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A cartoon image of a professor marking essay drafts.

How AI can turbo-charge the drafting process

Whenever I meet with schools and teachers, they are often thrilled by the prospect of how Mark My Words might transform the drafting process. Teachers almost unanimously agree that drafting is helpful – we see it as an opportunity for us to intervene before the final assessment. Through drafting, we can find out whether our feedback is being picked up and applied by our students to improve their score or performance.

The research confirms our hunch – feedback through drafting is critical.  

Studies by scholars like Wiliam (2010) have highlighted feedback's incredible impact on educational outcomes when forming part of the drafting process. Their findings showcase that that effective feedback can nearly double student growth over a school calendar year. Some studies take this further by emphasising the role that enhanced formative assessment plays in narrowing the achievement gap for lower-achieving students, raising the standard of attainment across the board (Black and William, 2010).

Perhaps Freestone's (2008) study is most effective when seeking to understand the importance of drafting to the writing and revision process. He explains that there is a marked improvement in performance when the teacher engages with the student around areas for improvement, and where feedback ultimately translates into redrafting

Redrafting work to incorporate feedback has been proven to improve academic results. 

Freeman’s study proved what teachers understand anecdotally – students who receive supervised feedback and redrafting support outperform those who do not. The study revealed a statistically significant improvement in final exam results for supported students in three out of the four years of the study, emphasising a consistent and reliable correlation between academic outcomes and iterative drafting.

Freeman details the model for iterative drafting: a student crafts an initial essay draft, receives detailed feedback from their instructors, and then integrates this feedback into their revision. And repeat. The feedback offered by teachers must not be a critique but a learning tool, guiding students to understand their strengths and weaknesses. However, it is the student’s ability to interpret and act on this feedback – and then repeat the cycle – that is key. This is how dynamic and interactive learning experiences are created. 

Iterative feedback loops teach students to evaluate their work and respond constructively to feedback. 

And when we think about the skills our students will need in the ‘real world’? The ability to take on feedback is right up there. Encouraging iterative essay writing cultivates critical self-assessment and academic resilience, skills that are essential in any professional environment – and that certainly provide for a better classroom experience. Students who can take direct and honest feedback on board, and do so consistently, have a very significant strength and, in my experience, are definitely the ones who tend to perform well.

This is precisely the reason why it is so important to embed the drafting process into the earlier years of schools. You want your students to become incredibly familiar with the experience. A student in their senior years should not be shocked to receive constructive feedback on their work. They should be able to separate the advice from the person, and incorporate it into their work to improve their academic results. 

Students who engage in reflective essay drafting not only score higher – they develop a deeper understanding that benefits them over time. 

When a student is required to reflect on feedback, implement it and then receive more, they are being positioned to form a more rounded and refined conceptualisation of specific skills. Over time, students who learn and practice in this iterative way will build a conceptual framework that allows them to reflect on and edit their own work in the future – improving their ‘baseline’ and ability to self-assess.

By engaging in a rigorous drafting process on one assessment, students are also better placed to understand what might be expected of them in future tasks. In his study, Freeman (2008) observed a gap between student and staff perceptions of a ‘good’ essay – with each group prioritising different qualities, leading to impacted student grades. This speaks to the need for clear communication and alignment on criteria, which can be achieved by measuring student work against a comprehensive assessment framework and reinforcing these ‘goalposts’ through drafting. 

In reality, it’s not that easy. Providing quality feedback to every student on every draft is a near impossible task. 

In fact, to attempt this iterative feedback process on each essay you are given – by hand – would be lunacy. I’ve written about the number of hours an English teacher spends marking, and it is no joke. But introduce AI? It is suddenly possible. 

With the help of AI, teachers now have the tools they need to provide students with specific, detailed and actionable feedback without working after hours, at lunchtimes, and on the weekends. 

Encouraging self and peer-assessment on draft work has been a reasonable solution to the teacher time dilemma, and there is still scope for this. But with tools like Mark My Words, teachers can also provide timely comments on every assessment – and then actually track progress between drafts and assessments. 

What this means is that we can finally make ‘best practice’ just practice. 

We can bring to life the findings of studies like Freeman’s and implement the aspirational, academic standards statements around the impactful ways to deliver feedback.