Amazon Education unveils new tool to improve writing


In an effort to give students more ownership of their writing — and to give teachers some of their valuable time back — Amazon Education on Wednesday introduced TenMarks Writing, an online curriculum that coaches students through the writing process while stoking a natural curiosity and interest in the craft.

TenMarks Writing — building off the success of its counterpart, TenMarks Math — uses natural language processing technology to provide personalized feedback to each student.

The technology can detect common mistakes, like misspellings or overuse of a word, as well as more sophisticated writing challenges, like the strength of an argument and structure of the essay, said Krystin Neuens, a teacher who beta tested TenMarks Writing with her 4th grade students in the spring term.

“Those are things I would otherwise be teaching my students, so it does take a load off me, but it also makes them better writers,” Neuens, who teaches at the Brompton School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, told EdScoop. “TenMarks makes them more independent, too. It’s not me as a teacher saying, ‘This isn’t right.’ I think that’s really a huge piece for them.”

Amazon Education has been developing TenMarks Writing for about a year, based on the idea that “writing is the cornerstone for success and communication,” and that teaching it can and should be less time-consuming than it currently is, said Meera Vaidyanathan, director of curriculum products for Amazon Education, in an interview.

“We’ve been listening actively to what [teachers] are saying and have developed TenMarks to combine the rigor of writing with fun,” Vaidyanathan said. “We want it to be easy to incorporate and adopt, engaging and relevant, and faithful to the best practices of writing.”

The writing curriculum consists of three key features.

Bursts are short, informal writing exercises that make for
good warm-ups at the beginning of a lesson, said Lisa Asari, a senior product
manager for TenMarks Writing. Students can select from a wide range of topics
then create a dialogue between characters through text or picture comments —
similar to something they might do on a mobile app.

“As a student, I’m more engaged when I write about something I actually care about. Animals, food, sports — it’s easy to find something I’m interested in,” Asari said. It also “gives students an opportunity to practice without judgment, which builds students’ confidence.”

A few weeks into the Neuens’ trial of TenMarks Writing, Amazon added the Bursts. Her students were “very excited about the bursts when those came out,” she said. “They really enjoyed those. They were voluntarily deciding to write.”

The only drawback of the Bursts, Neuens said, is that because they are informal, teachers don’t get to see what their students are writing unless the student asks them to come over and check it out. She expressed to Amazon that she wanted to be able to see their progress in that feature as well, and the education officials at Amazon said they would be working on that in the future.

Another, and perhaps the most helpful, tool on TenMarks Writing is the writing coach. This feature incorporates a digital writing assistant to break down the writing process and provide differentiated feedback and guidance at every step — from prewriting to drafting to editing the essay.

The writing coach may suggest revising the hook of an essay or reorganizing certain paragraphs, but all suggestions are optional, giving teachers an opportunity to accept, deny or edit the comments before students see them.

Neuens said that when students would submit their writing assignments to her through TenMarks, she would often insert additional comments, building off the suggestions made by the writing coach.

More than just saving her time, Neuens said she noticed student improvements in just a couple of months using the beta.

“Even some of my higher writers had better writing,” she said. “It really does help them structure their writing, and it really did help them pull in higher quality evidence, even their leads and endings.”

The third component of TenMarks Writing is the teacher resources, which provide a one-stop shop for lessons, rubrics, anchor charts and everything a teacher might need for writing instruction.

TenMarks Writing is now available for $4 per student per year for grades 4-6, with plans to expand to grades 7 and 8 in the near future, Vaidyanathan said. Amazon Education is also offering a free 30-day trial of the online writing curriculum.

Because she participated in the beta, Neuens gets to use TenMarks Writing for free this year with her fourth graders, but after that, she said she’ll be talking with the school principal about purchasing the writing program for all Brompton students.

“It’s a great resource,” Neuens said. “I would fork over my own money for it if I had to. It really helped the kids and made my life easier.”