CGI America, the U.S.-focused division of the Clinton Global Initiative, addresses significant domestic challenges through Commitments to Action.
CGI America recently held its annual conference out of which several big ideas in education emerged. Once a week, over the last several weeks, BE Smart explored one of the big ideas that resulted in a CGI Commitment to Action. We’ll be winding down the series next week.
Writing is notoriously hard to teach—and learn. But those who can communicate well both orally and in writing have a definite advantage over the rest of us.
Story2, recognized by Forbes as one of the 14 New York Tech Companies to Watch and one of the 10 Ed Tech Companies You Need to Know About, is democratizing writing ability and empowering students of all backgrounds to self-advocate and communicate with confidence and skill.
Founded by CEO Carol Barash, Ph.D., Story2 has developed in-person training and an online platform that teaches students how to produce a clear piece of writing that resonates with its audience. Story2 has made a two-year CGI America Commitment to Action with its partners to work with 10,000 16- to 24-year-olds to help them not only produce compelling college application essays, but develop a skill set that will serve them the rest of their lives.
I spoke with Barash, a former college professor who’s worked in ed tech for 20 years and in college admissions, to learn more about her work.
Writing is so hard to teach. How do you do it?
Everything we do is based on neuroscience. When you learn to write using the principles of storytelling—you tell your story out loud first—writing fluency is dramatically improved.
We teach students how to tell their stories out loud in a group, they record their stories, they transcribe their stories—which immediately improves their oral communication.
The transcription is the first draft of their story.
Then we take them step by step through a process to organize their story in a way that follows the principles of storytelling—looking at strong beginnings, middles, and endings. We teach them sentence by sentence how to take ideas that are general, clichéd, or in their own minds and shift them to additional material from the world of shared human experience.
How long does this take?
Using the online essay builder takes about an hour or two. They experience mastery very quickly. It’s like an online gym for writing—the more they use it, the better.
Every step of the learning process gives students multiple opportunities to practice. We take writing and break it into its component parts—they get to learn each specific step and then how to put them all together.
We never write or edit for the students. They do all the work themselves.
So, the immediate goal is to help 10,000 students with their college application essays.
We want to help low-income, first-generation students from underresourced schools get into the best colleges they can. College application essay writing is high-stakes writing. Your writing skills can determine where you go and how much money you get when you go there.
We felt that we could change the game on college admissions essays and use that gateway to teach core writing and speaking skills so once students get to college, they can self-advocate to get what they need to succeed.
We’ve already worked with 30,000 students—90% have gotten into one or more of their top three college choices; 95% reported improved writing confidence; 88% improved their writing based on before and after essays; 83% received financial aid.
How are your Commitment to Action partners making a difference?
Through Better Make Room [which supports the first lady’s Reach Higher initiative], we’re able to reach a much broader audience and connect students to the full suite of services they need to have a successful college admissions and scholarship experience.
Through our other partners that work with students, such as Opportunity Network, we are disseminating our training. Our partners train their trainers who then train their students with the outcome of the students doing the work themselves.
As part of our commitment, we recently launched an Instagram campaign with Better Make Room. The first 10,000 students to tell their stories on Instagram using the hashtags #TellYourStory2 and #BetterMakeRoom will receive free access to the Story2 EssayBuilder writing platform and online mentoring.