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Essaypop - The Perfect Writing Component for Your ELA Curriculum

Essaypop - The Perfect Writing Component for Your ELA Curriculum

Essaypop - The Perfect Writing Component for Your ELA Curriculum

essaypop

essaypop

Jan 4, 2024

Jan 4, 2024

10 min read

10 min read

Essaypop is a comprehensive and intuitive writing solution ready to be integrated with any curriculum system.

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The Problem - Writing Instruction is not Being Adequately Addressed by Today's ELA Curricula.

Introduction

When education companies develop an ELA curriculum their emphasis on literacy instruction generally involves a deep focus on reading comprehension skills. What is often missing, however, is a truly comprehensive approach to writing instruction. This is true even with large and established companies that offer all-green curricula. This article follows the teaching journey of Camille Lawson, a high school ELA teacher who is in search of a comprehensive writing solution. Ms. Lawson eventually discovers essaypop, a research-driven writing program that smartly breaks academic writing down for her students. According to Lawson, "The program blends a sound methodology with intuitive scaffolding, student interactivity, and the flexibility I need to still be in charge."

Essaypop is currently available as a retail product and has tens of thousands of satisfied users across the United States and Canada. The platform is also robustly built with the digital infrastructure to integrate with any digital curriculum platform and perform flawlessly at scale.

Meet ELA teacher, Camille Lawson.

Sometimes the interests and concerns of the many can best be understood through a single person’s experience. With this in mind, meet Camille Lawson, an ELA teacher in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Ms. Lawson is an experienced practitioner who has been in the profession for 15 years. Lawson has taught middle school and high school English and recently began teaching AP Language and Literature courses. She's conscientious, she cares, and her students respect her. She attends training consistently and actively seeks to improve her craft however she can.

This year, Ms. Lawson will teach one AP English Literature and two AP English Language courses, as well as several non-AP 10th-grade classes. Her classes are fairly large, 35 to 40 students each, and, based on early diagnostic writing scores, she’s learned that her students’ writing proficiency levels range from quite good to those whose skills are still emerging. She’s seen this before, and knows she’ll need to differentiate her instruction to reach everybody; some students will need more scaffolding and hand-holding than others.

As in past years, she’s anxious about preparing them to do the types of writing they'll need to be successful in high school, college, and beyond. Despite her dedication, her students have generally not fared very well. More than half of the students in her general classes score below or well below proficient on their end-of-year writing assessments, and, despite her efforts, less than half of her AP students score 3, 4, or 5 on their board exams. The writing portions of the exams have been particularly challenging.

Ms. Lawson is well aware of the challenges traditional and contemporary challenges facing teachers of ELA and especially writing instruction - she keeps up with the research and the reports. She knows, for example, that based on the most recent studies (NAEP), students nationwide perform dismally on state writing assessments and that nearly 40% of the students who take AP English Language and Literature exams end up with a score of one or two.

She understands through her research and experience the reasons behind this. She knows, for example, that her students’ papers often lack a clear line of reasoning; they frequently substitute summary for commentary; they cite but forget to analyze, and they lack intentional organizational structure. She’s noticed that even students who have decent content knowledge still exhibit some of these flaws in their writing. “It’s as though they just haven’t been exposed to the basics of sound academic reasoning, “she says. “My students are knowledgeable, but they just aren’t familiar with the fundamental components of good writing.”

Ms. Lawson generally appreciates her school's Language and Literacy program, an ELA curriculum created by StudySync. She feels it features more than enough traditional and contemporary literature. She likes the embedded skill lessons that bolster her students' overall comprehension skills, and she's put the resources designed specifically for her ELL students to good use. "It's honestly a very good reading program", says Lawson.

The writing support offered by StudySync is another matter, however. While the program claims to feature comprehensive support for writing instruction, it actually is conspicuously lacking in this regard. "Sure, there are consistent opportunities for students to write", says Lawson, "but the system seems to lack the kind of scaffolding and structuring support that I know my students need." To StudySync's credit, the fact is most ELA curriculum companies put great effort into building their reading programs, but do not put the same energy into their approaches to writing instruction. So what would a truly effective writing system look like?

