On this page, you will find:
* background behind the writing process
* reasons why writing instruction needs transformation
* solid research backing the use of technology in the writing classroom
* my capstone project poster: a summary of the research I conducted
* a recommended reading list and a literature review table
The Research on Technology-based Writing Instruction
Two themes emerged from my initial driving question, "How do I use digital writing tools to encourage active student participation throughout the writing process?" The first theme revolved around an investigation of the effects of technology on the writing process. During my research, I found many opposing sources toward the use of digital writing tools. Because this negative opinion seemed strange to me, especially in a technologically driven society such as ours, I had to dig deeper for the truth.
As I researched the requirements of formal assessments such as the CAASPP and NAEP Writing test, I realized that using technology to teach writing was not a novelty. It wasn't simply something fun for the kids to do while they learned how to construct a paragraph. It was equally imperative that I explicitly taught word-processing skills as I would writing skills. Today's standardized tests have all moved toward a digital platform. It was my obligation to fully prepare my students for these tests.
My research produced an extensive amount of support from today's seminal researchers, such as Dr. Mark Warschauer, for the implementation of 21st Century Skills and technology-based writing instruction in the classroom.
Read below for the an excerpt of my research study. For the full research paper, please go to Encouraging Active Student Engagement Through Digital Writing Tools and 21st Century Skills.
THE BACKGROUND BEHIND THE WRITING PROCESS
In the 1960s, instruction in writing was refined into a technique educators called the writing process. The student writer worked through a linear process that consisted of several steps: brainstorming ideas, drafting, peer review, reflection, revising, rewriting and publishing. The shared goal was to encourage students to develop their own writing skills while promoting collaboration with other student writers (Bronowicki, 2014). Simultaneously, the technology behind word-processing software in computer programs began to quickly evolve (Kunde, 1986). Educators soon realized that including digital word-processing tools could potentially strengthen the writing process.
THE NEED FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF WRITING INSTRUCTION
Established in 2009, the Common Core Standards for Writing were designed to provide students meaningful instruction across a range of skills and applications in writing. As they progressed through their educational career, students would demonstrate a growing mastery of writing skills such as planning, revising, editing, and publishing. By grade 12, students would be proficient in grammar, syntax, writing mechanics and conventions. They would be able to write a complete composition in any of the genres, including narrative, opinion and informational texts. Beginning in grade four, students would be able to cite source information that supported their inferences and conclusions. The Common Core Standards in Writing supported the initiative to promote the 21st Century Skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity in classrooms.
Since the writing standards changed, the method the state used to test student achievement needed to change. As of 2018, the majority of California’s standardized tests are web-based. Students use a word processing program to complete assessments online, so it is very important that they are able to accurately navigate word-processing features.
WE CHANGED HOW WE ASSESS WRITING, SO WE MUST CHANGE WRITING INSTRUCTION
The rigorous CAASPP test requires students to produce full, well-written compositions. The CAASPP test measures how well students are able to produce clear and purposeful writing in any of the following genres: argumentative, explanatory, informational, and narrative. Proficient students must demonstrate the ability to write a complete, articulate, and fully developed composition. Students must also accurately support their point of view with cited sources (California Department of Education, 2018a). More than ever, it was important for students to effectively use the writing process to prove their academic proficiency. Therefore, it was imperative that students accurately utilize the appropriate tools and features in a word processing program since this was the only permitted method for assessment.
This study was conducted to evaluate how technological tools, such as Google Docs, and websites, specifically Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com, in conjunction with 21st Century skills contributed to student achievement in writing. It was important to understand the correlation among technology, learning skills and student achievement in order to better address the decline in test performance among students at the elementary school where this study was carried out. Since test performance relies heavily on a student’s ability to properly use word-processing software, it was vital to examine how technology and peer collaboration supported students toward academic proficiency.
It is essential for teachers of writing to seriously consider how effective technology is in the writing process since students are now required to write detailed compositions on most state assessments. It is very important that students not only fully understand how to use the writing process, but also how to use word-processing features on a computer. Although global opinion stands firm on evidence that word-processing tools make writing faster, easier and more precise, some research studies claim that while “technology quickens and simplifies tasks for students, it has ingrained in them an attitude that they do not have to put any effort into anything they write” (Bronowicki, 2014, p. 5). Inspired by Goldberg, Russell & Cook’s in-depth meta-analysis of ten-years worth of studies on the effects of computers on student writing, this research study sought to explore its own conclusion on how well technology encouraged students to fully engage in their writing practice (Goldberg, Russell & Cook, 2002). The theoretical rationale of this study centered on the theory that since computers provided a faster, more precise method for writing and an enormous collection of online writing resources, student achievement in writing had the marked potential for improvement.
