Ways to Use Technology to Teach Writing October 27 2009

The Challenges of Technology in the Classroom

In 2000, teachers were surveyed across the nation about using technology as a means to teach language arts. At the time, many teachers did not believe that it was worth the trouble because of crashing computers, lack of lab time, and server problems among many other obstacles (Lee, 2000).

Technology as a Tool for Learning

The teachers’ responsibility to include technology as part of classroom curriculum has changed since 2000. In April of 2003, the U.S. Department of Education published, Weaving a Secure Web around Education: A Guide to Technology Standards and Security. This guide

[caption id="attachment_2732" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Photo By Wade"]Photo By Wade[/caption]explains ways in which teachers, school administrators and state education agencies can use technology by doing prior knowledge assessments of needs and then develop specific goals based upon these needs. Among the first suggested items to include in the technology standards and security are: writing samples, art samples, presentations, term projects, and audio/video recordings of student performances, homework information and assistance, classroom announcements course syllabi, and adopted curriculum guides ” (U.S. Department of Education, 2003, online, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/secureweb/ch_1.asp#H1). Despite the challenges of using technology, the U.S. Department of Education expresses that it is a necessary part of the teachers’ pedagogical practice.

Can the Use of Technology Increase Student Achievement in Writing?

Research has shown that technology can increase student achievement in writing. “Technology has everything to do with literacy. And being able to use the latest technologies has everything to do with being literate”. (Bolter as cited in Wilhelm, 2000, p.4).

In a rural school district off the coast of Oregon, eight-teen classroom teachers received laptops, projectors, a computer lab for each building, and four sets of ten digital cameras. The teachers also attended professional development courses, in which they collaborated and learned how to use the new tools for classroom instruction. A year prior to the inception of the technology program only 25% of the Mapleton School District fourth-graders met the benchmark for the state writing test. A year later, the figure jumped to 75%. First-graders created biographies about their friends by taking photos, adding text, sounds and visuals. Second- and third-grade students used Kidspiration, from Inspiration Software, to create multimedia reports, which included images, video clips, and text. The reports were viewed as computerized slide show presentations.  (Eastburn, 2008).

Ways to Use Technology to Teach Writing

In reviewing the research uses of pedagogical methods of enhancing writing while using technology, handheld computers have been found to be effective as a tool for pre-writing in a 1st grade classroom. During writers’ workshop students used PiCoMap (graphic organizer software program) to plan their stories. These graphic organizers consisted of a center oval, for the main idea, and lines to several other ovals (surrounding the center oval) to describe the details. After using the graphic organizer to plan the story they used it as a guide to write their stories on paper. Students also used the handhelds for science notes using Sketchy software as they drew pictures of their plants each day. Later, the students ran the virtual slides as a movie to see the daily observation note sketches of their plants growing as a movie. (Kuhlman, Danielson, Compbel, & Topp).

Fourth grade students in Singapore were found to have improved understanding of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) while using handheld computers on a field trip as a cognitive toll to facilitate the students’ inquiry-based learning about environmental issues. “In this study, it was not only the technology affordances but also the way the technologies were used in the context of the learning environment and the associated pedagogy that enabled the handheld computers to serve as cognitive tools” (Chen, Tan, Looi, Zhang, and Seow, 2008, online, p., n.p.).

First graders in Omaha, Nebraska effectively used handhelds when using the “address book” as a differentiated, categorized spelling dictionary to use during writing. For example, “soccer” was listed under the “sports” category. During instruction, students added words they found to be pertinent as well. Using notepad, the students were able to write their morning work questions and beam them to the teacher’s handheld. The teacher also beamed notepad documents to edit to students. After editing the documents the students were able to beam them back to the teacher’s handheld. While on field trips the students used the notepad software program to take observational notes, which included words and illustrations (Kuhlman, Danielson, Compbel, & Topp).

Using Technology to Differente Instruction Based Upon Needs

Research has shown that handheld computers actually increased the productivity of a student who was struggling with language. During previous visits the student avoided writing by sharpening her pencil, washing her hands and getting a band-aid. However, when asked to write using the PiCoMap on the handheld, the same student was able to create ovals with words inside. Using her pre-writing notes on the handheld as a guide, she then was able to write one word in each of the four boxes on paper. It was observed that this student, who found writing with a pencil and paper challenging, was able to write more when using the handheld. Emergent writers used drawing in the Sketchy program on slides to tell stories. Fluent writers were not as dependent on the handhelds for pre-writing, however it was helpful for organizing thoughts and brainstorming ideas (Kuhlman, Danielson, Compbel, & Topp).

Handy Teacher Tools for Teaching Writing:make-a-list

Free Writer's Workshop Lesson Plan to Help Jumpstart Writers' Workshop

Students bring their finished books to the computer lab and make a slide show presentations of their books (e.g. Kid Pix). Parents will love to see these slide show presentations during Open House or parent/teacher conferences.


Kuhlman, W., Danielson, K., Campbell, E., Topp, N., et al. (2005), Implementing handheld computers as tools for first-grade writers. Computers in the schools. 22 (3/4), 173-185.

U.S. Department of Education (2003). Weaving a Secure Web Around Education: A Guide to Technology Standards and Security. Retrieved October 25, 2009 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/secureweb/ch_1.asp#H1

Wilhelm, J. (2000). Literacy by design: Why is all this technology so important? Voices from the Middle. 7 (3), 4-14.

Lee, G. (2000). Technology in the language arts classroom: Is it worth the trouble? Voices from the Middle. 7 (3), 24-32.

Eastburn, C. (2008). Teaching the write way. The Journal. 35 (7), 16.

Chen, W., Tan, N., Looi, C., Zhang, B., Seow, P. (2008). Handheld computers as cognitive tools: Technology enhanced environmental learning. Research & Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning. 3, (3), 231-252.