What Teachers Want

Ms. Lawson wants a solution that breaks writing down into comprehensible components that students can access and process without becoming overwhelmed. She wants a tool that can be heavily scaffolded for some and not as much for others, and she wants to be able to add and remove this scaffolding as her students both improve or require additional remediation.

She also craves a platform that appeals to her student's natural desire to be collaborative and social as they learn and write together. She wants her students to be part of the feedback loop and not just passive recipients of teacher commentary, which she knows from experience that kids sometimes disregard or ignore.

Ideally, she says, the tool should be incorporated into the curriculum system that she and her colleagues already use so that they could plan around consistent content, practice, prompts, and rubrics.

Because her current writing program lacks in these areas, Ms. Lawson, like many teachers, has seen fit to build her own writing program based on materials shared by other teachers, writing guides she's found in the school’s book room, online resources, and handouts she’s received at various training sessions. She’s created a sort of patchwork writing approach that mostly gets the job done even though, she admits, it's somewhat disjointed and cumbersome.

Miss Lawson is also well aware of the changing landscape in writing instruction as a result of generative AI and she wants her practice to be relevant in this landscape. Like many educators, she also wants to be sure that the student writing that she is reading and assessing is authentic; she’s worried about plagiarism, cheating, and whatever else they're calling AI boosting these days. At first, she was a little intimidated by AI but over time realized that some of the tools that she's read about might be helpful, and she wants to utilize and better understand this technology that she knows her students will end up using anyway. "I guess the genie is out of the bottle", she says. "I might as well meet them where they are."

Enter Essaypop

When Ms. Lawson is presented with essaypop she realizes that the solution she has envisioned does indeed exist. The platform is comprehensive, and intuitive, and breaks writing down in a way that all of her students she knows her students will comprehend. It’s a flexible system that allows her to modify lessons, scaffolding, and support as her students develop their skills throughout the school year.

She appreciates the system's flexibility and loves that she can put her unique imprint on the lessons. It's a system that encourages interaction and peer-to-peer feedback, and it has several common sense AI components that give her students agency, ensure authenticity, and ultimately save her and her colleagues time.

Platform Overview

Let's take a more detailed look at the tool that Ms. Lawson has discovered and why it will ultimately be a game changer in her practice as an ELA teacher.

With the essaypop platform, teachers select a pre-made writing lesson from a comprehensive lesson library that features an array of expository, response-to-literature, narrative, and argumentative prompts that are organized for grades four through twelve. Teachers may also create or upload their assignments into the system with the intuitive lesson-creation wizard.

Here we see a basic paragraphing selected from the lesson library. Ms. Lawson realizes that her students will benefit from this type of back-to-basics approach and will help them get up to speed on the fundamentals of academic, literary analysis. You’ll notice the lesson features detailed prompt descriptions, criteria for success, and comprehensive lesson steps – It is ready to assign.

-- Assignments in the library are easy to find, attractively laid out, and simple for teachers to modify and assign.

Once assigned, teachers are taken to the assignment dashboard where several options are available. In addition to posting the lesson to specific classes, teachers may also set up pre-write activities, filter through assessment rubric options, create timed-writing scenarios, and more. Ms. Lawson loves that the prompt, criteria, resources, and lesson steps can be modified in this view. Options like these are critical for teachers who wish to differentiate or enhance the lesson.

-- The dashboard is where teachers can carefully contour the lesson to the specific needs of their students. This is where scaffolding is added, removed, and/or modified.


AI Implication - Lesson GenerationThis is one of the areas where our embedded AI assistant helps teachers select and modify the lesson. If differentiation is needed teachers are seeking different resources or options for teaching a lesson, they can simply ask the assistant to help dial in the specifications.

We don't exclusively rely on AI, however. We bring in dedicated lessons from expert teachers like our friend, Tim Freitas, from Garden of English who has spent his career as a teacher designing innovative and effective approaches to writing instruction. Such bespoke lessons would not only provide teachers with compelling lesson choices, but they would also act as training sets for our AI tool. Like all good AI systems, our tool would generate great future lessons based on well-received current ones.

Essaypop's Frame Writing Approach is Dynamic, Scaffolded, and Interactive.

