Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2017

WriteLab

Nifty site gives automatic writing feedback, helps teachers comment

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
6–12
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
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Pros: Instant feedback plus teacher commenting features empower students to review and revise their work.

Cons: There's a chance that students won't dive deeply enough into the nitty-gritty details.

Bottom Line: With potentially best-in-class automated feedback and useful teacher features, WriteLab, if used well, offers a compelling proposition for writing instruction.

WriteLab can offer instant feedback on some more straightforward elements of the writing process, and it leaves room for teachers to add more detailed, nuanced feedback about what a student has submitted. There's an enormous library of grammar content embedded within the site. For an English class, consider using this as a ready reference for grammar and usage in your classroom. Or, think about WriteLab as a way to help students workshop drafts on their way to submitting a final paper. Use the site's tools as a first line of feedback for your students, then use the tool to send them more detailed feedback that goes beyond what an algorithm can do. However you use WriteLab, it's important to set expectations with your students about workflow, making clear what feedback the tool will provide versus what they'll need to get from teacher and peer feedback and how WriteLab will fit into the overall writing process. Without these expectations, students may become too reliant on WriteLab as an all-encompassing solution.

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WriteLab is a writing-instruction website featuring a proprietary writing analysis and instant feedback system, which identifies common issues with writing and offers suggestions for improvement. WriteLab also facilitates teacher and peer commenting on writing. While you can try out the basic features of the tool, whole-class use of the tool will required a paid Classroom Membership (there are also individual plans, but those seem most useful to students).

Once logged in, teachers can create a class and assignments and then invite students to their class via email or a special code. When students sign on, they can either type in or upload a completed essay. The app offers color-coded tips on concision, clarity, logic, and grammar. Teachers can log into their dashboard and see how their students have performed. Based on this feedback, teachers can reach out directly to each student to comment on the student's submissions and give feedback on appropriate next steps for research and practice. 

It's a great idea to automate some elements of the writing process -- namely, simple things such as changing the passive voice to active -- and to empower teachers and fellow students to weigh in with more detailed feedback. This automation, which is WriteLab's special sauce, is, for the most part, successful. It's great that students can get a broad sense of their students' progress, and it's especially great that this app integrates those more easily automated tasks with the tougher tasks of offering actionable writing feedback. 

The one real complaint with WriteLab is the ways its resources are shared. While there's an extraordinary amount of grammar content located on the site, it's not clear how students might use it, let alone navigate it effectively. As it is, there's so much content that some adults might find the collection daunting. While the algorithm that identifies errors is terrific, WriteLab would be even better if it helped people connect with that grammar information in a way that helped them get less and less reliant on the automated feedback. It's likely not the app developer's goal to put itself out of business, but it would be great if the app contained some slightly improved scaffolding to help students identify their mistakes and work to avoid them in the future. 

Overall Rating

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

The site's home page is appealing, but the interface has some confusing elements; for instance, it's not obvious how to share your uploaded document with your teacher.

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

WriteLab offers one-of-a-kind automated writing feedback that likely will improve students' writing. Of course, without feedback from a real person, students' writing can only go so far. 

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 spectacular amount of grammar information embedded on the site, but it's hard to sort through and students aren't likely to dive into the details on their own. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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