COULD DIGITAL WRITING TOOLS HARM THE WRITING PROCESS?
A fundamental theme emerged from other research studies on this topic. Some researchers have been questioning the validity of claims that digital tools, such as Google Docs, produced better student writing in comparison to traditional handwriting tools. For instance, research by seminal authors, like Mark Warschauer, reported that digital writing tools could potentially be harmful to the writing process because it encouraged an informal, graphics-dominant written product. In addition, students were encouraged to plagiarize because written compositions were easily copied from the internet (Warschauer, 2007). However, Dr. Warschauer also reminded readers “that students largely respond...to the expectations set up by the instructor. Teachers that set up assignments demanding a product that includes both sophisticated writing and a highly professional look are more likely to achieve both” (Warschauer, 1999, p. 9).
NOT ACCORDING TO THE DATA
A growing number of researchers have collected an extensive amount of data that profoundly supports digital tools in the writing classroom. According to the data, technology not only encourages reluctant writers, it creates authentic writing opportunities where students are actively engaged in every aspect of the writing process. Researchers report that students are not only taking ownership of their learning, they’re also teaching each other how to improve their writing skills (Saulsburry, Kilpatrick, Wolbers, & Dosta, 2015). This data runs parallel with the objectives of the Common Core Standards and the 21st Century skills initiative.
In 2010, a team of researchers led by Kurt A. Suhr tested the validity of the “Fourth-Grade Slump.” According to the team’s research on the topic, a slump in writing occurs in the fourth grade, especially among socioeconomically disadvantaged children. In the two-year study, Suhr’s team discovered that although computers may have contributed to a slight increase in writing scores, it was evident that students who used computers scored higher than students who did not use a computer (Suhr, Hernandez Grimes, & Warschauer, 2010).
THE NCES CONDUCTS IT'S OWN RESEARCH
Solid data from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress Writing Assessment supported Suhr’s findings. When the Institute of Education Sciences switched from traditional paper exams to more modern computer-based assessments, it provided an opportunity for its collection agency, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to gather data on how students used word-processing features in the assessment software. The results were encouraging for proponents of using more technology in the writing process. For instance, the NCES discovered that students who used the assessment’s digital thesaurus more than once scored two to three times higher than students who used it only once (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
The NCES asked participating teachers how often they required students to use word processing programs to draft and revise their writing compositions. The data from the survey was also encouraging. Students who always or almost always used computers to draft and revise their written compositions scored an average of 160 out of 300 possible points. In comparison, students who never or hardly ever used a computer to draft and revise their writing scored the lowest (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
HOW DO 21ST CENTURY SKILLS BENEFIT THE WRITING PROCESS?
An equally important theme that developed was the question on how well do 21st century skills, such as group collaboration, benefit individual performance in writing. A study out of San Francisco State University found that while students benefited from online writing tools like Google Docs, the highest writing scores were obtained from traditional face-to-face peer collaboration. Digital tools played a small part in the outcome. Yet, the researchers encouraged educators to continue the use of Google Docs as a writing tool because they felt that students would eventually master its potential (Woodrich & Fan, 2017).
In 2016, researchers Ahmet Yamac and Mustafa Ulusoy conducted a research study to test how the process of digital storytelling affected the writing performance among third graders. The students lived in a small village 25 kilometers from the city of Afyonkarahisar, Turkey. Most children came from poor homes where more than half of their parents were primary school graduates. The study revealed that after instruction and practice in digital storytelling, students scored significantly higher on post-writing tests. The primary contributing factor was student collaboration throughout the writing process. (Yamac & Ulusoy, 2016). Yamac and Ulusoy observed that students “became role models for each other...developing several (writing) skills by observing and imitating each other. In the collaborative works, they felt more free and behaved comfortably” (Yamac & Ulusoy, 2016, p. 75).
Literature Review Table
Please click on this link to access the cited sources from my Literature Review Table associated with my research study.
The following video presents the background of my initial research plans for my capstone project.
Click on the image above to view a 5:44 minute video on my research study.
Click on the image above to access a list of supporting research studies in the field of writing and technology.
My Capstone Project: Encouraging Young Writers
The following poster illustrates a summary of my research. If you would like to read the full document, please click here to access my research study, Encouraging Active Student Engagement Through Digital Writing Tools and 21st Century Skills.