August 26, 2015 | Tech Nonprofits

Quill: Free writing, grammar, and vocabulary games for students

This is the fifth post in a weekly series covering each of Fast Forward’s nine tech nonprofits.

The statistics are scary: by the third grade, 67% of children are not proficient readers, and 80% among low-income families. Adult literacy in the US hasn’t improved in the last 10 years, and 43% of adults demonstrate basic or below-basic reading levels.

We’ve had technology solutions that help students with math for a long time, from the original Math Blaster game in 1983 to Khan Academy today. Far fewer solutions attempt to tackle problems in reading, grammar, and ultimately the writing skills that are essential for most high quality jobs today. Quill attempts to do just that, offering free writing, grammar, and vocabulary games for students with a focus mostly on middle and high school students.

Executive Director Peter Gault, Partnership Director Elliot Mandel, Creative Director Tom Calabrese, and Technical Director Marcello Sachs talk with Fast Forward about what drives them to try to improve literacy education around the US.

Why did you start Quill?

Peter: I spent 8 years doing debate to improve my own literacy skills, an extracurricular that made improving my writing and speaking skills fun. I believe that having fun is essential for learning, and I am passionate about an interactive learning experience where students get to learn through playing.

How did you come up with your flagship product, Quill Proofreader?

Marcello: Literacy is a huge part of education, but teaching literacy is typically very time consuming. We worked with an instructor at the University of Oklahoma, Laura Gibbs, who had created written passages with grammatical errors to test her students literacy skills in order to create Quill Proofreader. Laura often spent 20 hours to hand-grade her proofreading activity each weekend because she found the activity extremely valuable for her to understand her students’ struggles. Now, with Quill, we can provide instant feedback for students improving literacy training and saving teachers time.

What is the biggest challenge from a product standpoint?

Elliot: We have to balance quick product iteration with high quality. We want to get things out quickly and get feedback, but we want the user experience and product quality to be as high as possible.

How about from a business standpoint?

Elliot: We have to balance making Quill financially sustainable while also being affordable for teachers and students. This is why we have a freemium model, where all the content is free for any student or teacher around the world, with the option for premium student achievement reports for teachers.

Tell us more about your newest game, Quill Writer.

Tom: Quill Writer is a collaborative two-player storytelling game. We showed this game in classrooms, and students got really excited. The game has a playfulness to it, because students get to improvise a story together, and we’ve found that the collaborative experience really makes Quill Writer fun.

How is Quill making the world a better place in the next 5 years?

Peter: We want 10 million people to have improved their literacy and become better writers through a no cost solution within 5 years. And we’re offering our open source platform to the public so that the door is open to everybody who wants to add their own tool on top of Quill.