The current pandemic has hit education hard, closing schools and tutoring centers.
Educational organizations across the country are scrambling to find solutions to teach children safely and effectively this summer and during the upcoming school year. So far, most plans include either the distance learning model that has been used since the nationwide school closures in March, or a hybrid approach that blends traditional classroom learning with distance learning. Many experts believe that this hybrid approach will last for years to come, and may become the “new normal” due to continued health concerns, and the rising costs of public education and public pensions.
Educational organizations that thrive in this new paradigm will be the ones that are able to quickly adapt and offer distance learning experiences that go beyond interfacing with students on a Zoom video conference. They will need to offer programs with real utility that engage students remotely and take the pressure off teachers.
Digital math programs like ALEKS and Khan Academy have shown promise in this environment, but writing instruction is particularly difficult when educators and students are separated from one another. Teachers are learning that the majority of tools available to them are not up to the task. The teaching of academic writing happens best when teachers give instruction and feedback in person. It’s an organic and interactive process and very difficult to replicate remotely.
So what does a great distance-learning writing program look like?
- It must be simple for students and teachers to use.
- It must be a collaborative and interactive space. Students and teachers must be able to communicate in real time with one another, and substantive feedback and commentary should be exchanged with ease.
- The experience must be interactive and enjoyable.
- It must provide students with a repeatable method that fosters a structured yet flexible approach to academic writing.
- It must include an in-app help system that students can access independently and intuitively.
- It must have a library of comprehensive, highly-engaging lessons that teachers can access and teach with ease.
- It must account for both synchronous and asynchronous student learning schedules.
- It must do all of the above just as effectively in the traditional, classroom setting.
The essaypop writing platform scores high marks in all these categories
Essaypop’s impressive growth over the past several months can be attributed in part to the fact that it was distance-learning-ready when the health crisis broke out. But its popularity is also due to the fact that it is a tool that makes the job of students, teachers and even parents so much easier. Let’s look at the parts of the platform that make it so effective and user-friendly.
Frame Writing: The key to effective writing instruction is an easily-taught and repeatable writing method.
The essaypop writing method provides the writer with a flexible and structured approach to academic writing. The color-coded writing frames help students quickly learn and internalize the component elements of the essay. These elements are taught and practiced independently, then integrated into organized essays.
Meanwhile, students have immediate access to an in-app help system that emphasizes easy-to-understand explanations, models and scaffolded sentence stems. During distance learning it is critical that students be able to independently seek answers and advice on their own when they need it.
The writing in the frames are converted into an MLA-formatted document, again in real time.
The Hive is the social, collaborative and interactive heart of the essaypop system.
Even as students are learning from home, they are easily grouped together and supported in the Hive. Here students and teachers interact and communicate in real time, and the teacher is able to cluster students into strategically-organized groups. Additional teachers, tutors and other guests can easily be invited into this environment.
As individual student work shows up, teachers and peers provide immediate feedback. Pressure is taken off of the teacher as feedback becomes crowdsourced, and students benefit from receiving organic commentary from multiple sources.
The essaypop Lesson Library
Teachers, tutors and coaches have access to a comprehensive library of engaging, challenging and age-appropriate writing lessons created by some of the best teachers in the business.
The lessons are quite detailed, and cover all major writing domains from argument and persuasion to literary analysis – from exposition and research to narrative storytelling. The amount of time teachers and tutors will save by having access to this grab-and-go content cannot be underestimated.
A word on synchronous versus asynchronous activity during distance learning
In the traditional classroom, learning is, more or less, synchronous as students engage in the same tasks and learning at the same time. What teachers and tutors are learning across the nation is that students engaged in distance learning tend to begin their work at different times during the day or evening, depending on their work and sleep schedules. This can be a source of frustration for educators who are accustomed to synchronous practice.
The essaypop Hive is uniquely set up to be “open for business” 24/7 so that teachers and students can interact at any time during the day. Additionally, essaypop’s unique calendar system and asynchronous timers allow teachers to create work windows and to assign timed-writing events that students can initiate when they are ready to begin. But, the fact is, the perfect teaching tool for our times must be highly effective regardless of the setting or model of education being practiced.
According to essaypop founder, Michael Hicks, “Essaypop was not originally designed as a distance-learning tool. It just so happens when the health crisis forced us all to stay at home, essaypop happened to have the features and whiz bangs to keep kids learning and writing and staying in contact with their teachers and peers. We grew rapidly beginning in March, primarily because of interactive capabilities of the Hive. Of course, now we’re now building capacity for both types of learning.”
As the health crisis plays out, flexibility and responsiveness will be key to the survival of educational organizations across the nation. The learning landscape has changed, perhaps forever. Those that survive and thrive will quickly create and/or acquire learning tools that can perform substantively under any condition and in any environment, whether it be a building-based model or an anytime, anywhere approach. Platforms like essaypop that can work well in all scenarios will be critical for educators who wish to stay relevant and competitive in this new paradigm.