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THE LEARNING AGENCY LAB’S LEARNING CURVE COVERS THE FIELD OF EDUCATION AND THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING. READ ABOUT METACOGNITIVE THINKING OR DISCOVER HOW TO LEARN BETTER THROUGH OUR ARTICLES, MANY OF WHICH HAVE INSIGHTS FROM EXPERTS WHO STUDY LEARNING. 

Ed Tech Writing Tools That You Need To Try

​For many writers — and writing teachers — the idea of a computer providing editorial feedback and guidance sparks outrage. The approach seems impersonal — and formulaic. “Hey! Algorithms! Leave them kids alone!” ran a recent headline.

But a growing body of research shows that assisted writing feedback tools can boost writing outcomes, and no doubt teachers need support when it comes to giving students more feedback on their writing.

We’ve written before about the rise of assisted writing feedback software, which helps students learn to write through targeted feedback and practice, basically using the science of learning. There are a ton of programs out there, with more on the way. We wanted to give an overview of what’s available — and recommend some tools to try.

So below is a list of some writing feedback software programs, along with some notes about each one. From our research, these are some of the better programs.

If you’re wondering how to evaluate such software — and we encourage you to do so — here are some questions to ask yourself:

     1) ​Who is the intended user for the software?
Some software is geared towards students to use independently. A student could use the software in the same way they might use a tutor — to help them strengthen their assignments to achieve better grades. Other software, is really about assisting writing teachers. This group provides panels, revision histories, and dashboards for teachers to track their students’ writing progress. There’s even software that’s geared toward professionals. These tools usually emphasize integration with web browsers, email clients, and word processors. Some software have options for all three user groups.

​    2) ​​Which genres does the software specialize in?
Most software is directed at the classic argumentative essay, but software varies in the genres it can handle: scientific articles, academic articles, personal narrative. General advice on grammar, sentence length, and overall readability might be applicable across the board, but if you’re looking for specific, structural advice in a certain genre, you’re going to need specialized software to do that. AI-based software needs a database of essays to train on, so you’ll want to make sure of the applicability.

​    3) ​​What aspects of writing does assisted feedback cover?
Most word processors have grammar and spelling checkers, but writing feedback software aims to provide more advanced feedback. That said, software varies in how much it covers: some barely go beyond basic grammar checking. Others try to tackle things like essay organization and evidential support. Generally speaking, software that tackles more advanced, high-level writing skills can only be effectively used with known prompts, not any random essay.

​    4) ​​Is it primarily about catching errors (before you send that email or business plan) or is it primarily about learning to become a better writer in the long run?
Different companies have different visions for their software. Some see the software as a kind of permanent, “always on” check such as the built-in grammar and spell checkers in all modern word processors. Others see the software as primarily about learning to write well — you might use it in a classroom context, but you’re not going to use it all the time. Some try to do a bit of both. You’ll have to think about your goals for using the software to decide which kind is appropriate for you.

​    5) Is the software rule-based? Or does it search for patterns using artificial intelligence?
Rule-based software is programmed with a set of human-crafted “rules” for clear writing. If your essay violates these rules, then the software lets you know. AI-based software is more about pattern matching. It looks at how well your essay matches the features of exemplary essays (usually as determined by human evaluators). Knowing what the software is doing helps you make sense of the feedback you’re seeing. A big part of using this software effectively is knowing when to take its advice and when to ignore it.​    

Generally speaking, software that tackles more advanced, high-level writing skills can only be effectively used with known prompts, not any random essay.”

    6) Is it only for known essay prompts, or can you submit any text to the program?
AI-based programs tend to focus only on known essay prompts, which they have large databases of responses for. This lets these programs give specific, relevant advice. Rule-based programs are more likely to apply to a wide variety of text, but the value of the software’s feedback will likely vary, depending on the genre of writing you’re submitting. If you’re a teacher and want feedback software to catch low-level errors (misspellings, awkward construction, word choice, passive voice), then a simple rule-based software may be appropriate. If you’re looking to really integrate the programs into a coherent learning sequence within a specific writing genre, then you might want to look into AI-based programs.

