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Pros: Word suggestions -- with specialized dictionaries --- encourage writers to keep going and get their ideas on the page.
Cons: It could limit and slow down the creative flow for some writers, stifling their process.
Bottom Line: This is a useful, customizable tool for a particular kind of reluctant writer who struggles with vocabulary and spelling.
Co:Writer Universal works especially well for students who struggle with certain writing mechanics: word choice and spelling. While students write, they'll get auto-generated lists of potential words that could help them push past mechanical blocks and communicate their ideas. It could also help them discover and learn new words. Teachers might encourage students to identify a few new words they've used in each assignment, and to build a running list to study and learn. Some students could find the constant stream of possible words stifling and distracting. To make the best use of the program, teachers should work with students to customize it to individual students' needs. There's a variety of options to personalize the program, including font size, language translation, word predictions, flexible spelling, and speech recognition. The extension easily connects with the Chrome browser and can be turned on or off as needed.
Beyond using the word prediction and spelling check, there's a read-aloud feature students can use to highlight sentences or entire sections to hear the text read aloud. Teachers could ask students to use this feature and then, based on what students hear, revise the text for clarity and flow.
Co:Writer Universal is an accessibility app and extension for iOS, Chrome, and Microsoft Edge. It uses grammar and vocabulary word prediction, translation support, and speech recognition to help students get started writing. As students begin typing words, Co:Writer uses "Neuron Word Prediction" to guess which word they're trying to type. Students can then select the suggested words to use in their text from a drop-down box. Topic-specific dictionaries for over four million categories are available to personalize the word choices based on the content being covered. Students can also get text read aloud to them to check if their writing makes sense. This option can be turned on or off as needed. Teachers also have the option of creating their own topic dictionary to assist students with vocabulary to be used in a written work.
If used with Chrome (as we did for this review), it integrates easily with various writing programs. Extensive resources are available for all aspects of the program and include "Quick Cards" as PDFs and instructional videos for installation, setup, and use.
Co:Writer Universal could be a valuable resource for reluctant readers and writers who get hung up on the mechanics of writing vs. the satisfying experience of self-expression. The word prediction tool, specialty dictionaries, and spelling correction might take the pressure off of these students and allow them to focus on their ideas. The read-aloud tool is a nice support, giving writers audio reinforcement. It also can encourage editing and revision once writers hear the text. Ultimately, though, Co:Writer will likely work best for a subset of students struggling with spelling and vocabulary, and not a full classroom. For some students -- perhaps even some reluctant writers -- the constant stream of possible words could disrupt their flow and even distract them from their ideas.