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May Issue

Vol 31|No 5|May 2021

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You can order Laptop Thinking and Writing here

What writing revolution?

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

When computers and word processing software first arrived in schools during the early 1980s, there was a chance to improve student writing and thinking in dramatic ways. At that time the English Journal published my article “Accordion Writing” which explored ways that these technologies might transform the composition of ideas, not just words.

While computer stores offer half a dozen books on word processing, most of which promise "wonders," a quick skimming usually leaves readers disappointed. After ten chapters on loading disks, saving files, formatting and editing, there may be only a single chapter on writing techniques. Few books explain how composing with a word processor (WP) can be radically different from composing with pens, pencils, and typewriters.

McKenzie, Jamieson. “Accordion Writing--Expository Composition with the Word Processor.” The English Journal, vol. 73, no. 5, 1984, pp. 56–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/816973. JSTOR is allowing free access during the pandemic.

As a fan of the Bay Area Writing Project long before the computers arrived, I saw a promising marriage between the computers and this nonlinear approach to writing and what we might call "idea processing."

In the decades following the publication of that article I have been dedicated to the challenge of convincing teachers to adopt this approach to ideas, to writing and to new technologies. I have listed below several articles devoted to this goal along with a professional development unit and my book, "Laptop Thinking and Writing."

In this book I show the reader how to place powerful thinking at the forefront of the writing process and go on to illustrate how to write great essays, stories, love letters, complaints and job applications. It is a book written for students, teachers and anyone who hopes to write truly and well.

If you click on the page below, it will take you to an online version of this chapter that will look much like the finished book. If you click here, you can download this chapter as a PDF file and share it with friends and colleagues.

You can order Laptop Thinking and Writing here

Post Pandemic Professional Development

Bring Jamie to your school or district for one of these full day workshops.

  1. A day of invention -- Synthesis and the making of good new ideas

  2. Powerful writing, thinking and reporting

  3. Questioning 101 -- A day for teachers to develop powerful questioning strategies

What needs to be done?

To make a dramatic improvement in student writing, a district or school might begin by looking at the types of thinking required to score at the "proficient" or "advanced" levels on the NAEP Writing Test.

Explanations of these levels can be found in Appendix D of the 2010 Writing Assessment Framework at the NAGB (NATIONAL ASSESSMENT GOVERNING BOARD) Web site.

Building a case

Scanning these documents it becomes readily apparent that one can only attain these levels if one can create and support a case -- take and defend a position -- "present clear and effective ideas to support the topic, purpose, and audience, and provide clear evidence of relevant and effective thinking and writing approaches that support development of ideas."

It should be noted that no test of American writing has been completed and reported since 2010 since they have encountered problems with students' use of tablets to take pilot versions of a new test. See Technical Summary. Performance dropped when students used tablets compared to when they could use laptops, so they could not create a bridge to the 2010 test.

Resources for synthesis and the creation of good ideas

Over the years I have asked groups of teachers in my audiences whether they have received substantial training in synthesis, the set of thinking skills that are required to create something new. Sadly, I rarely encountered more than a handful that said they had such professional development.

If we want students to perform at the two top levels on tests like the NAEP Reading Test, they must possess strong synthesis skills, so it stands to reason that schools and districts should offer teachers at least a day of support and learning in this area similar to the workshop I presented in 2007-2008.

You can see these learning modules by clicking on the image above or by clicking here. Contact me at if you wish to purchase a site license.

In addition, there are at least a half dozen articles devoted to synthesis available here and at questioning.org which I have listed below.

Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and other writers, artists and photographers. Written materials on these pages may be distributed and duplicated if unchanged in format and content in hard copy only by school districts and universities provided there is no charge to the recipient. They may also be e-mailed from person to person. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted. FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.

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