Pressto Wants to Foster Young Writers With AI-Powered Classroom Tools
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As a co-founder of Brooklyn Magazine, L Magazine and Brooklyn’s Northside Festival, Daniel Stedman is continually finding new modes of storytelling and ways of bringing the community together through creative expression.
When his son entered kindergarten, it was only natural that he launched a student newspaper program for the kids at his son’s school. But Stedman also knew that many schools — even high schools — did not have student journalism programs.
Sensing an opportunity for technology to fill the gap, Stedman put together a team to develop a student journalism platform called Pressto that would provide kids with personalized, real-time feedback. Once Pressto was introduced to schools, though, the team found that teachers were using Pressto in the classroom to motivate students when it came to their writing assignments.
“This was a much bigger problem that we were helping to solve,” Stedman told Built In. “We determined that we could address one of the biggest pillars of education that has been overlooked: writing.”
With feedback from teachers, Stedman and his team recognized that the best way to get students excited about writing is to let them write about the things they are interested in — a practice educators call differentiated learning. Pressto’s generative artificial intelligence platform allows teachers to develop writing assignments that align nearly any subject to a student’s particular interests, Stedman said.
We believe there is a place for kids to use AI within a teacher-controlled environment.”
After entering an essay theme like Charlotte’s Web, teachers can customize Pressto’s writing prompts by selecting the classroom grade level and a variety of writing styles, such as news articles, personal narrative or an essay that compares and contrasts multiple topics.
Once a prompt has been generated, teachers can identify important keywords that students should incorporate. Teachers can also suggest “signal words,” like “at first” and “for example,” that are specific to each writing style.
Pressto also helps students structure their articles by providing “building blocks” that guide them through the introduction, main idea and conclusion. Students can even incorporate photos and graphics into their assignments.
The software, which integrates with Google Classroom, also allows teachers to get a real-time view of their student’s assignments. It shows teachers how many building blocks each student has completed at any given time.
Pressto has seen rapid adoption, with more than 500 schools signing up in the past month, Stedman said.
“The art of teaching writing can be a complex concept for many teachers,” Sandra D’Avilar, an executive director in the New York City Department of Education, said in a testimonial on the Pressto website. “Pressto allows teachers to motivate students and provide them with the confidence needed to become writers. Students are able to see themselves as authors of their craft. They are able to align standard-based content to the writing process which results in stronger writers.”
While the rapid rise of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools has shown great promise, some observers are skeptical about their propensity to spread false information. Pressto’s AI tools are currently reserved for teachers, who can either accept or reject the AI platform’s recommendations, but Stedman said he envisions a future in which students can get writing assistance from Pressto’s AI technology.
“We believe there is a place for kids to use AI within a teacher-controlled environment,” he said. “We’re building that environment for schools so teachers have control and visibility into how kids are using the platform.”
While the platform has been a hit in classrooms, Pressto is still working to facilitate the student journalism programs that inspired the startup in its early days. Through Pressto’s Junior Journalist Program, teachers gather press briefings from local mayors’ offices and help their students write a news article about that topic. Students are encouraged to conduct further interviews and research, which hones their media literacy skills.
“We don’t tell kids which sources they should trust or mistrust — we hope to help kids develop the cognitive skills to determine this on their own and to understand the difference between fact and opinion,” Stedman said.
Going forward, Stedman said the Pressto team will continue to work with teachers to understand what is working and not working in the classroom.
“As AI integrates into many aspects of our lives, we want to incorporate that into our own technology, helping both teachers and students understand and utilize it in the most positive, constructive way that promotes healthy learning,” Stedman said.