Review by Andrea Meyers, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2019

Writable

Stellar program scaffolds the writing process with peer review and feedback

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • English-Language Learning

Skills
  • College & Career Prep
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
3–12
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Pros: Supports the writing process from first to last draft and helps students learn how to give appropriate peer feedback.

Cons: There's a significant learning curve, and teachers will need support to get started.

Bottom Line: This is an intelligently structured tool for teaching writing and review that focuses on process as much as product.

Teachers can use Writable as the foundation for their school writing program. To get started, have students join with a class code, or import and sync your classes with Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, or HMH. Co-teachers can also join the class with an invitation. Select writing prompts and projects from the large library representing the major genres taught in grades 3 to 12. Teachers can also customize the assignments or create their own assignments and rubrics that align with their school's curriculum. Students practice writing to a prompt and engage with peers in a review cycle and incorporate the input into their revisions.

Teachers manage the class through the dashboard and provide feedback to students throughout the writing process. The dashboard presents information on individual students as well as the class, drilling down through categories, skills, standards, and even checklists and rubrics. Students who need additional assistance and practice are flagged for teachers. Teachers can also work together as grade- and content-level teams to calibrate assessments using exemplars provided for different writing levels. 

Embedded accessibility features support all learners. All students can toggle on audio instructions for each writing prompt, and teachers can enable additional scaffolds such as starter sentences or paragraphs, and prefilled graphic organizers for specific students. Spanish-speaking students who are learning English can toggle the navigation menu between English and Spanish. 

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Writable is an extensive web-based writing program. It focuses on a recursive writing process with a lot of peer and teacher feedback. Content covers all major writing genres taught in grades 3 to 12: argumentative/persuasive, narrative, and informational/expository. As they complete assignments, students learn how to respond to prompts in quick writes, short responses, multiparagraph essays, and extended writing projects with multiple revisions. Schools that use Six Traits, Writing Workshop, and other instructional methods will find that the program works with any of those methods in multiple content areas. Teachers manage the peer feedback and revision process and can jump in to provide additional feedback and assistance. RevisionAid is a new feature that analyzes writing and provides automatic, specific feedback, adding another layer in the revision cycle. Students click a button in the writing area and receive recommendations with color-coded stars that categorize the type of feedback. Teachers enable RevisionAid when assigning a writing prompt or project and then review that data as part of the dashboard reports. 

In the anonymous peer review process, students use the rubric to assist with evaluating the writing, assign stars, and provide written feedback. Writers receive and incorporate the feedback, and then the writing goes back to the reviewers for another look. In addition, teachers can assign evaluations of the peer feedback. 

Schools that use Chromebooks and Google Classroom can import their rosters into Writable and set it up to sync with Classroom assignments. Students can write and submit from Google Docs and save the writing to their drive. If schools use the Canvas or Schoology learning management systems (LMS), teachers install the Writable app and then create assignments. The process is slightly different for each, so make sure to verify the steps for your LMS. Students will see their assignments when they log in.

Writable's biggest strength is in its scaffolding of each step of the writing, revision, and feedback process, and how it supports the assessment of both writing and feedback. It helps students by organizing the process and helps teachers monitor the students as writers, revisers, and reviewers. This focus on students as reviewers -- not just writers and revisers -- is particularly notable. While drafting and revising one's work is an important part of the writing process, research supports that peer review is an equally important skill. Writable supports this focus with its Practice Peer Review assignments, and in the way that giving feedback is integrated and assessed alongside drafting and revision. It's a unique approach among competitors in the edtech writing space and is laudable. 

Writable also gets other things right, like making sure there are accessibility features and detailed graphic organizers that support all students, including English language learners and those who struggle with focus and executive function. In addition, the reports teachers get provide valuable information that'll shape instructional decisions, and the "team grading" feature -- which provides groups of teachers the ability to norm grading and identify exemplars -- also shows a keen understanding of how tech can help support teachers. Although this leads to the big caveat with Writable: There's a lot to it, and learning how to use all of Writable's features requires a significant time investment. But since it's a tool teachers can rely on to anchor their curriculum, that initial investment over, say, a summer, will be worth it. Every element of the program is useful and thoughtfully designed to support effective writing.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

With numerous writing prompts for both ELA and social studies, teachers will always find a relevant topic. Students can choose freewrites that interest them.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Exceptional scaffolding for students, and revision is elevated to a place of prominence. The writing prompts align well with curricula and state assessments.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's a wide variety of professional support. The social media community is very active. Teacher reports provide actionable data, and teacher teams can calibrate assessments.


Common Sense Reviewer
Andrea Meyers Instructional Facilitator of Technology

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