An independent review of Write & Improve by Dimitris Maroulis
I may not be Russell Stannard (www.teachertrainingvideos.com), a guru on educational technology, but I can say one or two things about technologically advanced language learning experiences, first class ones, I have to assure you.
The Big Question/s…
Are you a teacher who finds it difficult to make students write? Correct or re-draft their writings? Not anymore! Cambridge English Write & Improve free digital learning resource has come to put an end to your torture and your students snail pacing writing skill development.
Cambridge English is committed to its language assessment mission. It has recently developed a plethora of digital tools, almost all of them free, like: “Virtually Anywhere”, “Games and Social Media”, “Sing and Learn”, among many others (follow the web path: Cambridge English=>language learning=>free resources) dedicated to quality distance language practice (primarily) and learning.
One such tool is “Write&Improve” which promises, as its name suggests, to make students much better writers. Its purpose is achieved in a very simple but at the same time attractive way. The students sign in (very easy) and automatically they have access to a series of well thought and chosen topics at three language levels: beginners, intermediate and advanced. The friendly and straightforward interface makes the choice easier and immediately the student is channeled to the writing environment: a simple word processor with the basic tools plus a word count. The students then take their time (there is not a timer which could be a welcome addition) to answer the chosen topic. When they are ready they click the “check” button and their writing is automatically (within seconds) checked and corrected. What the student sees is their writing on the right side annotated with writer friendly colours and a simple code system that can be decoded while clicking on it. The correct version is not given but suggestions and ideas are provided. In this way the system invites the students to rethink and re-draft their writings correcting their initial entry. On the top of the screen they can see the commentary box which assesses them according to ALTE writing skill descriptors (A1 to C2) and some nicely produced encouraging comments. At the bottom of the screen the student can see the “repeats” and a chart with his progress as he repeats-redrafts his writing.
A pinch of theory…
There is a classic I always turn to when writing is the issue: Tricia Hedge’s “Writing”, Oxford University Press, 1988. What I like in this book is that Hedge brilliantly distinguishes between the “process of communicating” and the “process of improving” and for the latter she insists on redrafting and editing strategies. All teachers, ruefully, agree that students find writing demanding because there are certain stages that need to be processed for effective communication: thinking, writing and correction stage. Unfortunately, most of the students neglect the first and third stages and focus solely on the second. They are in a hurry to finish, to get rid of the task!
Writing my thesis on language learning strategies I researched writing techniques and found out that almost 60% of the mistakes made during writing can be detected and corrected by the students if they follow relevant proofreading strategies. I also managed to devise one such strategy that I call Error Consistency. Error Consistency simply is based on the frequency of the mistakes writers make and suggests detection and correction protocols.
Cambridge English Write & Improve offers teachers the opportunity to create their own “workbooks” in other words, to create their own topics following their teaching pace. This is another plus as you are free to add genres or relevant to your group ecology topics. I created a number of workbooks for three levels: B1+, B2 and IELTS. Fifty students worked with these topics at our laboratory under my supervision and I assure you it was a fascinating experience, a real eye-opener for both me and my students. To begin with, all students managed to deal with the topic in time (there were some pencil-chewing moments though!) and accurately. The word count helped them to have a pace, a rough estimation of the completion of the task. All of them managed to improve their writings following the advice of the system. Many times the students also improved other areas like vocabulary, style and punctuation. For many of them it was the first time they systematically revised and redrafted their writings. They did so without any complaint, delays or avoidance strategies as it was part of the task. Almost all of them had more than two repeats as the system gave them immediate feedback and corrections/improvements seemed easy and effective. There were some students with eight or nine repeats reaching C1 or even C2 level. Generally speaking, nearly all students had over two drafts and all of them achieved a better level than the one of their first writing.
Too good to be true?…
I definitely recommend “Write&Improve” to all teachers and students. It is not only free and easy to use but also it helps students redraft and correct in a pleasant and stress free environment, something that most of them have never done before and this is that really makes the difference.
Maroulis Dimitris / AdvDipEd- MEd-EdD (OU.UK)/ Teacher of EFL, DOS, Naxos, Greece
Our thanks to Mr Maroulis for giving us his permission to post this article.
Write & Improve is a free service for learners of English to practise their written English. Learners can submit their written work and receive feedback in seconds, covering spelling, vocabulary, grammar and general style. This tool allows learners to improve their written English outside the classroom. They can just choose a task and write about the topic. After submitting their work, Write & Improve will award them a Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) level, so that they can see their progress. Spelling, vocabulary and grammar will be checked in seconds and ways to improve the learners’ writing will be suggested. It is a reliable new way to improve one’s writing skills. And it’s completely free for learners of English!
We would encourage teachers to introduce Write & Improve to your students , because:
- It’s fast, friendly and free
It is a completely free service for learners of English. It is a very dependable, user-friendly way to improve one’s written English.
