Chapter 7: Writing with Technologies


Introduction


Writing is fundamental to a myriad of everyday tasks: from personal communication with friends, to scholarly papers, and to written reports to bosses. Students will always have to be able to write something coherent and meaningful. Writing is also a major component evaluated on many standardized exams; therefore, it is imperative for students to be able to learn to be efficient and productive writers. Perhaps, it is common that students encounter difficulties learning to write and enjoying it. One of the first learning outcomes of technology are writing objectives. There are many supportive software programs, such as word processing packages; however, there are many other technology tools that support students in their writing processes, both individually and collectively. In this chapter, we discuss technology tools that address the many component tasks that composed writing, which are setting goals, planning, idea organization, composition of text and editing
(Flower, Schriver, Carey, Haas, & Hayes, 1989). Along with that, we discuss how technology can support students in their writing processes.


Supporting Writing Organization, Planning, and Reflection on Writing through Visualization Tools

It is important to organize ideas before beginning to write!

Visually Organizing Ideas with Concept Maps

  • Organize ideas and represent knowledge visually, in a structured way
  • Can be created by students with programs such as Kidspiration, Inspiration, and CMap
  • Comprised of nodes (ideas) and links (comments about the relationships)
  • An intentional planning tool
  • Prepare students' writing
Concept Map Activity
  • One student is the “recorder”
  • Students then arrange the ideas in groups
  • Students “elaborate” the map - add to it, refine it, etc.


external image sysmapex.gif


(Source: http://www.biologycorner.com/worksheets/conceptmap-life.html)

Concept Map Tools

  • C-Map
    This is a free mapping tool that may be used on a Mac or a PC. It is user friendly, available in 17 languages, appropriate to use with students of any age, and provides us with multiple examples.
  • Inspiration /Kidspiration
    These are popular mapping tools that may be used on a Mac or a PC. However, these programs offer many different pictorial icons that can distract learners from creating meaningful links and connections, as well as take away from structural organization. The Kidspiration software is designed for learners in the elementary grades, while the Inspiration software is suited more towards older students.
  • MindMeister
    There are both free and payable versions of this program. The subscription version provides many different completed maps, as well as allows the student to collaborate on other maps. A downfall to this site is that it does not allow students to label the links between each idea-- something that is visually very helpful.
  • Visual Thesaurus
    This tool allows learners to look up related words in a visual context.

Visualizing Ideas and Word Use

Wordle


A suggested website, www.wordle.net, is a free site that enables students to create their very own “Word Cloud."
example_of_wordle.png

Goal: Pick one word and write inside the “cloud” other words that have a meaningful relation to it. For example, as shown on the right, Chloe chose the word “Dad” and then wrote other words that remind her of her father.

Benefits of using Wordle:
  1. Easy to use
  2. Encourages students to converse with fellow classmates
  3. Allows for critical thinking
  4. Can simplify a students studying process
Ways to integrate Wordle into the classroom:
  1. A teacher can allow his/her students to write down 20 adjectives to describe a single noun
  2. Form ideas for poetry writing
  3. Create a Wordle based on the five kingdoms of life
  4. Students could be exposed to commonly misused words and common mistakes, so when addressed and correct, the activity will improve a student’s vocabulary and writing
What are the limitations?
  • The website will not recognize the word length that is written when an image is created
  • Colours used within the word cloud do not convey any significance within this program
  • Images that are used within Wordle do not have the ability to compare with the text written


Supporting Creative Writing and Publishing with Technology


Due to increases of online, content-creating activities, blogs, or online journals, one media expert has coined this trend, 'Society of authorship', meaning that any person with access to the Internet can put in their thoughts to any piece of material.The National Commission on writing believes that using technological tools can help motivate writers to become better because it allows them to publish their writing; an important aspect of technology-based writing is that they are somehow publishing their work in some form. 'The simple activity of placing one's work on the Web for public access inspires many students to take their work more seriously and to engage in a level of reflection about their work. Technology-based writing can also lead to numerous other benefits such as; writing with a purpose, thinking critically, reflecting more, and allowing them to be able to read what others have produced and reflect on it.
All the tools discussed in this chapter provide some type of innovative and meaningful form of writing. But the greatest growth in writing-related technologies can be those that enable a person to publish their own work on the Internet.


Using Blogs to Publish Ideas


Blogs (aka web logs) "are a means of enhancing and supporting meaningful communication between learners." Blogs were the beginning of Web 2.0 and helped bring us into the read-write Web era. Blogs initial intention was for personal diaries without any interaction; yet, since then, the purpose and function of blogs have progressed with many being highly interactive.

Public and published nature of blogs, plus the ability to comment on another blog's post = Powerful communication and supportive writing tool

Why Blog?


"The use of blogs in education settings are varied and range from an entry portal to a particular teacher's classroom, to individually base students writing products."
Here are a few potential instruction benefits of students participating in blogging activities:
  • "Providing classroom experiences beyond the walls of the classroom"
    • ex: Connect with other learners or experts not available inside the classroom
  • "Posting on a blog may appeal to different learning styles"
    • ex: Student who don't like to speak in class, may find a 'voice' in blog posting. More complete participation. Allow for students who need more time to think before they respond.
  • "Blogging could enhance the expertise of the blogger on the targeted subject"
    • ex: Student developing a blog on recycling can require her to develop and synthesize expertise in that domain.
  • "Blogging and the evidence of outside readers and their comments can be motivation"
    • ex: 'Having an outside audience really made a difference to them. They couldn't believe that someone else would care what they wrote' (Falloon, 2005).

