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The importance of tracking student progress across time

The Intuition Trap: Failing student writers

As English teachers, we're passionate about helping our students become strong, confident writers. We dedicate countless hours to providing feedback and guidance, celebrating their successes along the way. Yet, despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves in a frustrating cycle, watching our students struggle with the same writing challenges year after year.

The problem isn't a lack of dedication or expertise on our part, but rather a fundamental flaw in our approach to writing assessment: specifically, the absence of a systematic method to track student progress on individual writing skills.

When we sit down to provide feedback on a student's writing, we're often overwhelmed by the sheer number of issues we notice. We mentally catalogue a misplaced comma here, a weak thesis statement there, but in the face of so many areas for improvement, we're forced to prioritise. We focus on the most glaring issues, hoping they'll make the greatest impact, while letting countless other critical observations slip through the cracks.

Without a systematic way to document and track these observations, we're left with an incomplete picture of our students' writing abilities. We may remember that a student struggled with transitions in their last essay, but without a clear record of their progress, we can't know if our feedback has made a lasting impact. As a result, our students find themselves adrift, lacking the clear direction and support they need to improve.

It's a shocking reality, but countless English teachers – myself included – admit to relying on their gut instincts when it comes to tracking student writing progress. We simply don't have the time to track progress systematically after already writing so much feedback, so we're forced to make judgments about progress based on a vague sense of each student's abilities and perhaps the trend of their overall scores. It's a far cry from the data-driven approach we need to truly support and track our students' growth.

The consequences of this approach can be devastating. Students move through grade levels still grappling with the same basic writing challenges they faced years earlier. Their progress stagnates, their confidence withers, and they begin to see themselves as "bad writers," unprepared for the demands of academic and professional writing.

However, by harnessing the power of a human-in-the-loop approach to artificial intelligence (AI), we can change the way we assess and provide feedback on student writing.

You, the expert, focus on carefully evaluating each student's writing against criteria that you have defined. Then, AI steps in to generate personalised, targeted feedback that cites their work and addresses their specific challenges.

The result?

We can simultaneously provide detailed feedback and monitor every writing skill for every student.