Writing skills have been demonstrated as an important element, and even predictor, of academic success for students (Torrance, 2007). Unfortunately, students with disabilities and challenges in the area of written expression find writing tasks to be extremely frustrating due to the increased cognitive load that many students with learning disabilities experience during the writing process (spelling and grammatical challenges, handwriting/typing speed and legibility, word selection, organization, and other aspects) (Schock & Lee, 2016). Fortunately, assistive technology tools and features, such as word predictive software and dictation tools, have the ability to ease this cognitive load and the frustrations that students typically experience. Literature suggests that these applications can offer benefits to students with writing challenges in the improvement in either the production of or quality of text (Schock & Lee, 2016).
Co-Writer is both an iOS app and web extension tool that is one of the multiple educational technology products available from Don Johnson Inc. Co-Writer utilizes word prediction and speech recognition capabilities in order to assist students with writing difficulties as well as decoding difficulties (Ok, 2018).
Co-Writer is available as an iPad app, a Google Chrome extension, and a Microsoft Edge extension. Before use, a free trial must be initiated or an individual or school-wide subscription must be purchased. Once the program is downloaded, students have the ability to use Co-Writer features while typing in the Co-Writer notebook, Google Drive applications, word processing programs, and web browsers like Google Chrome. The program uses the Neuron word prediction engine, which follows natural thinking processes as well as content-specific dictionaries in order to offer a list of possible vocabulary words for students to use in their sentence production. This is helpful for students who many be completing writing assignments for other content areas like science and social studies. Co-Writer can be specifically beneficial for students who struggle with frequent spelling errors or who often have inventive spelling because it will recognize spelling errors and again offer potential substitutions to students.
Although the word prediction, spelling correction, and dictation features that Co-Writer offers are similar to the capabilities of other applications and built-in accessibility tools, Co-Writer stands out in its unique read-aloud abilities. Students can select words, phrases, sentences, or larger selections of their writing to be read aloud to them. Also, when the list of predicted words or possible corrections are offered, students can swipe on the individual word choices in order to have them read aloud and determine if any of the word choices offered are what they intended or would like to use in their writing. This can be a helpful feature for students in the editing and revising process of writing, especially for students with dyslexia and those who struggle with differentiating between different forms of root words. This artificial intelligence (AI) feature can also help students to revise their writing to choose more content-specific vocabulary that matches their topic, vary their word choice, and select between transition words and academic vocabulary.
Co-Writer is well aligned with the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Standards for Educators. ISTE has developed standards to guide educators as they assist students in becoming empowered learners with the enhancements of technology (International Society for Technology in Education, 2020). Co-Writer is aligned with at least three of these standards or roles: designer, facilitator, and analyst. The designer role includes the substandard of utilizing technology to personalize learning experiences and to accommodate individual differences and needs. With the use of Co-Writer, educators can offer students’ a tool that will help to accommodate their writing or decoding difficulties and encourage independence. For instance, in a non-digital revision setting, a student with these difficulties might need a teacher, peer, or parent to read their writing back to them so that they can listen for potential errors and receive guidance with revisions. While collaborative revision is an important element of the writing process, this reliance on others’ can sometimes be a deterrent for students with writing challenges. However, with the use of Co-Writer, students are able to listen to their own writing independently and use the read-aloud word replacement feature in order to edit and revise their own writing.
Another ISTE substandard that Co-Writer connects to is the role of educators in modeling a culture of creativity in order to express ideas, knowledge, or connections (facilitator). Co-Writer supports this standard due to its ability to be used across multiple programs and browsers. When teachers offer a range of creative options for students to express knowledge (such as Prezi and digital storytelling) students with writing or decoding challenges can feel more comfortable in choosing the platform wish to utilize with the knowledge that they can use Co-Writer to support the written elements. Finally, this technology tool also aligns with the ISTE educator standard of “analyst” as it offers students an assistive tool to help them in demonstrating and reflecting on their learning. It also provides educators with data regarding student usage, such as writing quantity and amount of types of vocabulary usage.
Co-Writer also helps to support the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2020). For example, in the writing section of the standards, they note that students should be able to “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.5). This program also supports a CCSS writing substandard that encourages the use of technology to produce and publish writing as well as to collaborate with others on writing projects (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.6). With the use of Co-Writer, not only are students able to be supported in producing and editing writing, they are also able to collaborate with peers and teachers by easily exporting their work to email, Google Drive, and other formats for review and suggestions. Co-Writer also increases collaboration because it allows for students with decoding or writing difficulties to take a more active and confident role in the peer-revision process as the reviser. Depending on the original format, student users can import writing projects from their peers into the Co-Writer notebook or access them through Google Drive and use Co-Writer’s features. Students can use the read-aloud features and word suggestion lists to be able to review their peers’ writing and offer positive feedback and revision suggestions. This helps to foster practical independence skills and build confidence for students, as they are able to more easily take on this role with the use of assistive technology.
Although Co-Writer offers read-aloud features and topic-specific word prediction intelligence that provide many benefits to students, it does include some limitations. One of these limitations concerns the accuracy of the word prediction and replacement lists that are provided. Sometimes the vocabulary choices provided are not the true replacements for a spelling error, which can cause further confusion for students with written expression challenges. Also, the topic-specific dictionaries can provide word prediction lists that are not the best-fitting word choices within a sentence or may be conceptually inappropriate for a student’s age and ability level. While Co-Writer aims to ease the process of writing production and vocabulary choice for students, this inaccuracy in the AI capabilities may further deter users.
Overall, Co-Writer is noted for its ability to alleviate challenges that students may experience in various elements of the writing process in order to be able to confidently express their ideas, which is of growing importance in classroom writing processes and writing workshops.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2020, June 25). ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS:WRITING:GRADE 6. http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/6/.
International Society for Technology in Education. (2020, June 25). ISTE STANDARDS FOR STUDENTS. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.
Ok, M. W. (2018). Use of iPads as Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities. TechTrends, 62(1), 95–102. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0199-8
Schock, R. E., & Lee, E. A. (2016). Children’s Voices: Perspectives on Using Assistive Technology. 21.
Torrance, M. (2007). Cognitive Processes in the Development of Writing Expertise. 7.