of the seniors, the ones earning scholarships were from the Autos/English class because they could write and speak well,” said Macnider.

“As educators, we need to ensure that all students better understand how to utilize English when they leave our classes,” said Macnider. “I want to empower educators to come up with new, innovative ideas and develop courses that speak to kids. We need to ask, ‘How can we teach writing and grammar in a way that interests students? What other subjects could be natural pairings with English?’ NoRedInk can bolster these efforts. It provides the ‘why’ of learning, and autonomy, mastery, and purpose for the teacher and the student alike.

“If we empower students to intrinsically engage with the material, they will exceed their own and our expectations. The result of this type of learning is exciting. Students will produce excellent test scores, precise speaking, thoughtful writing, and skillful reading. Intrinsic motivation and high-level thinking lead to high-level discussions, high-level writing, and high performance on assessments of any type.”