Classroom Technology Opinion

Better & More Writing: Review of 42 Apps

By Tom Vander Ark — November 06, 2012 6 min read
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Math gets all the love--at least that appears to be the case in the edtech world. But applications of automated essay scoring have been growing steadily for
15 years. The shift to digital instructional materials, preparations for state online assessment, and a new crop of writing apps is adding new energy to
digital ELA.

We’ve collected more than 30 scoring engines and other literacy apps below:

Writing Platforms With Scoring Engine

Most of the following 10 web applications score essays and provide trait feedback and targeted instruction for students grade four and up. They typically
include hundreds of scored prompts (narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive), some with reading passages. Most vendors are improving Common Core
alignment and adding more complex text and improved instructional feedback.

  • Criterion Online Writing Evaluation
    service from ETS is a web-based instructional tool that teachers use with students to help them plan, write and revise essays guided by instant
    annotated diagnostic feedback and a holistic score. Riverside Publishing, a division of HMH, distributes Criterion.

  • Essay Punch

    from Merit Software contains nine writing topics and 1,080 help prompts to guide students through each step in the writing process with contextual help
    and feedback. Designed for students in grades seven to adult.

  • GradeMark
    from iParadigms (turnitin.com) provides rich feedback to students by enabling editorial highlights, custom comments, and QuickMark® editing marks
    directly on student papers. Turnitin runs the ETS e-rater grammar analysis tool within an updated user experience.

  • Learning Oasis
    from Metametric provides differentiated reading, writing, and vocabulary activities. Learning Oasis leverages the power of the Lexile Frameworks for
    reading and writing to provide each individual student with appropriately challenging activities. The product is beta and not widely available.

  • Project Essay Grade
    (PEG) from Measurement Incorporated has provided over two million scores to students over the past five years. PEG powers NC Write, an online practice tool for North Carolina schools. More than 1,000 schools are using it
    as a formative writing assessment.

  • SAGrader
    improves student learning by providing immediate feedback on their content area writing. Perfect for knowledge-based writing in high school and college
    courses like biology, psychology, and history.

  • Writing Roadmap
    from CTB is an online writing tool that provides an effective way for students to practice and improve their writing and for teachers to measure and
    track writing proficiency for students in Grades 3-12.

  • WriteToLearn
    from Pearson provides flexible, easy-to-use, effective writing assessment and instruction with added content and tools for English Language Learners.
    WriteToLearn is used statewide in South Dakota. MyWritingLab is a post-secondary platform powered
    by the same scoring engine.

  • WriteBrain
    from Sunburst Digital is a web- based program is built on the six-trait writing model applied to eleven different genres. The
    structure of the program provides support for internalizing writing best practices by utilizing assessments built into the program for self, peer, and
    teacher evaluation.

  • MyAccess!
    from Vantage Learning has 1,300 writing topics in math, science, language arts, and social studies with a fun, interactive (middle school targeted)
    interface that transforms writing instruction and assessment by providing immediate feedback. Vantage powers the spell and grammar check in Microsoft

Scoring Engines

    from Pacific Metrics, provides immediate, accurate, and low-cost scoring of short-answer and essay items with six trait feedback.

  • LightSIDE
    from CMU is a free and open-source software package developed at Carnegie Mellon University. This program is designed as a tool for non-experts to
    quickly utilize text- mining technology for a variety of purposes, including essay assessment.

  • The five winning teams in the second phase of the
    Hewlett Foundation funded Automated Student Assessment Prize
    made their scoring engines available as open resources (send me a note if you want to learn more, Tom@GettingSmart.com).

Writing Aids

  • Writing Reviser
    from SAS helps students ask questions experienced writers ask automatically - from big picture issues to smaller details to enhance writing skills.

  • OdysseyWriter
    by CompassLearning is a customizable writing program for elementary and middle school students is called Odyssey Writer. Odyssey Writer can guide
    students through the entire writing process and make writing more focused, more effective, and even more enjoyable. While some users think of Odyssey
    Writer as a word processor, this is only a portion of its use.

  • noredink
    a fun way to practice and master grammar on content of interest. An adaptive engine shows tutorials that help students correct mistakes.

  • Studysync
    uses video of student discourse to model careful reading, critical thinking, use of evidence--great examples of Common Core literacy.

  • Whipsmart Learning
    , a developer of online literacy tools, is worth watching.

  • StoryBird
    , a collaborative illustrated storytelling app for families

iPad Writing Apps

  • With thanks to by Lore Sjöberg on Wired, here are three iPad apps:

  • WriteRoom
    is a full screen alternative to Word; its great for getting words on the page, but don’t try to add charts and graphs.

  • Draftpad
    does away with documents and files; everything is saved until you erase it.

  • ensō Writer
    is a minimalist writing app with a simple sketch feature.

  • Evernote
    makes it easy for students to take note on any device - laptops, tablets, smartphones. What’s more, students can capture audio and photos. Photos of
    notes or written text can even be searchable within Evernote.

  • Dragon Dictation
    records any dictated thoughts or information. It’s a great way to take notes on the go, said blogger John Hardison.

Christine Chan
likes minimalist writing apps and reviews:

  • Byword ($2.99) has lots of features but no full screen mode.

  • iA Writer ($0.99) is a bare-bones writing app.
  • Elements ($4.99) is one of the most feature-packed apps available, but no iCloud synch.
  • Writing Kit ($4.99) one of the most robust writing apps available, especially for those that do a lot of research-based writing, but no iCloud synch.
  • Simplenote (free with ads) is simplest of the all but doesn’t use Dropbox or iCloud.


Nine reviewed apps from
Reading Rockets

  • ABC Cursive
    for grades 3-5 helps students learn cursive.

  • iCanWrite
    ($0.99) teaches letters for grade K-1.

  • iWriteWords
    ($2.99) teaches handwriting for grades K-1.

  • Kids Writing Pad
    ($2.99) is a lined pad for handwriting for grades K-3.

  • Popplet
    ($4.99) is a story planning and mind-mapping app for grades 3-12.

  • Sentence Builder
    ($5.99) helps students grade K-5 build grammatically correct sentences.

  • Story Builder
    ($7.99) teaches students grade 1-5 to build stories by answering questions.

  • TeachMe: 1st Grade
    ($0.99) teaches writing by asking questions; a writing recognition engine checks answers.

  • Toontastic
    helps students grades K-5 animate their own stories.

Studysync, Storybird, and noredink are Learn Capital companies where Tom Vander Ark is a partner. Vander Ark is CEO of OpenEd, which ran the Automated
Student Assessment Prize (ASAP). Pearson and CompassLearning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.