Amazon is expanding its efforts in the education technology space today with the launch of a new curriculum from TenMarks, the company it acquired several years ago which previously only focused on math lessons and related activities. Now, the business is offering an online curriculum for teachers designed to help students learn how to be better writers. The program includes a writing coach that leverages natural language processing, a variety of resources for teachers, and something called “bursts,” which are short writing prompts kids will be familiar with because of their use of mobile apps.
These bursts, which can be used by teachers as warm-ups or supplemental activities, make writing seem less intimidating for students, as they’re similar to what kids might do online or on their smartphones.
For example, some bursts will feature a photo that students leave a comment on – like a picture of a cute animal, nature scene, a silly photo, or a picture of a tasty dish, among other things.
In other cases, bursts may present writing prompts in the form of text messages that kids fill in. That option, in particular, ties into a big trend among tweens and teens today – chat fiction apps are a popular way that kids are now “reading” on their phones. For example, apps like Hooked, Yarn, and Wattpad’s Tap all currently sit at the top of the “Books” section on the App Store.
Amazon has its own entry in this space, as well – perhaps not coincidentally, also under the Amazon Education umbrella. Its short-form chat stories app Amazon Rapids tells stories in the form of text messages between characters, including those from Amazon’s own kids’ TV shows.
TenMarks tells TechCrunch that there isn’t a plan at present to connect the output from the kids’ writing to Rapids, like in a crowdsourced section of stories posted by the app’s user community, for example. But it’s an interesting connection, nonetheless.
In addition to teacher lesson plans, anchor charts, rubrics and other resources, the other key feature in the new online software is the Writing Coach digital assistant.
This assistant works with students through the process of writing a longer piece, like an essay, by making suggestions about essay organization, word choice, and more, as the students work.
Like TenMarks Math, the Writing software will be sold on a subscription basis. While individual teachers can buy it for their own use, more of TenMarks customers are the schools themselves, who purchase licenses for larger numbers of students, Amazon tells us.
“We’ve been talking to educators all over the country. What they’ve been telling us is that they’re looking for a creative way to teach writing in the classroom because they recognize that writing is such an important part of communication – it’s important for success, it’s important in school, in college, in careers,” explains Meera Vaidyanathan, Director of Curriculum Products at Amazon Education, as to why TenMarks expanded in this direction.
During beta tests, one teacher said her students asked to stay in from recess to keep writing their text-based stories. The beta testers also found that individual students completed over 100 of the bursts in the first week of using the software.
TenMarks is only one way that Amazon is aiming to insert itself into the classroom. The company also runs Amazon Inspire, still in beta, a collection of K-12 curriculum resources. Currently, educators can browse the content library and download those they want to use, but a sharing feature that will support uploads is soon to launch.
According to Amazon, students in more than 85 percent of U.S. school districts are now using TenMarks Math accounts. With the addition of Writing, Amazon hopes to grow that number further.