What to Consider When Using Blogging


Because of blogs' unstructured format, posts may be of little educational value. Teachers must clearly define the intended objectives for learning and decide if blogs are the best tool in order to ensure that the activity supports significant learning.Teachers also need to be aware of the possibility of unwanted guests to the blogs. This demonstrates another reason teachers need to clearly communicate and provide the guidelines, along with the reasoning for security concerns. Ways to ensure security are numerous; students using non-identifiable names, 'teachers previewing what the students will be blogging' and 'providing a scoring guides to mane sure students blog effectively'. Lastly, educators should be aware of different types of blogging software that has education purposes such as Blogspot, EduBlogs, Bloglines, and Blogger. All these sites provide lists of blogging software as well as some annotations on their feature (e.g., privacy or filtering controls built in for students).

Other Internet Publishing Tools


Although blogs are vastly used in educational settings, there are other tools that can be used for young learners to publish their ideas.
  • Kidscribe: A simple website that permits young writers a forum for publishing personal writing in either English or Spanish (
    • Describes itself as a bilingual site for kid authors.
    • The website aims to build confidence within the young writers and provide them with pride in their work.
    • The site does not provide any writing supports, but it is easy to use and could be effectively used with teachers instruction on writing.
  • Scholastic.com: Provides a potential publication venue for poetry and other forms of writing, as well as guided grade-level-specific lessons on different aspects of writing poetry, memoirs, or short fiction.
    • 'Story Starters', for instance, 'is designed to engage young writers in simple story writing with a colourful and animated graphical user interface'.
    • 'Poetry idea engine' is one of many structured individual student writing activities available.
    • 'Writing with writers' is a section offered that is 'a set of online workshops designed by professional writers, and each workshop provides a suggested process for that particular type of writing'.
    • It is important to note that Scholastic does not publish all submissions.

Supporting Specific Writing Forms with Technology


The Internet provides many opportunities to support creating writing with technology. If students are interested, the net also provides 'a number of tools that are designed to support learners as they engage in particular forms of writing'. These types of tools, for instance, Poetry Forge, help learners engage in poetry writing and practicing the application of literary structures that are essential and commonly used in poetry writing.
  • Poetry Forge: Online site that provides tools to support poetry writing. The tools on the website help the student develop skills in different characteristics of “poetic text” such as what happens when both semantically and syntactically in order for language to convey a meaning in a poem. The tools provided by Poetry Forge are designed for students to work with teachers and provides explanations of the tools and lesson plans suggested for teachers to use in the classroom.
  • Essay Punch: This site offers tools that help writers develop an idea into an essay of descriptive, informative or persuasive format, through a series of preset writing prompts. This site is not free.


Supporting Collaborative Writing with Technology


Photo credit: Stephen McCarthy
Photo credit: Stephen McCarthy
What is collaborative writing? Well, it refers to written works that are created by multiple people together rather than individually. Ede and Lunsford (1983) describe 3 sets of collaborative writing activities:
  1. Intensive collaboration where authors create a text by working closely together.
  2. Significant writing is done separately but writers do work to a limited extent collaboratively
  3. Sequential group collaborations that occurs via a sequence of activities.
Roles are often assigned in collaborative writing and there are many benefits of having learners engage in collaborative writing such as positive relationships with students, more participation, peer and self-assessment, being able to write with people from other cultures – just to name a few.
Collaborative writing can happen either in real time (synchronous) or with a time delay (asynchronous.) Synchronous writing can be seen when groups of students are sitting at workstations running software that support collaborative writing. In an asynchronous setting, the activities can be similar however they do not necessarily occur in real time.

Collaborative Writing Using Document Sharing Tools


Document sharing tools can support collaborative writing by hosting documents in a central location and allowing them to be edited on several computers simultaneously. One of the most popular document sharing tools is Google Docs (seen below).

google docs.jpg
Screenshot of a Google Docs project

Google docs offers some important features for collaborative writing, including:
  • Importing documents from popular office software suites,
  • Sharing documents with many collaborators,
  • Viewing any document's revision history,
  • Generous storage space,
  • Allowing users to view or edit documents,
  • Commenting on documents, and
  • Publishing for viewing with a static link.

Tips for Successful Collaborative Writing


Even with technology use, teachers should support their students in collaborative writing. Here are some strategies for teachers:
  1. Introduce activities at the beginning of the project to build a sense of community or team among the group members.
  2. Help the group work out effective working procedures - whether the group works synchronously or not, they will benefit from planning out their writing process.
  3. Establish your students' expectations for participation before they begin the project.
  4. Pay attention to students who are being left out by their groups.
  5. Conduct a test project using the collaborative writing software before students begin their major writing task.

Supporting Peer Feedback on Writing


Writing teachers have long known that writing using multiple drafts is an important part of the writing process, and new research indicates that peer feedback in writing may be a very effective way to help students improve their writing through multiple drafts.
sword.jpgOne example of a technology which can facilitate peer feedback is SWoRD (Scaffolded Writing and Rewriting in the Discipline, described here.)
SWoRD allows students to submit their drafts and randomly distributes these to other students in the class for revision. It gives tools for students to evaluate and comment on their peers' work.

Conclusion


Writing continues to be an imperative component in attaining success both in and out of school. It has become more and more challenging for instructors to teach traditional writing in today’s society. We are now in a text-message-focused society in which traditional writing is far from being the most exciting thing to learn for nowadays students. In this chapter, we try to give students as many tools as possible in order to help them improve their traditional writing skills and encourage them to write. One of the goals of these tools is to make the writing process more fun for students and to get them interested in writing for the fun of it, not just because they necessarily have to. Although the programs mentioned and described in this chapter are to ease the difficult and stressful writing experiences, teachers must remain just as helpful and encouraging to students as possible.

Useful Links


Twitter
Wordle
Global SchoolNet
SWoRD Peer Review
NoodleTools
TeachingTips
The Poetry Forge

Blogs

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What's Happening in Mrs. Reed's Room
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