This edtech could help teachers improve student writing

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Two weeks ago I spent a couple of hours hunched over a cafeteria table, helping one of the eighth grade students I mentor outline her research paper. It brought back some fond memories of my time as a high school English teacher. But it also reminded me of one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching writing: When you’re a full-time educator teaching dozens of students, there is never enough time to provide every single student with the kind of detailed and consistent feedback that will truly transform their writing.

Maybe that’s why I was so thrilled when a few days later I came across the news that The Graide Network (TGN) had successfully raised over $1 million to expand its reach to more schools. For those who are unfamiliar, TGN is an organization that connects K–12 teachers with teaching assistants who grade and provide feedback on student writing through an online platform. Assistants, known as “Graiders,” work remotely and are undergraduate or graduate students who are enrolled in, or preparing to enroll in, teacher preparation programs.

The process works like this: Teachers post detailed information about an assignment, including a rubric and grading instructions, and are matched with a Graider based on content and grade level. Graiders with the highest ratings, strongest track records of experience, and fastest response rates are prioritized. Once matched with a Graider, teachers upload their students’ work. Graiders then grade and return the assignment along with detailed reports on class performance and personalized feedback for each student. Teachers are responsible for reviewing feedback and returning it to their students. At the end of the process they also rate and review their Graider based on quality of feedback, accuracy of grades, and professionalism.

The best part of TGN is that it offers clear benefits to all three groups involved. For teachers, there’s the obvious benefit of giving students feedback without sacrificing so much time. Teachers who have used TGN have also reported increased student engagement and learning gains, and have received useful data than can be used to plan lessons and interventions. For students, the clearest benefit is personalized and high-quality feedback that’s returned within a few days. Writing for a third party audience also helps students practice for writing exercises like AP exams, ACT and SAT writing prompts, and college entrance essays. For Graiders, it’s a flexible way to earn cash (they earn $10 an hour) while gaining the kind of practical, hands-on experience that will prepare them for the realities of a classroom and set them apart from other teaching candidates.

Quality control is incorporated throughout the process and starts on the front end. Graiders are top-performing undergraduate and graduate students who are selected based on academic performance, relevant experience and coursework, and their proficiency in providing effective feedback on a mock assignment. Once accepted, Graiders are required to complete training that includes online courses on effective feedback, rubrics and norming, and analyzing data. Graiders also receive ongoing coaching and support. If, for whatever reason, a teacher isn’t satisfied with their experience, they can request a revision or find a replacement Graider at no additional cost.

TGN is a form of edtech, though, and many folks are rightly concerned about how edtech can put students’ privacy and safety at risk. TGN answers these concerns in a few ways. For starters, students and Graiders never directly interact. Teachers are responsible for collecting and uploading student work to the platform for Graiders to access, and the teachers review feedback prior to returning it to students. This allows teachers to ensure that student work is anonymized, and to act as information gatekeepers. Interactions between teachers and Graiders, meanwhile, are limited to TGN’s internal messaging system. As an added precaution, Graiders are required to sign confidentiality agreements and teachers are required to obtain approval from authorized school administrators before working with a Graider.

The organization’s “Why” page offers some solid evidence on the power of feedback, and their case studies offer the kind of anecdotal, on-the-ground proof that their platform works in real classrooms. But as they continue to expand into more schools, an important next step is bringing in an outside researcher to evaluate their platform’s impacts on student learning. A combination of qualitative and quantitative data could solidify the organization’s reputation and persuade skeptical teachers to give the platform a shot.

In the meantime, though, TGN is a promising venture that seems to have benefited students, teachers, and Graiders. For districts and schools looking to improve student writing and expand teacher capacity, The Graide Network is worth a look.

Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.