It’s no secret to teachers and parents that the age of technology has not translated into improved writing skills for most students. On the contrary — the negative effects of excess screen time and shorter attention spans due to social media are corroborated by recent studies that show only a quarter of American high school students are proficient in writing assessments, and one out of five have “below basic” writing skills.
How many times can a teacher correct a “their” that is meant to be “there” in a high school student’s paper before wondering: “When was the last time a student’s writing abilities were truly assessed?” More and more, teachers of all subjects are reporting that they feel like English instructors more than anything, because when grading papers, they must focus on correcting what used to be basic writing skills. Teachers have been likewise reporting anecdotally that even compared to five years ago, many are seeing declines in vocabulary, grammar, writing, and analysis.
While it is all too easy to totally blame technology itself for the erosion of this important skill in today’s digital world, where language is reduced to 140 characters, there seems to be other important factors causing good writing skills to get lost in the shuffle. One such factor is the modern perception of what it takes for students to be successful after they graduate.
There’s a misconception among many today that students who eventually want to pursue “hot” careers in fields such as technology and engineering do not need great writing skills because for many of these careers, the focus is technical. This is a myth that is quickly debunked once a student enters the working world. In those highly sought-after job fields, candidates must have, at the very least, good basic writing skills. And to move into management, one must be able to manage people, which is now being done more than ever via written communications and not in person.
Last, but not least, students who may need a little extra help with writing skills in the early grades are falling behind faster and farther because of a lack of programs and time to help them improve those skills, far fewer than in decades past.
Much of this might sound like an indictment of teachers in earlier grades, but the truth is that teachers at all levels have more on their plates than ever to address with the ever-evolving standards of learning. There is understandably, but unfortunately, very little extra time in the school day to devote to improving students’ writing.
As a former teacher, assistant principal and writing program director, I know firsthand that helping students improve their writing skills requires a solution that’s engaging, easy to use and academically effective.
That’s why I left the classroom to develop BoomWriter, a free, interactive, web-based platform for group writing that engages students in writing projects for all subject areas to help them improve their vocabulary and develop nonfiction writing and storytelling skills.
BoomWriter is ideal for students in grades 2-12, is Common Core aligned, and works for a variety of subject areas, including History, Social Studies, Science, English Language Arts, and more.
After a teacher signs up for free, here’s how BoomWriter works.
- Teachers provide a prompt, story start, problem to solve, or single directive for all their students to read and respond to.
- Each student writes and submits his/her entry for review and feedback from the teacher.
- Once all entries are approved, all students then assess up to four of their classmates’ entries at a time, and anonymously cast their vote for the best version.
- This process of reading, writing and voting continues until the project or story is complete!
Teachers have discovered that this process of completing writing projects collaboratively challenges strong students to produce their best work, and motivates and inspires the most reluctant writers to exceed their normal output levels as they become more personally invested and strive to present their best work to their peers. As a former special education teacher, I can attest that this benefit of BoomWriter is evident from the first time you use it. BoomWriter also offers a PRO version, which contains premium features for educators to better assess students’ writing skills and monitor their improvement.
While technology has been part of the problem when it comes to students’ abilities to develop the writing skills they need for academic and career success, it can also be a powerful part of the solution.
Ken Haynes is the Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder of BoomWriter Media, Inc., a Google for Education Partner. BoomWriter began on a rainy Saturday under an umbrella during a charity walk. A parent (Chris) pitched an idea to his daughter’s teacher (Ken). Ken was looking to incorporate more technology into his classroom and loved the idea, and it just so happened that Chris, the CEO of a technology company, had the development team (Ian) to make it happen. Ken tried it, and his students loved it! After some tweaking, BoomWriter is now used by educators all around the world!