Write About Offers K-12 Students a Safe Place to Share Writing
The fourth graders in Brad Wilson’s writing classes lit up after he added technology and multi-media content to his lesson plans.
The former Stevensville, MI, teacher realized, too, how important it is for students who have caught the writing bug to have a safe place online to share their creative ideas, where trolls and creepy adults wouldn’t be able to chime in.
Wilson’s observations were the seed for Write About, a startup company he collaborated on with another teacher, John Spencer. Their goal is to make the K-12 writing process easier, more fun, and more social. At the same time, they want to improve literacy and student engagement, without asking cash-strapped teachers and schools to spend a ton of money, Wilson says.
On Write About—a website–students can find ideas and questions meant to spark writing projects, or write from their own ideas. Wherever the inspiration comes from, Write About provides a place for students’ writing to go.
“Students can publish their writing and share it with a safe audience,” Wilson says. “That’s one thing teachers really struggle with: providing a safe, global audience.”
Teachers moderate the public groups organized by topic, and they can also create “group spaces” for their classrooms on Write About, Wilson says, allowing students to collaborate and comment on each other’s writing in a controlled online environment. That peer feedback is critical to engagement, he says.
“It was amazing with my students,” Wilson recalls. “When they got peer-to-peer interaction on their writing assignments, it really motivated them.”
Once he and Spencer came up with the Write About concept, Wilson enlisted Bob Armbrister to join the company, where he is now CEO. Armbrister and Wilson had worked together in 2012 to develop an iPad app for kids that uses photos as a way to initiate the writing process. The app, called Write About This, is still active and has been downloaded more than 2 million times.
The success Wilson had with Write About This provided the inspiration—and funding—for Write About, which was launched in 2014 after the company spent about a year collecting input from other Michigan teachers.
As with his writing students, Wilson has benefited from his peers’ feedback. Write About plans to build in the features most requested by teachers later this year.
“Way too many ed tech products are developed by big companies that are out of touch with what classrooms need,” he says.
Wilson says Write About has a lot of competitors because so many websites are vying for teachers’ time and attention. One thing currently “sweeping schools,” he says, is Google for Education, which offers teachers free tools.
“That’s a question we hear a lot: Why not just have the kids go on Google Docs?” Wilson says.
Write About’s main features—a safe space and built-in content—aren’t matched by Google, he says. But it doesn’t have to be either-or. “With the Google API, we can connect into Google Classroom so teachers don’t have to choose one or the other.”
So far, Write About has relied on word of mouth from teacher advocates to grow. This past spring, the company was accepted to Michigan State University’s Conquer accelerator, but Wilson says the company chose not to participate because it would have distracted from a planned platform re-launch in the fall.
Wilson, who is the company’s only full-time employee as its chief of operations, says that 100,000 students and 15,000 educators have so far registered for Write About; he hopes to have 1 million by the end of the year. Subscriptions can be purchased at the teacher or school level, he says, and Write About currently has thousands of paid subscribers.
“Every K-12 student needs to learn how to write, which is a good place to be in terms of market size,” he adds.