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Five More Reasons Why Writing With Technology Matters

EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts in collaboration with Stenhouse Publishers. The following excerpt comes from When Writing with Technology Matters, by Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken (2013). The book retails for $20 ($18 e-book) and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

tech integration language arts
When Writing with Technology Matters chronicles two classrooms (one elementary and one middle school) that use a tech-infused curriculum to enhance literacy in all its forms (technological, visual, informational and intertextual). Focusing on the elementary school moviemaking project, this article is the second of a two-part “teaser” for the full story the book relates. See Five Reasons Why Writing with Technology Matters for the first part of the excerpt.


1. Audience matters.

Writing for a real audience matters because students often develop a passion for their writing when they know it can reach an audience outside of the classroom (Kajder, 2010; Strassman and O’Connell, 2007-2008).

Because those participating in the moviemaking project knew that all movies would be shown to their peers, family, and friends, students’ blog postings were replete with comments like I’m getting nervous and We need to start filming! as the premiere day approached. In the last week of filming and editing, students saw their hard work coming together into something worthy of being shared, but they also realized the value of schedules and meeting deadlines. In the final days, some groups were confident and issued challenges, such as Let’s see who makes the best movie. Others had moments of weakness and expressed the pressure that was mounting. By premiere day the groups had managed to put the finishing touches on their work and experienced what having a real audience looks and sounds like—a packed auditorium filled with giggles of joy and gasps of surprise and tremendous applause for the budding moviemakers.

When students write with an audience in mind, they produce work that matters. Ms. Garcia explains this feeling: “I think the writing is real-world. They get to see that there’s a purpose for what they’re doing. It’s not to pass a test.”


2. Revision matters.

Across the projects, revision was not a step that followed drafting or composing, as is the case with a more traditional and linear writing process. Instead, revision was ongoing and integral to the process and was afforded by many opportunities to write, collaborate, and use technological tools to aid students in “re-visioning” their work.

Often, the nature and design of the project made revision purposeful to the process and product, because writing activities were used as tools for structuring—and restructuring—thinking (Ong, 2002). Students first wrote stories individually, but then students revised their stories multiple times as a result of various writing activities, including conferring with university preservice teachers, preparing a pitch, incorporating ideas from their peers to create a group story, storyboarding, and presenting their stories in script form.

Technological tools also allowed a natural and fluid revision process. When finalizing their videos, the students could play back scenes, discuss what was working well and what was not, and then make adjustments.

Revision, then, was enmeshed in the project as critical and purposeful. Students developed an expanded view of the writing process and came away understanding that time spent revising was time well spent.


3. Genre learning matters.

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

As members of the digital age, students readily consume hours and hours of messages presented in visual form. But, remarkably, they have had few school experiences that allow them to think about how media are made (Buckingham, 2003; Messaris, 1994; Prensky, 2001).

The students developed a new appreciation for the level of attention that screenwriters pay to every aspect of a script. These students quickly realized that writing a script was not a matter of taking their prose stories and chopping them up to put into a script format. Leslie blogged, Today we’re doing scriptwriting and at first it was easy but then it got hard. Now I understand that the more details you put in the story the better it is! Students learned that a script is an essential roadmap for the actors, directors, costume and set designers—everyone involved in the filming. Another student, Jessica, learned to think about how all the parts contribute to a whole; she shared, Sometimes you cut or add a scene to make it better. This is a writing principle that she can apply to all her writing in the future.

Writing in a new genre form opened up possibilities and added strategies to students’ writing toolboxes.


4. Teacher disposition matters.

One key to the success of the literacy project was the teacher—not because the teachers directed each step of the process, but because they had developed the dispositions to allow students to take charge and co-construct their own learning (Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson, 1999). Four teachers described this scenario:

Ms. Lachey: These children are of the computer generation. Everything is moving. Everything they do is moving. It was enjoyable to see them taking care of things on their own. They didn’t come and ask you this or that.

Mr. Contreras: They said, “I need to do this.” And we said, “Okay. Go on.”

Ms. Brown: That’s what teachers are supposed to be—the facilitators.

Ms. Garcia: The students learned more from each other. They were empowered. They were in control of their own learning. This is what learning is supposed to be like. It’s what school should look like.

Students “taking charge” is a powerful idea, but also a frightening one to many teachers. The teachers understood that allowing students to guide their own learning required teachers to accept the fact that there would be bumps in the road.

Ms. Lachey: The hallways were filled with children. They were in and out. But everything was getting done. They would keep each other on track; they’d say, “you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that.” There was so much going on, so much communication, so much connection.

Because language arts teachers are literacy advocates and often not experts in technology, they have to be open to using technology with their students that they themselves are not 100 percent sure of (Vannatta and Fordham, 2004). The teachers for this project structured the classrooms in a way that allowed students to make choices, to engineer their own learning, and to set their own schedule, even if it meant that each student might be at a different place at a different time.

The teachers were risk takers, and that kind of disposition is important to model if the students themselves are to be risk takers.


5. Empowerment matters.

Empowerment relates to students’ beliefs about learning and their ability to act on them. Cambourne (1989) suggested students will engage in learning when they believe they have the capability to do the learning, they believe the learning has a purpose in their lives, and they are able to live through the risks associated with conducting the learning. This project positioned students as active, self-confident learners who should be allowed to take risks as they engaged in activities that extended what they knew about literacy as well as themselves as literacy learners.

Built on the students’ strengths, the project allowed students to select the texts they read, the topics they wrote about, the revisions they made, and the learning they pursued. With all of these choices, the students found spaces where they could excel. Students had the opportunity to apply for moviemaking jobs, such as actors, camera operators, and directors. Along the way, students reflected on the talents and skills they brought to the project. They took stock of who they are as people, as learners, and as coworkers alongside their peers.

The design of the project afforded students the opportunity to become the architects of their learning (Goodman, 2003). This opportunity motivated, challenged, and ultimately empowered the students.

Throughout the project, students shared their insights on their class blog.

Laila learned to think about audience: It’s hard to write a whole story and then a script, but we just have to keep thinking of stuff that will excite our viewers and readers.

Dora learned the value of many ideas: [University preservice teachers] came to my class to help me revise my rough draft! After that I had more ideas!! The morning was great because ideas were flying by with the [university] students. I bet my story is way better now!

Rachel learned about the intricacies of moviemaking: I know I’m going to work hard, harder than I thought because I thought all it would take was the script, camera, setting, and the actors but it doesn’t just take that. It takes a lot of stuff to make a movie.

Want more reasons why writing with technology matters? Read five more here.


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