Victoria Collins, Forbes Contributor

The Fitbit for writing – using technology to improve student writing skils

Recently our very own Martin McKay (CTO at Texthelp) was interviewed by Victoria Collins to talk about our writing achievement tool, WriQ. Originally appearing in Forbes in April 2020, read why it’s so important for Martin and the Texthelp team that students not only have access to the tools they need to succeed but are engaged with learning in ways that motivate them to use technology to reach their full potential. 

Over ten million students represented by PISA, the OECD index for measuring education levels, were not able to complete the most basic reading tasks in 2018. In the UK one in five people left primary school the same year unable to read or write properly, according to the UK's Department for Education.

Illiteracy can hold a person back in every stage of their life from locking them out of the job market to reducing their wellbeing and even their life expectancy. Helping people read and write is a crucial task, one which Texthelp has been tackling head-on for twenty-four years, helping 25 million people to date and continue to do so with their new product WriQ. Martin McKay, the founder and CTO of Texthelp, says "I hope to do for kids and writing what Fitbit has done for fitness".

Measuring writing skills

WriQ is aimed at students from 7-18 years old and empowers them to take charge of their own learning through a personalised dashboard. With the WriQ meter, students can track their writing bursts (how long they write for without pausing or stopping), visualise their progress in real-time, and get instant access to positive feedback on their own writing.

This tool makes tracking their progress fun and engaging. Students can track their writing progress daily, weekly, or monthly and work towards goals and achievement badges. It also lets them get a picture of their most frequently used language and how they are writing for specific subject areas. Knowing what topics students like to write about can also help teachers.

The beauty of WriQ lies in its holistic approach, which also supports educators and school leaders. As WriQ objectively and effectively measures productivity, accuracy, pace and maturity of the writing, educators have more time to focus on improving achievements in writing. Educators can maintain consistency and have a clearer view of students' progress whilst being able to give meaningful and personalised feedback. School leaders can access unbiased aggregated data to inform their decisions and support where needed.

The power of data

Eighteen months ago, WriQ was initially launched in the USA to pilot and develop the product. From the UK, USA and Australia, they have now been able to gather a data set of 150,000 data points for two full academic years.

This data was initially collected to ensure that the tool made a real impact, but it has now grown to provide a fantastic database. The anonymous data set can show national norms by age which provides benchmark data for educators to help measure progress even more objectively.

Helping people to express themselves

Texthelp started as a company to help people with dyslexia, linked to Martin's own experience. Thanks to their approach using universal design for learning, their products now help so many others, including those who are linguistically isolated (i.e. grown up in a home where English is not the native language). One of their tools Read&Write is as useful for students as it has been for adults.

Fluency Tutor helps teachers and students with reading and literacy during remote learning, and SpeechStream helps publishers maximise student outcomes by making online learning and assessment platforms more accessible. The company has even taken on the challenge of assisting with maths through their product EquatIO.

EdTech for everyone

Martin is motivated by helping people who are linguistically disadvantaged to express themselves and their knowledge. WriQ undoubtedly helps to support this aim. Not only have the team worked on a product that provides an engaging and rewarding experience for students but relieves the daily stress of educators. WriQ helps to reduce the workload of educators while enhancing the learning experience and giving them more time to accelerate learning in other ways.  

A tool like WriQ can only reach its full potential when government EdTech strategy is ready, and the tech is there for kids. There may be more progress to make, but the UK government for example launched an EdTEch report and strategy in 2019, paving the way for change. At a time currently when kids and teachers are forced to separate due to COVID-19 tools like this could be even more important.

In the future, I am sure that tools like this could help adult writers just as much, I certainly wouldn't mind my own WriQ.
Visit our website to find out more about improving writing with WriQ or to get started with a free premium pilot. 


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