​    7) Does it have any other extra features?
Writing is a complex activity, and many programs have extra features to help writers. For example, a pre-writing or outlining capability, a built-in plagiarism detector, and writing tutorials. In some cases, it might be the extra features that help make the software especially useful for you. Increasingly, these software programs are developing their own mini-curricula that incorporate a wider variety of writing skill development.

With these things in mind, read on to find a solution that fits your needs. Or just to learn more about the current software landscape.

NOTE: The descriptions of each software are pulled from the software’s home, about, or FAQ pages and then were lightly edited. We pasted them below for easier browsing. If you know another firm in the space, email me at ulrich@the-learning-agency.com and we will take a look. Also jump into the comments!


The Writing Tools

CorrectEnglish
CorrectEnglish is a browser tool and iOS/Apple app that helps to eliminate writing mistakes by checking for contextual and spelling errors, word substitutions, and 63,000 advanced grammar rules. It works nearly everywhere on the web (on PC’s or Chromebooks) and on your Apple or Android device for writing resumes, emails, social media posts, and more.

Criterion
The Criterion Online Writing Evaluation service is a web-based, instructor-led writing tool that helps students plan, write, and revise their essays. It gives them immediate diagnostic feedback and more opportunities to practice writing at their own pace.
The Criterion service gives instructors and administrators at schools, universities, and institutions a comprehensive writing solution to help improve student outcomes by freeing up valuable classroom time to concentrate on higher-level writing skills and areas of improvement.

EasyBib (formerly WriteLab)
EasyBib is an intuitive information literacy platform that provides citation, note taking, and research tools that are easy-to-use and educational. EasyBib is not only accurate, fast, and comprehensive, but it helps educators teach and students learn how to become effective and organized researchers.

Ginger
Ginger Software is an award-winning productivity-focused company that helps you write faster and better, thanks to grammar checker, punctuation, and spell checker – tools which automatically detect and correct misused words and grammar mistakes. Ginger works with whichever device or platform you prefer. Write unique text and enrich existing sentences with the help of Ginger’s sentence rephraser, and utilize the synonyms tool to replace boring words with script that’s much more exciting.

Grammark
Grammark helps improve writing style & grammar and teaches students to self-edit. Basically, it finds things that grammarians consider bad, highlights them, and suggests improvements. So writers can measure progress, it gives a “score” based on problems per document length, updated whenever the writer fixes a problem.

Grammarly
Grammarly’s AI-powered products help people communicate more effectively. Grammarly automatically detects grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and style mistakes in your writing. Grammarly’s algorithms flag potential issues in the text and suggest context-specific corrections for grammar, spelling, wordiness, style, punctuation, and even plagiarism. Grammarly explains the reasoning behind each correction, so you can make an informed decision about whether, and how, to correct an issue.

Hemingway Editor
Hemingway Editor makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose. Too often, our words are like our thoughts — innumerable and disorganized. Almost any bit of writing could use some cutting; less is more, etc. So, the Hemingway Editor will highlight (in yellow and red) where your writing is too dense. Try removing needless words or splitting the sentence into two. Your readers will thank you.

Intelligent Essay Assessor
The Intelligent Essay Assessor is a powerful, internet-based service that has been proven to score written essays as accurately as trained human scorers. IEA scores essays based on content as well as on more mechanical aspects of writing, such as grammar and spelling.

Intellimetric
IntelliMetric is the “gold standard” in automated essay scoring. Used for both low- and high-stakes assessment environments, perhaps the most important application of IntelliMetric® has been in the area of writing instruction. The use of IntelliMetric® provides students with two critical components: the ability to conduct numerous attempts at writing assignments with detailed feedback and to obtain that feedback instantly. By allowing students to make multiple essay submissions and by providing almost instantaneous, detailed feedback, IntelliMetric® encourages improvements in students’ writing ability.

MI Write (formerly PEG writing)
MI Write is a web-based learning environment and formative assessment program to help your students in grades 3-12 improve writing through practice, feedback, and guided support. Our award-winning automated essay scoring (AES) engine, PEG, instantly reviews essays and provides immediate feedback and recommendations.

If you’re looking to really integrate the programs into a coherent learning sequence within a specific writing genre, then you might want to look into AI-based programs.”