- It provides instant feedback
It provides feedback in a few seconds so that students keep learning continuously. Every time one makes changes to their work and send it back, they will receive a new CEFR level so that they can check their progress.
- Choice from a range of tasks
It doesn’t just provide learners with useful suggestions for how they could improve their writing. It keeps them interested by offering a range of tasks to choose from, covering many different topics.
Making sure international students have the in-depth English language skills they need for success at university remains a key priority for UK Higher Education Institutions, according to an expert from Cambridge English.
New figures from Cambridge English show that 100% of UK universities accept Cambridge English: Advanced as proof of English language ability, based on a study of all of the members of Universities UK. Petra Olsson from Cambridge English says the acceptance of this high-level English language qualification shows how seriously admissions departments are taking the challenge of finding students with the right communications skills. She said:
It’s reassuring that admissions departments around the UK are taking such a positive approach to finding students with the English language skills they need. Having the right level of English language skills can often make the difference between a positive experience or not when coming to study in a different country. We’ve designed Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) so it focusses on the right skills at the right level and people who pass the test find they can communicate effortlessly in English, which gives them a huge confidence boost.’
The figures are taken from the acceptance criteria of the members of Universities UK between April 2015 and July 2016. They show that all Higher Education Institutions, who are members of Universities UK, accept Cambridge English: Advanced for EU students and other students not requiring a visa for all or part of their courses. The figures also show that nearly 90 per cent (including all Russell Group universities) accept it for students who need a Tier 4 visa for courses at Undergraduate level and above.
IELTS, which is jointly owned by British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English, also has 100 per cent recognition from Universities UK member institutions.
Students are advised to check English language requirements for their chosen course directly with the university before applying.
Cambridge English and the IATEFL partners are offering three ‘all expenses paid’ scholarships to attend the 2017 IATEFL Conference, the leading event in the English Language Teaching calendar, from 4-7 April 2017 in Glasgow.
The scholarships provide a rare opportunity for teachers who would otherwise be unable to attend the conference to network with other professionals from around the world.
Find out more here:
- Cambridge English: Dr Peter Hargreaves Scholarship
- Cambridge English: John Trim Scholarship
- IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial IATEFL Scholarship
All Cambridge English presentations at IATEFL 2016 are available online at iatefltalks.org
Naples state school Liceo Piero Calamandrei from Italy, and Halkida private language school ELC Anyfadis from Greece, have been both awarded prestigious 2016 Cambridge English Preparation Centre Awards, in recognition of the schools’ excellent performance in customer service and support for students, parents and teachers.
Gina Ann Rose, who is in charge of English Language Exams in Liceo Piero Calamandrei, and Christina Anyfadis, Owner of the ELC Anyfadis, received the award from David Baker, Assistant Director of Network Services, at a special ceremony held in Cambridge on 30th July.
Alberto Svelto, Head of Network Services in Southern Europe, commented:
‘This Award recognises the valuable contribution made by both schools when preparing their students for Cambridge English exams; the schools also deliver outstanding customer service, which significantly supports our commitment to put customers at the heart of everything we do.’
Entrants for the Preparation Centre Awards had to demonstrate improved service for students, parents and teachers, and show how digital technology was being used to support exam preparation. Although Liceo Piero Calamandrei is based in an underprivileged suburb of Naples, it tries to give as many students as possible the opportunity to take Cambridge English exams including Cambridge English: Preliminary and Cambridge English: First.
“Results obtained by students is probably the highest reward for anyone who has chosen to dedicate their life to teaching. However, working as a Cambridge preperation centre is for us an honour and a privilege,not only because Cambridge is the the most prestigious and highly acclaimed language examination body but also because it is truly an inspirational organisation to work with. Liceo P. Calamandrei is extremely honoured to receive this award as the only Italian state school ranking in the 16 centres chosen worldwide. Thank you Cambridge for the honour bestowed on us and for a truly magnificent experience”, states Gina Ann Rose.
“It is a great privilege and honour to be ranked by Cambridge as one of the 16 best Cambridge Exam Preparation Centres in the world and to receive this award. It is wonderful to be regarded as one of the best Preparation Centres by the most prestigious and widely respected language examination body. It is hard work to try and maintain a very high result record, which becomes disproportionately difficult when you have to prepare large numbers of candidates. Besides our clients who never fail to acknowledge this fact, now comes the appreciation of Cambridge itself in this wonderful way. We thank you very much” stated Chris & Christina Anifadis, owners of ELC Anifadis.
Cambridge English Language Assessment has now launched its first ever massive open online course (MOOC). MOOCs are free learning courses that focus on self-study and personal development. Our courses are written by experts from Cambridge English and are supported by FutureLearn.
The first course launched was ‘Exploring the world of English language teaching’ and started on 6 June.
The second course to be launched on 12 September is ‘Inside IELTS – Preparing for the test with the experts’. This is a five-week course, where you can learn how IELTS examiners assess learners’ level and what they can do to improve their perfomance.
You can find out more here.