A little bit of background – with essaypop, students learn the constituent parts of academic paragraphs and essays one color-coded element at a time and then combine these elements into coherent, academic writing. Research shows that when students approach writing this way, they write more organized, structured, and substantive compositions. It is a template-based system and it works. Our research done in conjunction with the College Board supports this methodology.

As seen here, the student writing area is partitioned into strategically-hued frames that are surrounded by scaffolding options that include models, explanations, and sentence stems that may be inserted strategically into the desired frames.

-- Sentence stems allow students to dial up academic phrases to include in their writing. Over time, students begin to internalize these phrases.

-- And, of course, the writing is always being converted into an MLA-formatted document in real-time.

Differentiated Writing Views

Students may also choose from different writing views. While many students prefer the framed view seen above, they may also select this more traditional view that feels more like writing on a Google or Word document. They're still given the templated, color-coded support, and they still have access to all of the scaffolded support mentioned before.

Students may also select a more focused view where each frame is viewed individually with enlarged text. This is a favorite among ELL students. Keep in mind, that students can jump from view to view with ease and their writing is always saved in all views.

Teacher-Generated Scaffolding

The system allows teachers like Ms. Lawson to set up customized templates before assigning them to her students. In the example below, you’ll notice that she’s prepared a template where students must address certain critical and organizational elements of a particular piece of writing. In addition to a claim, they must include two sets of text evidence and commentary; they also must include a closing section. Of course, students can modify and add to the template on their end as they write but they must first take into account the structure that the teacher has set up.

She’s also provided her students with preset, prompt and literature-specific guiding text within each frame that spells out what they should include or consider as they tackle each writing section. This teacher-created writing advice can be based on the nuances of the literature being analyzed, classroom discussions, or skills the teacher wants to emphasize. This scaffolding is teacher-driven so there is no guesswork for her students; they know precisely what they should do as they progress through the writing.

-- Providing prompt-specific writing templates with clear guiding text gives students the most complete scaffolding experience possible. These scaffolds come preset out of the box and can be created by teachers for specific purposes.


AI Implication - Ensuring Authentic Student WritingIn this era of generative artificial intelligence, we must ensure that students are presenting their own thoughts and perspectives in their writing. Plagiarism and cheating have always been a challenge for writing teachers across all subjects, but we've seen nothing quite like what we're seeing today in the era of evolving generative AI. To help combat this, we plan to fight AI with AI.

When students compose in our writing frames, background AI checks for authentic writing behavior; it tracks inauthentic writing patterns, sudden word dumps, and other behaviors that may be suspicious. When these patterns are noticed, the system gently warns the student that inauthentic writing has been detected. If the behavior persists, the teacher is flagged so that a corrective conversation can be had with the student.


Our system also occasionally cues students to defend or explain a section of writing they have finished. For example, let's say a student has just finished composing a thesis statement for their essay - the system might ask them to pause and quickly rephrase the thesis statement differently or in their own words. If they are unable to do this within a reasonable amount of time or the system detects a word dump, they again would be warned and the teacher would be flagged.

Our AI assistant is not merely punitive or detective, however, it can also act as a tutor and coach. Students can request help with a portion of a paragraph or essay, or the system itself would notice if students are making mistakes or getting off track and make suggestions to help the student self-correct. Our AI tutor would be quite patient and approachable, and to keep things interesting, it might even occasionally be silly, snarky, or hip.

To learn more about how writing frames work, we've prepared this video for you --

Watch the Video

The Hive - Where Writing Becomes a Team Sport

Ms. Lawson has made it clear that she wants her students to interact and talk about their writing. The essaypop Hive is the social and interactive heart of the essaypop platform. Think of it as a gathering place for students, teachers, guests, and mentors. In the Hive, the teacher organizes students into productive clusters where they can give and receive substantive and “crowdsourced” feedback. Here is a quick video in which students share their experiences in the Hive:

Watch the Video

This engaging environment is also where teachers monitor and assess student work. The Hive is consistently the most popular feature of the essaypop platform as it drives engagement and multiplies the amount of feedback students receive.

-- In this view, teachers can form student groups and monitor student progress at a glance. The teacher may resize and customize each cluster by dragging and dropping student avatars into new positions.