NoRedInk
NoRedInk builds stronger writers through interest-based curriculum, adaptive exercises, and actionable data. We believe that “playing with language” is an essential part of learning to write. That’s why we have students drag in commas, click words to capitalize them, throw out unwanted punctuation, and edit parts of sentences directly whenever possible. We also design exercises that have multiple correct answers, as there’s more than one way to write a sentence. Our site allows students to practice independently so that teachers can differentiate instruction based on results and allow learners unlimited practice so that we can free up teachers’ time to focus on big-picture issues in students’ writing.

PaperRater
PaperRater digs deep into the syntax and structure of your text without the need to signup, login, or download. You won’t find another tool offering plagiarism checking, automated proofreading, grammar check, and automated scoring that can analyze your text this quickly.

Pro Writing Aid
Pro Writing Aid analyzes your text and highlights a variety of key writing issues, such as overused words, sentence structure, punctuation issues, repeated phrases, consistency, dialogue, pacing and readability. It helps you learn as you edit, making you a stronger writer.

Quill
Quill currently provides four writing tools that enable students to build writing, grammar, and proofreading skills, and we will continually launch new tools that advance student writing and thinking. Through our tools, students gain the ability to express, with clarity and precision, complicated thoughts in writing. Although some of the steps might seem simple, each activity helps teachers progressively build the skills students need to read deeply and think critically about the world around them.

RevisionAssistant
RevisionAssistant can: motivate students to improve their writing with instant, differentiated feedback aligned to genre-specific rubrics. It also incorporates standards-aligned reading and writing tasks into existing units across multiple subject areas. It can quickly identify students’ strengths and struggles with diagnostic, automatically-scored writing assignments.It informs instruction with real-time data and insights on student growth at the individual, classroom, school, and district levels.

TextEvaluator
The TextEvaluator tool evaluates against eight dimensions of text complexity and accounts for differences in genres. It also utilizes patented Natural Language Processing methodologies and was built using the latest A-I technology. It outputs score reports and recommendations aligned to the CCSS. TextEvaluator provides unbiased feedback about the complexity levels of text (including scores and grade-level classifications) and provides feedback on the drivers of text complexity.

Thesis Writer
Thesis Writer is a learning platform that assists you in writing your thesis. Use our online editor and the structured templates to create your text. Study the tutorials prepared for every step instructing you how to proceed with your project. The writing process is partitioned in four sections. See below what each one is about.

WhiteSmoke
WhiteSmoke is an all-in-one English writing tool that provides grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style checks. Our software is activated in a single click from any text application and browser, pointing out potential errors for consideration and offering suggestions for improvement. We believe that users who have little or no experience with WhiteSmoke software can use our solution to quickly begin writing, editing, translating, and enhancing their English documents.

Write & Improve
Write & Improve uses new technology developed at the University of Cambridge to mark English writing accurately in seconds. Submit your work and Write & Improve will score it on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) scale, giving it a level from A1 (lowest) to C2 (highest). It also shows you the parts of your text that may need improvement, which allows you to work more on these areas and keep improving.

WriteCheck
WriteCheck is an online plagiarism checker that also provides a grammar-checker tool by ETS and a Tutor service by Pearson. WriteCheck helps students become better writers by identifying grammatical errors and unoriginal content in written work. WriteCheck was developed with the guidance and input of instructors who saw the need for a simple service to help students identify and correct writing mistakes in a formative manner.

Writefull
Writefull is an app that gives feedback on your writing by checking your text against databases of correct language. Check how often your selected text is found in the language database, and see how it is used in context.

Writer’s Workbench
Writer’s Workbench provides immediate, accurate instructional feedback directly to writers as they write and revise in Microsoft Word.

WritetoLearn
WriteToLearn evaluates students’ understanding of text, not just grammar and spelling. It also gives teachers the ability to deliver on-demand, personalized feedback. When incorporated into the classroom, WriteToLearn is proven to help students become better writers and develop a skill that good readers naturally possess: the ability to summarize what they read.

Writing Pal
Writing Pal, a web-based software tool, was developed to provide a means of automatically scoring essays in the same way as a teacher might while also providing writing strategy instruction, game-based practice and individualized formative feedback to help students improve their writing proficiency. This system is not intended as a replacement for classroom instruction or homework, rather as a supplemental writing practice. 


-Ulrich Boser

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