Digital writing programs can be an effective way to carve out time for writing lessons during the school day. An added bonus? They've been shown to increase engagement and improve skills when properly implemented by teachers. These platforms can also make it easier to encourage writing across the curriculum by scaffolding instruction for non-English Language Arts teachers.
Unfortunately, not all digital writing programs are created equally. With so many choices available, teachers may find themselves overwhelmed. The following questions are key points to consider when choosing a program. Please note, the issue of cost is not being addressed in this article. Whether you are examining free, ‘freemium,’ or purchase-required programs, the following questions should serve as a guide.
1. What resources are provided to aid in teaching?
Not all digital writing programs supply the same materials. Most provide writing prompts for assignments, but the better ones allow teachers to customize assignments to fit their needs. You should be able to add your own readings or media, edit the rubrics, and more. Ideally, digital writing programs should also offer guidelines for peer review as well as a dedicated space in the platform for feedback from peers and teachers. In addition to feedback, offering mentor texts that align with writing prompts can be a helpful feature. Bonus points for any digital writing program that includes grammar lessons to scaffold the editing process!
2. Are all the steps of the writing process included?
This one may seem obvious, but not all digital writing programs take students through the entire writing process, from brainstorming to publishing. A comprehensive program will cover prewriting (often referred to as brainstorming), drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and, finally, publishing. This is important for a number of reasons. Often students will skip brainstorming and jump right into writing if they're not directed to plan first. Also, many of our struggling writers do not fully comprehend the need for revision and editing. A platform that guides students through each stage of the writing process can be a real game changer. Students should have access to each draft of their writing as well as the feedback they received during the process. When students are able to get feedback from teachers and peers, and multiple chances to submit revisions, they experience writing as a process—not a one and done endeavor.
3. What types of rubrics are available and are they customizable?
The best digital writing programs offer a variety of rubrics that allow for customization by the teacher. Rubric types may include the different options for scoring (4-, 5-, and 6-point). They might also focus on specific types of writing such as persuasive, expository, descriptive, and narrative, or focus on standards aligned to your state or specific assessment. Teachers should be able to edit the rubrics to precisely align with an assignment. Allowing teachers to upload their own rubrics also makes a program stand out from the pack. Furthermore, rubrics should be made available to students while they write and when participating in peer or self-review. This makes it easy for feedback to align with the standards and expectations of the assignment.
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