Using Technology to Enhance Writing: Innovative Approaches to Literacy Instruction

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Sharpen your students' communication skills while integrating digital tools into writing instruction. Loaded with techniques for helping students brainstorm, plan, and organize their writing, this handbook troubleshoots issues students face when writing in a printed versus digital context and teaches them how to read in multiple mediums. You'll find tips for sharing writing, getting interactive feedback, incorporating grammar instruction, and more.

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PART I Prewriting and Introductionto Writing

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PART I

Prewriting and Introduction to Writing

At the outset, teachers need to consider ways that instruction can foster a learning environment that will support, nurture, and develop writers. This can mean everything from how we teach specific strategies for building background, brainstorming, and organizing to creating and fostering a community of writers. This requires teachers and students to have frequent discussions about how they can support and offer each other feedback during the writing process in order to develop and grow as writers.

When students learn specific strategies to help them brainstorm, plan, and organize their writing, the quality of their writing improves (Graham & Perin, 2007c). Prewriting, for example, helps students create effective plans for their writing. Brainstorming activities, such as free writes and graphic organizers, help students in the initial stages of writing. An evidenced-based approach for introducing students to a new task—such as the gradual release of responsibility model of instruction (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983)—can be particularly important during the prewriting stage. Teachers should begin by articulating the purpose of an activity and explaining the ways the strategy will assist students. It is not enough to simply give directions; rather, teachers must model the prewriting strategy. During modeling, teachers should explain their thinking as they move through the stages of the strategy. Students must then have opportunities to work collaboratively and independently.

 

PART II The Reading and Writing Connection

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PART II

The Reading and Writing Connection

Educators have long noted the complex relationship between reading and writing (Coker & Lewis, 2008; Pearson & Tierney, 1984). Obviously, there are differences: reading requires students to make “mental representations of words produced by others,” while writing necessitates that they “formulate their own thoughts” and “transcribe those mental representations into words” (Coker & Lewis, 2008, p. 233). However, there is an important interplay between the two cognitive processes. Many educators are interested in how deepening this relationship helps students grow as both readers and writers.

Professional writers point to reading as critical to their growth as writers. The importance of reading has been found to be effective for instruction as well. Two research meta-analyses (Graham & Perin, 2007c; Hillocks, 1986) support the idea that through close readings of texts, students can develop effective writing techniques. Studying quality examples allows students to read and analyze what makes a piece of writing “good.” Students can then emulate these elements in their own writing. Well-known practitioners such as Kelly Gallagher (2006) and Penny Kittle (2008) have examined the power of explicitly teaching students to deconstruct text to inform writing. They have noted that this not only teaches students about specific features of writing but allows them to create specific goals for their writing and empowers them to recognize the intentional decisions writers make.

 

PART III The Process Approach

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PART III

The Process Approach

The process approach to writing instruction is a broad concept. Most educators define it as a means of providing students with extended opportunities to plan, write, edit, and revise their work. Student ownership, inquiry, and conferences with teachers and classmates are also critical elements of process writing.

The process approach is based on the work of Linda Flower and John Hayes (1980), who find writing to be a recursive practice rather than a linear event. Writers do not simply move linearly through stages of prewriting, writing, and rewriting, but rather they are engaged in a complex and continuous process. Research supports the process approach to writing instruction as an effective pedagogical practice (Graham & Perin, 2007c). Outstanding researchers and practitioners, including Janet Emig (1971), Peter Elbow (1973), Donald Graves (Graves & Sunstein, 1992), Donald Murray (1999), and Nancie Atwell (1998), have been proponents of this approach to writing instruction. The National Writing Project also cited the process approach as foundational (Graham & Perin, 2007c; Pritchard & Honeycutt, 2006).

 

PART IV Awareness of Audience and Purpose

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PART IV

Awareness of Audience and Purpose

Purpose, context, and audience are intricately related. In order for writing to be meaningful and relevant, students need to know why they are writing and who is the intended audience for their work. Too often, however, students view writing as an assignment for the teacher to read and determine a grade. When this happens, students are likely to become detached from their writing and view it as less than authentic.

Flower (1979) distinguishes between writer-based and reader-based prose. In writer-based prose, a student does not conceptualize someone reading his or her work but writes as if he or she will be the reader. Flower (1981) explains that “writer-based prose reflects the interior monologue of a writer thinking and talking to himself” (p. 63). Novice writers trying to articulate their thoughts often write from this stance. As teachers, however, we strive for our students to write with their audience and purpose in mind, or reader-based prose (Flower, 1979). When students write from a reader-based stance, they must consider their readers when composing, which can be difficult and challenging for student writers. Yet, researchers have linked this concept to writing achievement (Graham et al., 2012; Graham, Harris, & Mason, 2005; Graham & Perin, 2007c). When students can identify the purpose for writing (that is, establishing an argument) and recognize who might be the reader, they can write with specific goals in mind, which has a positive effect on students’ writing quality (Graham & Perin, 2007c).

