Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

An independent review of Write & Improve

with 6 comments

An independent review of Write & Improve by Dimitris Maroulis  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

The tool…

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.

My experience…

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. 

 

 

 

Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

December 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in General

6 Responses

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  1. I don’t agree with him since I made 2 mistakes and the system didn’t spot them…

    Camila

    May 2, 2017 at 3:51 am

    • Camilla,

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

      Write & Improve gives you feedback on what level you have already achieved and which areas you should concentrate on to improve. It only gives specific feedback on individual errors when it is very confident that the feedback it’s giving is accurate. I am not surprised to hear that it did not highlight all of the mistakes you made – this is not what it’s trying to do. Write & Improve is not a review tool (like the spelling or grammar checker in Microsoft Word, for example). It does not try to give you a complete list of all the things you should “fix” in a piece of writing.

      I would encourage you to continue to use Write & Improve to practice your English. I hope you will find it useful.

      Paul Butcher

      May 2, 2017 at 11:57 am

    • Dear Camilla,
      I am really happy you have used the W&I tool which means that you are already one of the many benefited from a tool like this. I encourage you to continue using the tool because it seems it helps you become better since you managed to spot two undetected mistakes. My Review focuses mainly on the issue of the correction stage that writing needs and most of the students neglect. W&I strengthens and empowers learners metacognitive skills (I think about the way I think) and also the communicative aspect of writing. I am sure if you continue using it you find an indispensable tool for your writing skill improvement. Bravo for your post and effort.
      DM

      dmaroulis

      May 2, 2017 at 1:40 pm

  2. Thank you both for your kind words. Truth though is learners have really sharpened their writing skills, especially drafting and correcting using the tool. I want also to add that most of them work now independently with the prescribed rubrics or sometimes they may ask for customised ones. This goes to show that tools close to their “world” are more accessible. Thank you then for all this great and hard work work, especially with the plethora of digital tools now available.

    dmaroulis

    December 16, 2016 at 12:46 pm

  3. Dimitris – thanks so much for taking the time to review our tool.

    The guys at ELiT, who created Write and Improve, love getting feedback. You can even get your students to use the “I found a program called Write and Improve on the Internet. It is for people who are learning English” prompt, so we hear what they think as well. It is in each workbook – just scroll through to see.

    ELiT launched this latest version in September and we are continually updating what it can do and how it works in response to our user comments. Next year we plan to add more features including a freemium teacher’s version – and the option to write using exam specific prompts.

    ELiT is an amazing team of people from the tech world, who have used some of the research out of Cambridge University to help everyone who is learning English.

    Do keep using the site

    Sara
    @writeandimprove

    Sara, ELiT GM

    December 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm

  4. Hi Dimitris – thanks for the great review.

    I’m the Director at Cambridge English responsible for our digital learning tools so I am very pleased to hear you find them helpful. Write&Improve has taken us many years to develop, working together with our research team, and language processing experts at Cambridge University.

    Two places to find out more:
    1) Free content: see more on our site: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/learning-english/
    2) Cambridge Beta – this is where you can get access to other beta (still-in-progress) products http://beta.cambridgeenglish.org

    Happy english learning

    Geoff
    @geoffstead

    geoffstead

    December 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm


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