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Instructor Profile: Lisa Schanhals, Spring Lake High School

Lisa Schanhals (Twitter) is a teacher at Spring Lake High School in Spring Lake, MI where she teaches AP Biology. She’s been using Eli to help students practice their free response writing since 2013.

Lisa talks about how Eli helps her work more closely with students who are struggling while reducing her grading load. This year, almost 50% of Lisa’s students scored a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology test and 80% scored in the highest third/fourth levels on the free-response. Below, she shares how Eli helps her do just-in-time teaching in a feedback-rich classroom.

What motivated you to try Eli Review?

A large portion of any AP course assessment is showing understanding through writing. I also have always felt that writing and peer review are important components of developing conceptual understanding of biology. If students can write clearly about a concept, they know it. Oftentimes the process of writing reveals to students what they don’t know.

Getting feedback to students in large class sizes is difficult to do in a timely manner and so important. Managing peer review and teaching students what to look for while critically reviewing writing is cumbersome without Eli Review.

How did Eli help you accomplish your goals?

I was able to assign more writing and students got more and better feedback. I was able to chart engagement and direct my attention to students who weren’t engaged to help them through whatever roadblock was in their way.

I was able to chart engagement and direct my attention to students who weren’t engaged to help them through whatever roadblock was in their way.

The first time using any new strategy or tool can be difficult. What were your challenges, and how did you work through them?

The flow of the write, review, revise assignments for a particular prompt. There are always some students who are late. I had to learn to leave a day between each of the write, review, revise assignments for a particular prompt. This gives me time to check in with students who haven’t turned in an assignment. There are always some students who are late and I can address that quickly so they don’t get left behind.

What makes you confident that students are learning more using Eli?

There are several metrics that let me know students are learning more:

  • comparing 2015 to 2016;
  • looking across all AP Biology score reports since 2010;
  • looking specifically at free-response section reports before and after I used Eli.

Comparing last year’s scores to this year’s scores shows that just assigning Eli isn’t enough. In 2015, a substitute teacher taught my class using my lesson plans.  I tried to assign Eli assignments from home, but the substitute wasn’t able to work as closely with the Eli data as I normally do.  This year, I was able to assign 40 different Eli assignments, and that work really paid off in their scores.  The table below shows how the distribution of scores in my class:

2015 2016 Change
Eli Tasks 35 (with substitute) 40 (with teacher) +5
AP Score Average: 2.8 Average: 3.44
1 0 0 0
2 3 4 +1
3 6 11 +5
4 1 11 +10
5 0 3 +3
Total Students 10 29
Percent Scoring
4 or 5
10% 48% +38%

Given that 2015 was an aberration, it’s important to put these numbers in perspective longitudinally. The table below shows scores since 2010.  In 2016, students had the highest AP score average since the course was first offered in 2010 (it wasn’t offered in 2011) and the second highest percentage of students earned a 4 or 5.

2010 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Eli Tasks 0 0 13 74 35 40
AP Score Ave:










1 19 10 0 1 0 0
2 13 8 5 4 3 4
3 14 14 5 8 6 11
4 14 10 2 15 1 11
5 12 10 1 1 0 3
Total Students 72 52 13 29 10 29
Percent Scoring
4 or 5
36% 38% 23% 55% 10% 48%

This chart also shows how my use of Eli has changed over time.

  • At the end of 2012, I was super burned out from grading students’ practice. I was ready for a change, and Eli offered a way to assign as much practice with less of the feedback burden falling on me.
  • In 2013, I used Eli and started to target low performing students for extra help, and you can see that I went from having about 20-25% of students earn a 1 to almost none afterward.
  • For me, Eli’s charting of engagement is huge.  I used engagement data for a particular assignment to quickly pinpoint who needed help on a particular assignment/concept.
  • I would also use individual student engagement data to form groups for next assignment to determine which group I sat with for the next assignment.  I would group students in like groups.   It helped me “target” students.
  • Eli’s formative feedback about who needs helps me make a real difference in what students learn and that translates into better perform on the AP biology test.
  • In 2014, I assigned too many Eli tasks. Students were burnt out at end. Since then, I now plan one Eli assignment per week, which gives makes feedback on their writing a routine part of my class.
  • In 2015, as mentioned, I learned that the in-class debriefing I do with students about their performance is important for their success.
  • In 2016, I was able to pull everything together: a well-paced weekly routine for practice, feedback, and debriefing.

I was able to chart engagement and direct my attention to students who weren’t engaged to help them through whatever roadblock was in their way.

These scores reflect both my growth as a teacher and my growth as a teacher using Eli with my students. But, the difference Eli has made in students’ AP Biology performance is even more clear in the free response data from 2012 (the last year I didn’t use Eli) and 2016.

Free Response Section Report Percentage Lowest Fourth Second Fourth Third Fourth Highest Fourth
All Globally 25.0 25.0 25.0 25.0
2012 Schanhals 11.5 28.8 38.5 21.2
2016 Schanhals 6.9 10.3 41.4 41.4
Change Schanhals -4.6 -18.5 +2.9 +20.2

In my class this past year, 80% of my students’ free response essays scored in the highest third and fourth levels. That’s really good evidence that weekly practice in Eli is making a difference.

Has working with Eli changed how you teach?

Yes, I am more efficient at identifying what my students are struggling with conceptually. As a result, any material I re-teach or in class practice is more direct.

I am able to manage writing assignments in science classroom with Eli. Before Eli when I tried to do peer review I was spending time I didn’t have in the copy room. I can manage students who turn in assignments late and they can still participate in the review. I am able to guide students through the review process. Students get good feedback by design in a day from their peers vs. a few days from me.

Also, I know it is all about the students, but my quality of life has improved, and I am a happier teacher because I am not spending all my evenings grading.

I know it is all about the students, but my quality of life has improved, and I am a happier teacher because I am not spending all my evenings grading.

What feedback have you had from students or colleagues about your use of Eli?

One of my favorite student quotes about Eli is: “There’s no place to hide on Eli Review.” This student was referring to the fact that it was obvious when she tried to “shortcut” an assignment by rushing through it, not doing it at all, or plagiarizing. If students try to slow play it, they miss out on the valuable feedback and let down their peers. If they give bad, lazy feedback, again they let down their peers, and it plays on their pride.

Students also really appreciate Eli Review, especially after taking the AP test. I’ve had several students say on their course evaluation, “I get Eli Review now that I’ve taken an AP test.” They feel like they know what the graders are looking for because they’ve been “graders” during the review process.

What tip would you give an instructor using Eli for the first time?

Design your first lesson as an in-class assignment. Keep the prompt, answer and resulting item analysis short and easy. You’ll want to be on hand to answer questions and reassure students.

Emphasize that mistakes and not being perfect is good … in fact it’s the whole point of Eli Review.

Instructor Profile: Lisa Schanhals, Spring Lake High School was published to the Eli Review Blog in the category Instructor Profile.

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