|Even though many adult writers have found that composing on a computer dramatically improves their writing, few students are given opportunities to compose with a keyboard. While electronic writing might help our students be stronger writers, it remains in most places an unfinished promise.
Few schools provide enough access to computers for the 6-10 half hour sessions needed to complete a writing assignment From Start to Finish. Students are more apt to spend hours learning to keyboard or to develop multimedia presentations than they are developing thoughtful pieces of writing. Often they are not allowed to use a word processor until the final draft of their papers. They do all the early writing with the old technology of a pen or pencil, thereby losing out on the advantages of electronic text.
Open a word processing file or Inspiration and then read through the article describing obstacles facing teachers and schools. As you read, create a list of the five biggest mistakes schools have made when introducing students to writing on computers.
Remember to save your work every 5 minutes or so.
When you are done, compare your list with your partner's list. Do you agree with each other or disagree? Why?
- Limited Access
Even if and when there are many computers in a school, that does not always translate into access for a writing program. In some cases, labs are tied up with keyboarding classes and technology classes outside of the curriculum. It is often difficult to gain entry to various labs and settings. In many cases, entry is restricted to a single session each week, an approach which does not work well in support of a writing program.
Some schools and teachers are fortunate to have 5-8 computers in each classroom. With this number and some smart scheduling, every student may enjoy a good number of sustained writing experiences each year. If students sometimes write and conduct research in teams, access is increased. Index
- Limited Time
Writing as process is time consuming. Many student papers will require 6-10 hours of hands-on computer time if we hope to see the full benefits of this kind of writing. Few schools have enough computers to make this amount of time a possibility.
Some schools find it helpful to experiment with different types of computers. By purchasing $300 computers, they are able to reach more students and support the critical early writing stages. Other schools are experimenting with laptop programs which equip every student with a personal computer to use throughout the day. This strategy may be too costly for most schools. The challenge is finding enough hands-on time to build a substantial and robust writing program. Index
Writing has been taught in a certain way for a very long time by a large percentage of teachers. Most of us learned that way. Much of this teaching was excellent, but now we have some new possibilities to add to the mix. The best writing will emerge when teachers combine the best practices of the past with the most powerful aspects of the new technologies.
Traditional writing placed considerable emphasis upon linear structures - outlines with Roman numerals, for example. The new forms of writing add some approaches such as cluster diagramming and mind mapping which you will try out during this workshop. Good writers take the best from all of these models. Index
- Lack of Support
It is difficult to launch new ventures in schools. A teacher feels grateful when there is a group joining in on the effort and a principal showing encouragement. Aside from cheerleading, we are hoping for someone to clear away obstacles, provide some extra resources and keep an eye out to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises. Index
- Lack of Clear Goals
What are we trying to accomplish? Do we want our students to write more persuasively? Are we seeking better logic and organization? How important is their choice of words and their mastery of style? Do we see a linkage with school research and problem-solving? Is there a connection between reading, writing and reasoning?
If we are clear about goals, our writing program is more likely to thrive, and our access to resources is more apt to expand. Index
- Lack of Pro-Development
Even though it takes quite a few hours for people to learn a new way of doing their writing (and even longer to learn how to teach others), teachers in many districts find that there is little professional development offered. In too many places, they expect teachers to learn these skills on their own time.
The best kind of professional development for teachers who will be working with students on the use of computers to improve writing results is a "writer's workshop." This approach engages teachers as writers and gives them first hand opportunities to see how a word processor can change the way they think and express themselves. Index
- Testing Models
Sometimes the tests which demand so much of our attention almost dictate how much attention we can devote to a project or a goal. In many states, there is no compelling writing test which would heighten our concern and commitment. If there is a writing sample or test, it may encourage a "slam-dunk" approach because students must write in such short time periods that "writing as process" is nearly impossible. Index
There are so many different projects demanding our attention. There are so many items on the "CHANGE AGENDA." The list keeps getting longer while the day seems to grow shorter. Which of these dozen goals should we focus on?
When it comes to teachers and schools, it is hard to stick with one thing long enough to develop comfort and expertise. There is always something new coming down the pike.
As for technologies in schools, there is no real agreement in most places about which activities are most worthwhile. If you want to reserve a computer lab to do an extended writing assignment with visits several days in a row, you may have to fight off a half a dozen others with projects of their own. The keyboarding class may have booked the lab for the whole year . . . Index
Who teaches writing?
In many schools it seems to be the job of the language arts or English teacher. The notion of sharing writing across the curriculum is a promising strategy, but one which has not won acceptance every where.
Some of the most important writing and thinking might occur in the math class, or in science, social studies and art. As we learn more about the connection between writing, reading and reasoning, all teachers may come to see a real payoff from cross-department responsibility. Index
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Even though the word processor promises much, delivering on those promises may require significant program changes which extend far beyond the installation of computers in a lab facility. This article has identified key issues in staff development, program development and program implementation which can intensify the benefits likely to emerge from writing with the computer.
Please do not move ahead to the next activity until asked to do so by your workshop leader.