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Purple arrow (1137 bytes)Empowering Young Writers with Technology

REFERENCE: Edinger, M. (1994). Empowering young writers with technology. Educational Leadership , 51 (7), 58-60.

Description of Article:

CONTEXT: The teacher/author initially points out the liberating effects on student writers that word processing provides, noting such facilitating aspects as easy revision during the "recursive process," spell checkers, and "good looking" text. She describes her experience using laptops to empower the students in writing during 4th grade writing workshop periods. The workshop entails the children deciding what to write about, critiquing their own and each other's work, defining the revision process, and determining when and how to publish their work.

As an alternative to pencil-and-paper composing, the school purchased forty inexpensive Tandy WP2s. These forty portable word processors cost about the same as four Macintosh workstations. The units consisted of a tablet laptop with an eight-line LCD (liquid crystal display), 32 RAM, a simple word processor, and a spell checker.* They were shared by two classes (with two students per machine), and stored in two movable cabinets along with a printer and a Macintosh Plus for file transfers.

* This model of laptop computer has been discontinued; school staff are researching other possibilities.

PRACTICE: The teacher required that each child compose something using the word processing program on their laptops. Initially some students felt slowed down by their lack of keyboarding skills, but after formal keyboarding instruction, most of the students preferred using the word processors to compose. They proved particularly helpful in writing research articles for the class journal. Students brainstormed and chose topics for individual research, developed their research questions, and took notes, deciding when they had enough information to begin writing. While the notetaking process varied in quantity and detail, eventually all students found they wanted to add more information to their reports. Many students who would not have been comfortable with the holistic, recursive process of adding, deleting and reorganizing text by hand no longer balked at rewriting and reorganizing their work. Typical impasses were avoided: students were able to focus on content and style, and were far more sophisticated in their revisions than when writing by hand.

The teacher provides three vignettes capturing the differences the word processors made in the students' writing behavior. Third grader Kevin, for example, although a charismatic class leader, was a "reluctant writer." Working independently during language arts periods because he could not work in a group situation, he wrote slowly and was easily distracted. The teacher, believing that the word processor would make writing easier for Kevin, required that he use it for a class report. Drawing on his oral communication skills, Kevin initially put down simple ideas in short, choppy sentences and then developed his thoughts in subsequent drafts. When his teacher discussed with him issues of gaps of information and need for reorganization in his report, he was able to return to his sources and add the necessary detail. The word processor enabled Kevin to narrow the gap between his oral and written communication skills.

The teacher also found that word processors made her students much more independent. As a great writer but "dreadful speller," Katie had always required adult assistance in finding spelling errors before she could produce her final draft. The spell checking feature of the word processor flagged her misspelled words, which she then looked up in a conventional dictionary. Katie gained the confidence she needed to make "a giant step on the way to writing independence."


In addition to the changes noted above, word processors made the students much more independent, for instance, by using the spell checker. With the mechanical aspects of writing made easier, the students focused more on what they wanted to say and did much more "polishing" of their work. Self concepts changed, with children who had previously avoided writing becoming enthusiastic and "real" writers.

The school now has a laptop for every student in two of the fourth grades and every pair of students in the other two classes. In addition to the writing workshop activities, students have begun using the laptops to take notes, describe math procedures, respond to works of literature and to enjoy during free time by writing stories, news article, letters and poems.

CONTACT(S): Monica Edinger is a teacher at The Dalton School, 108 E. 89th St., New York, NY 10028.

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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. 

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