News

Technology a key tool in writing instruction

By Maya T. Prabhu, Assistant Editor
July 18th, 2010

Teachers use software including MY Access! to help their students improve their writing.

Teachers are using software such as Vantage Learning’s MY Access! to help their students improve their writing.

While there are still many obstacles facing teachers in implementing technology, teachers play a critical role in driving the use of technology to teach writing, says a recent report by the National Writing Project (NWP) and the College Board.

In the report, “Writing, Learning, and Leading in the Digital Age,” nine teachers—selected for their commitment to excellence and for a diverse set of disciplines, locations, kinds of schools, and student populations they represent—were observed by a writer for one day and then interviewed.

“The best way to make the case for technology and writing was to show how technology is being used,” said Alan Heaps, vice president for advocacy at the College Board.

The report found that the use of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, and comics-creating software can heighten students’ engagement and enhance their writing and thinking skills in all grade levels and across all subjects.

“The experience of these nine teachers reminds us of the central role they play in true education reform. It’s teachers who are the technology drivers, seeking out digital tools, learning them, testing them, and finally implementing them successfully in their classrooms,” said Sharon J. Washington, executive director of NWP.

The College Board and NWP recommend that three things be done to meet the challenges of teaching and learning in the digital age at all levels of education, said NWP co-director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl.

First, every student needs one-on-one access to computers or mobile technology in classrooms.

“Technology can’t have an impact on children if they don’t have access,” Eidman-Aadahl said.

Second, every teacher needs professional development in the effective use of digital tools for teaching and learning, including the use of digital tools to promote writing. Teachers need an opportunity to use technology themselves so they can share what they learn with the students, she said.

Finally, all schools and districts need a comprehensive technology policy to ensure that the necessary infrastructure, technical support, and resources are available for teaching and learning.

“The idea of just putting in a computer is a huge failure unless [schools] have a computer policy for teaching technology in the schools,” Heaps said.

Eidman-Aadahl urged teachers to rethink what writing is. She said writing is not just text anymore—something echoed by Joel Malley, a teacher who was profiled in the report.

“We are preparing kids for a different world—a world where they need to know how to tell compelling stories. And the types of stories that are compelling these days are not just print stories,” said Malley, an English teacher from Cheektowaga High School in New York who also uses video to engage his students.

“When kids make a video about something, they know it a lot better than if they were writing a research paper … When it is more real, they are more engaged; they are more motivated, but they also try harder.”

Students also must have an opportunity to write about real issues and for a real audience outside of their classroom. They should be able to get responses from other students in and out of the classroom, and to collaborate on writing projects. All of these things, Eidman-Aadahl said, can be done by using the internet.