Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

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I Can’t Decide If “Write & Improve” Is The Best Or Worst Site To Help ELLs Improve Their Writing

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writeandimprove

I’ve written a lot about my ongoing search for a helpful an online site that would help all students, and particularly English Language Learners, develop their writing – one that would have model essays, graphic organizers, accessible explanations of errors, etc. Though none have met my hopes, I have collected some that try at The Best Online Tools That Can Help Students Write An Essay.

In my ideal site, teachers would also have access to student first drafts. If we don’t, then we likely wouldn’t see many common errors in our students writing – it might be possible that students correct errors pointed out by the program without any real understanding of why the error was made and the rule behind its correction. That’s just one of many issues I have with computer grading of essays (see The Best Posts On Computer-Graded Essays).

This all brings me to the new – and free – Cambridge English Write & Improve site.

It’s very easy to use – student just copy and paste what they’ve written and, within seconds, the site will give you feedback on writing mechanics. I was very impressed with the quality of the feedback – it caught many essays and, even more surprisingly, offered accurate alternatives. The quality of the feedback the site gives is tons better than the feedback a writer would get from, let’s say, Microsoft Word.

A big problem, however, is that, though the feedback appears to very accurate, it give no explanation of why the word choice might be incorrect. So a student would write an essay with many errors corrected, but I wouldn’t know what those errors were and wouldn’t know if the student understood the reasons why they were errors.

Of course, one huge advantage to students using this tool would be that teachers could concentrate on the “big picture” of student writing and not have to pay as much attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation basics. That might make it more suitable to higher-intermediate, advanced and English-proficient students who, with luck, will have made it past many of those kinds of mistakes.

Some of my concerns would be alleviated if the error explanations were more clear or, at the very least, included a link where a student could learn more about the concepts.

I’m also confused by the “notebook” set-up of the site. You can create “notebooks” with assignments for others in a closed group, but it’s unclear to me how the “owner” of the notebook can access members’ writing, or if that’s even possible. If it is doable, that would make it more attractive to teachers.

What do you think? Do you have suggestions for ways to deal with my concerns?

Thanks to CASLS & EFL Classroom 2.0 for the tip.

ADDENDUM: See a comment left by the site’s creator in response to this post.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

3 Comments

  1. Larry,

    I’m Paul Butcher, co-founder and CTO of English Language iTutoring, the company behind Write & Improve.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to look at Write & Improve, and writing up your impressions. I’m really pleased to hear that you were impressed by the quality of the feedback—you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve invested a *huge* amount of effort in ensuring that the feedback is accurate, so it’s great that all that effort seems to have paid off. Our focus is very different from a tool like the grammar checker in Word, or Grammarly. They are intended to help you fix your writing. We’re trying to give learners pedagogically sound feedback which allows them to focus their efforts where there’s the most to be gained, without telling them all the answers. We hope to engage learners in making the editorial
    decisions for themselves and to train them to become good reviewers of their own work.

    Write & Improve has always been intended as a teaching aid, not a replacement for teachers. As you say above, our hope is that we will free teachers up from the “grunt work” and allow them to focus on the “big picture”.

    Thank you also for the constructive criticism in your post. Write & Improve is under very active development, and we have a number of things planned that will go a considerable way towards addressing the points you raise. In particular, we plan to significantly expand the functionality of Write & Improve’s Workbooks to allow precisely the kind of teacher access to students’ writing, including early drafts, that you mention. We expect this to be available early next year.

  2. hello Larry, I totally agree with your opinion that the feedbacks are really fast and quite accurate. Also, there’s wide range of topics for students to practice and helps students to build up a writing habit. But the website will never truly help students to improve their writing since the machine can not understand the essay. I only see the feedback helps me with my pronunciation and sometimes the style but it’s still a machine. W&I is amazing in some ways but it’s not really the best choice to improve writing skills.

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