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Collection: Laptops

Purple arrow points to titleBreathing Life into Reluctant Writers: The Seattle Public Schools Laptop Project

REFERENCE: Franklin, S. (1991). Breathing life into reluctant writers: The Seattle Public Schools Laptop Project. The Writing Notebook, 8(4), 40-42.

Description of article:

CONTEXT: This article focuses on three different laptop programs established within the Seattle Public Schools with the goal of improving the writing skills of "a group of bright, verbally articulate, but at-risk students identified as 'reluctant writers'." (p. 40) The programs included Alternative School #1, Asa Mercer Middle School, and Middle College High School. Many of these "dysgraphic" students could not write even a simple sentence; writing assignments typical of their age group were out of the question. Their often illegible handwriting added to their frustration and contributed to academic and self esteem problems.

The author reviews some of the advantages computers in general and laptops in particular provide to students, including:

PRACTICE: At Alternative School #1, an "experiential learning center for grades K-8, students begin writing on laptops in kindergarten by copying letters and reading words which match those in their story-books. The more experienced sixth through eighth grade students pair up with the younger students and help them with their stories. Some of the older students write ongoing books, similar to historical diaries, in which they relate the assignment topic to their own life. An exciting grant project undertaken in conjunction with the Seattle Group Theater involves a weekly multicultural dance, song and story presentation following which the students use their laptops to write their own stories based on the particular culture presented. They then create masks to help tell their story and present both at a multicultural pageant. In a follow-up activity, five small groups of these students will work cooperatively, using their laptops to create a playlet which combines the five masks into one story. The students will focus on expressing in writing the feelings they experience while wearing the masks of their characters.

At the inner city Asa Mercer Middle School, all 33 students will work on their own laptops in the seventh grade language arts class. In progressing from writing simple sentences to more complex sentences to paragraphs and then into papers, the students progress through three basic steps:

Benefits the teacher sees include:

The teacher plans to have a laptop for each student so they can write their individual papers directly on the computer. "At that point, my students will be able to practice content editing and revising using the laptops. I'm looking forward to seeing how the laptops affect the composing process - and their enthusiasm for writing and publishing longer pieces (p. 41)."

Middle College High School (MCHS), a unique Seattle high school which opened in 1990 on the campus of Seattle Central community college, seeks to reinstate drop-out youth (ages 15-20) in a quality high school completion program. Writing and research papers in all major classes are standard across the curriculum. All MCHS students routinely use laptops to create, draft, and revise their writing (particularly in science classes), carry them to the library for note taking, and take notes in class (particularly those attending college classes).


Laptop Project Coordinator Moses Howard indicates that the students "have discovered a new 'open sesame' to writing success . . . The laptop has created a positive attitude toward writing, and in so doing has assisted us greatly in unlocking the educational potential of our students (p.42)." Not only are they stimulated to write, but also students think alone and remain focused when using laptops. Laptops have become an important tool for students to use in the core curriculum, and as a general means of communicating in writing. Staff found that students felt more comfortable writing thoughts on the computer than they did on paper. Many students wrote about very personal problems and made progress in solving issues that were impeding achievement. Now one of the biggest problems is that they're always running out of batteries!

CONTACT(S): Sharon Franklin, The Writing Notebook, TWN Editorial Officers, P.O. Box 1268, Eugene, OR 97440-1268. (503) 344-7125.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.