-- Students and teachers can engage in powerful conversations about their writing and peers can provide one another with insightful feedback in real-time.

Driving Substantive Peer-to-Peer Feedback and creating Mentor-based Writing Communities

While essaypop's core mission is to provide students with the methods and support they need to become proficient writers, our secondary objective is to turn the act of writing into a social and interactive endeavor for students and teachers. By doing so writing becomes more meaningful and, dare we say it, fun for students. Also, the Hive environment doesn't stop by serving the single classroom; students can be connected across classrooms, schools, and districts, creating opportunities for mentoring opportunities across schools, subjects, and grade levels. To take a deeper dive into how we accomplish this, we've prepared an article about it:

Read the Article


AI Implication - Moderated Chat

During these teacher-to-student and peer-to-peer conversations, our AI-moderated chatbot joins the party in the Hive, making suggestions, and weighing in on the discussion. Our bot is programmed to take into account the current conversation (it will play off what other people are saying in the thread!) and is also armed with the essay criteria, rubrics, and other resources. Our assistant may also be programmed by the teacher using real-language cues to emphasize certain points and concepts and customize the feedback experience.


And in a nod to equity (not to mention civility), students who are not receiving enough peer feedback or who have not heard from the teacher for a while can ask the bot for advice on a particular component of their writing, or the AI assistant can deftly detect an inactive thread of conversation and insinuate itself into the chat. No one will remain lonely in the essaypop Hive.

Assessment

As much as Ms. Lawson loves teaching her students how to write, she sometimes dreads the prospect of grading all of those papers. And she's not alone, ELA and writing teachers nationwide consider the assessment burden to be a major cross to bear. Fortunately, essaypop has an answer for this, and it is made possible by the system's granular, frame-writing architecture.

When Ms. Lawson sets up an assignment in the teacher dashboard, she selects only the elements she wants to emphasize, effectively throttling the amount of assessment she'll be required to do at the end.

The Assessment

When she's ready to grade, she goes to the Hive, clicks on a student avatar, and pulls up the assessment view in the sidebar. From here she grades only the elements she's selected, and those sections of writing automatically scroll into view and are prominently highlighted. Ms. Lawson appreciates the ability to move quickly from student to student.

-- Rubric-based assessments take place in the Hive and actionable data is generated and gathered for use by students, teachers, schools, and districts.


AI Implication - Easing the Assessment Load for TeachersEssaypop has always been a leader in optimizing and simplifying writing assessment. We will soon be bringing in an AI assistant that can run on its own or be programmed by the teacher with real-language voice commands. This feature will greatly lighten the teacher's workload while maintaining their agency and importance in the assessment process. It will also ensure fair consistent scoring across student work.


Summary

Teachers like Camille Lawson understand well the challenges of preparing students to pass end-of-year state exams, AP exams, et al... She knows that student writing struggles are often not content-knowledge-based per se, but skills-based. Many students come to her without basic writing competency and it’s quite challenging to play catch-up and build these skills during the school year. This is where a comprehensive and flexible writing tool like essaypop comes in. Essaypop fits into any writing scenario and can be used frequently, even daily, to address the skills students need when tackling academic writing.

She sees essaypop as a flexible and teacher-centric system that can be modified and contoured to the unit or skill she's teaching. It's a social and interactive platform that allows her students to receive substantive feedback regularly in a way that is engaging and fun because the kids are part of the feedback loop.

She's also pleased that essaypop seems to be integrating generative AI in clever ways that will not only mentor her students and simplify her workload but do so in ways that honor and respect the social and interactive nature of writing itself; the platform feels organic and maintains the human touch.

As a company, essaypop is dedicated to solving the challenges that students and teachers like Camille Lawson encounter when they approach the rigors of learning and teaching sound, academic writing. We’re aware that having an effective methodology is only half the battle. Digital platforms must take into account user experience, user expectations, and often unaccounted-for considerations like screen real estate and changing technologies. A digital platform that will actually be used must be intuitive and engaging - it should delight both teacher and student. Essaypop, a teacher and developer-founded company, has built a platform that is ready to integrate with any ELA curriculum.