Literacy tool aids Tennessee students

Whether studying history, science or language arts, students in Henderson County Schools in rural Tennessee are making steady gains in building critical literacy skills with the help of WriteToLearn™, Pearson’s web-based tool for building writing and reading-comprehension skills.

“We’re having great success with WriteToLearn across the curriculum,” said Steve Lindsey, principal of Henderson County’s Lexington High School, which began using the tool three years ago. “Our students respond well to it, and our writing scores are showing solid improvement.”

This year, with full implementation of WriteToLearn at Lexington High, the school is on track to earn 5 out of 6 possible points overall on the state writing assessment – a marked improvement from the “3” it scored three years ago.

As Henderson County and other districts in Tennessee, one of the first states selected for the federal Race To The Top grant program, implement the new Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts, WriteToLearn provides them with a research-based tool that aligns with the curriculum to meet these new rigorous achievement goals. For example, the summary-writing component of WriteToLearn will help students increase their understanding of informational text and how to express that understanding through summarization, as detailed in the new standards.

When students develop essay-writing and summarization skills with WriteToLearn, their efforts are measured by Pearson’s state-of-the-art Knowledge Analysis Technologies™ (KAT) engine. The KAT Engine is a unique automated assessment technology that evaluates the meaning of text, not just grammatical correctness or spelling. This proven technology delivers the accurate, consistent and immediate, quality feedback that is necessary for academic success.

“WriteToLearn gives students instant feedback in a comfortable setting, and they gain a considerable amount of practice every time they use it,” said Lindsey. “The more you expose students to writing, the better they get at it.”

Carol Burroughs, Lexington High School counselor, calls WriteToLearn “an exceptional asset.” She said, “Our teachers and students love it – it’s very easy to use.”

Dana Savage, who heads the English department at Lexington High, finds WriteToLearn offers a much-needed efficiency to her busy day teaching 11th grade English. “It’s a great way to give students practice with writing without increasing my grading load,” she said. “And when students are getting more practice in reading, writing and summarizing, their scores go up in all areas.”

Savage is impressed with the quality of feedback students receive when writing essays in WriteToLearn. “The feedback is tailored for each student and really helps them move forward when they’re struggling,” she said.

In addition to the hundreds of writing prompts provided in WriteToLearn, Savage appreciates the ability to create her own, an option she uses when she wants to customize a topic to a lesson. She also likes the flexibility of assigning students writing projects as homework, which she can do because it’s web-based.

Savage’s students are also improving their reading-comprehension skills with WriteToLearn. “WriteToLearn is very good at helping students pick out the main ideas in a reading passage. It makes sure they give equal attention to all parts of the piece, not just the beginning of it,” she said.

WriteToLearn qualifies for federal funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.