 

PART V Collaborative Writing

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PART V

Collaborative Writing

Writing is usually perceived as a solitary activity. However, more and more teachers are recognizing that writing is often a collaborative venture that contains significant benefits for students. Kenneth Bruffee (1973, 1984) is credited with developing collaborative writing instruction as a pedagogical practice. From a theoretical perspective, this adheres to a sociocultural view of literacy in which reading and writing are social and cultural practices (Schultz, 1997).

Collaborative writing can encompass a range of formats. Usually, it means students are composing and crafting a piece of writing in pairs or groups. Students work together from the initial brainstorming to submitting a final piece of writing (Kittle & Hicks, 2009). Research finds that collaborative writing can be very beneficial for students (Rish & Caton, 2011; Schultz, 1997). Collaborative peer groups can serve as scaffolds for students when learning specific writing strategies or when providing constructive responses (Graham et al., 2012). The National Council of Teachers of English (2008b) recommends collaboration as a means for students to develop an “understanding of voice in writing” (p. 5).

 

PART VI Grammar Instruction

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PART VI

Grammar Instruction

Many teachers struggle with how to teach grammar. Often, teachers teach it in isolation by exposing students to lists of rules that they are expected to learn and apply in their writing. Peter Smagorinsky (2008) claims that “the teaching of grammar apart from speaking and writing is among the most widely employed, yet least effective, practices in the English teacher’s repertoire” (p. 159). Additionally, the National Council of Teachers of English (1985) states that repetitive grammar drilling “hinders development of students’ oral and written language” (¶1). Furthermore, research confirms the idea that this type of instruction is not only ineffective but also has a negative effect on students’ writing (Graham & Perin, 2007c). It becomes difficult for students to understand when and how to use grammar when it is not embedded within writing instruction. However, knowledge of grammar is essential for constructing texts. It is also critical for diverse learners, such as English learners, who must understand the rules and forms of the English language.

 

PART VII Editing and Revising

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PART VII

Editing and Revising

Revision is an integral part of the writing process; however, teachers often struggle with how to engage students in revision that is meaningful to their growth as writers. Revision is not simply about fixing mistakes but understanding root issues driving writing errors, which is challenging and complex work for both teachers and students (Shaughnessy, 1976).

Many teachers engage students in peer review opportunities to facilitate the revision process. Peer review promotes collaboration and cooperative learning. Students benefit from peer review, as it is often easier for students to identify problems in peers’ writing than in their own. Additionally, students gain insight and a deepened understanding of writing. It also provides opportunities for students to analyze and reflect on how they communicate their ideas.

Peer review, however, can be difficult to implement in classrooms. First, logistically, teachers must consider how they physically arrange the classroom, and how students will be engaged during the process and in the quality of their work. Second, we often forget to teach students how to provide feedback. This leads to students providing either generic feedback (for example, “This is good”) or feedback focused solely on editing or mechanical issues (for example, “Fix punctuation”). The third problem is that students don’t often know how to use feedback they receive in their revisions. They end up either ignoring the suggestions or making the changes without really understanding the rationale for the revision. These issues make the process of peer review challenging for teachers and students. Despite these challenges, teachers need to conceptualize effective pedagogical practices that will engage students in revision opportunities.

 

PART VIII Assessment

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PART VIII

Assessment

Teachers know that students need frequent opportunities to write and receive feedback; however, for many teachers, the constant demands of responding to students’ writing can become tedious and time consuming. Teachers can also become discouraged when they do not see their evaluations and assessments contributing to students’ writing development. How do teachers provide feedback and assess students’ writing in ways that lead to positive growth in writing? How do teachers develop criteria for responding to and assessing students’ writing?

Research recommends that teachers focus on specific elements of writing and provide targeted feedback (Graham et al., 2012). Kelly Gallagher’s (2006) work supports this idea. He recommends that teachers should be readers during the writing process and uses the analogy of a coach providing support throughout a game or practice. For writing instruction, this means the teacher provides feedback and suggestions throughout students’ writing process rather than solely at the end, when students submit a final draft. One way to do this is to implement teacher-led conferences at various points of the process, so that students can focus their attention on specific aspects of their writing.

 

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