Online writing tools focus on teacher development, student engagement

Pearson offers a similar product, called WriteToLearn, which it acquired when it bought Knowledge Analysis Technologies in 2006. Intended for students in grades 4-12, the online program has both an essay writing and a summary writing component.

As with Criterion, students have access to a scoreboard that gives them automatic feedback on their writing, so they can see where they scored well and what skills they need improvement on. The software’s developers recently made all instructions available in Spanish and simple Chinese, said product and sales director Sue Ann Towle, and version 8.0—which will be coming out later this summer—includes many other improvements as well.

During the 2012 International Society for Technology in Education conference in San Diego, Towle previewed some of these enhancements. For example, the latest version will include built-in writing tips, such as a “Think About It” section that offers hints to generate ideas, as well as automated prompts such as “Give the main idea” and “Add sensory detail.”

In version 8.0, students also will answer vocabulary questions before they complete summary writing activities—and these activities will be personalized and adaptive, based on how students do on the vocabulary quiz.

Facilitating peer review

Dave Keller, a social studies teacher at Piedmont High School in California, uses Turnitin’s PeerMark software to facilitate peer review of student writing in his class.

“My goal is not just to help students improve their writing—which, of course, is still a goal—but also to [help them] understand that they’re lifelong learners, not just learners in my classroom. One way I’m trying to help them understand this is through peer review,” said Keller.

PeerMark, which allows students to evaluate each other’s writing online, is part of a suite of software from Turnitin that also includes OriginalityCheck (a plagiarism detection service) and GradeMark (an automated essay scoring tool).

Once students have submitted their writing assignments online through the Turnitin software, teachers can click a button to make the essays available for peer review. Teachers can set up due dates for these reviews and can indicate how many essays should be delivered to each student’s inbox. All reviews are anonymous by default, so students are not aware of who reviewed their writing.

Teachers can choose from among standard rubrics or develop customizable rubrics to guide the peer review process, and they can require a minimum response. Questions can be scaled so that students must rate different parts of the assignment. These sets of questions can be saved for use on other assignments as well.

“Peer editing gives students multiple perspectives on the quality of their writing,” Keller said. It also helps them understand that they are writing for an audience, not just the teacher.

He concluded: “It’s a really great way to help redefine the students’ understanding of who they are as a writer.”

Meris Stansbury

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