18 March 2009

CSUN 2009 - Writing Tools - Supporting All Writers

(As the CSUN 2009 - Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference goes on I will post my three presentations and add short posts about what I see and hear. You may want to also follow the CSUN Twitter feed at #csun09)

If you could offer your students technologies which would support their writing skills, and could do it for free, would you?

Suppose your students could slip past small muscle control issues to begin getting their thoughts onto “paper?” Or that they could read and edit their words without struggling with decoding? Or could effectively spellcheck their own work no matter how much accent or first-languages impacted their initial spelling attempts?

What if you could watch – and support – your students as they wrote collaboratively, while tracking every change? Or if students could collaborate on homework without being in the same neighborhood? Or could track and record sources without the difficulty of writing complicated notes?

slideshare powerpoint has links if you download

When Englert, Manalo, and Zhao wrote I Can Do It Better on the Computer: The Effects of Technology-enabled Scaffolding on Young Writers' Composition, documenting the success of computer supports in 2004 most of the solutions studied had to be purchased by schools and students. Today free downloadable and online software allow us to offer every student technology which can improve the core elements of their writing: spelling, organization, editing, and understanding of authorial voice.

Text-To-Speech systems allow students to independently listen to their own writing while editing, even if they are weak readers. This not only helps them to identify wrong words, repeated words, and omitted words, it offers a way for them to compare their phrasing, descriptions, and explanations with their intentions and their aspirations.

Content-based spell-checking with word definitions allows struggling readers and writers of English to find the right word and the right spelling without losing their thoughts during long, frustrating trips to a print dictionary.

Online document software allows peer collaboration and teacher support of the writing process.

And online graphic organization tools and notebooking systems support writing organization.

Up to two years worth of functional research with WordTalk, Firefox with CLiCk-Speak (and other add-on tools), Ghotit, Google Docs, Google Notebook, Webspiration, and Microsoft Vista’s Speech Recognition in both educational and job training situations underlie this presentation which will look at best practices for using these free tools across student environments.

Particular emphasis will be placed on how to combine these tools to support the writing process, focusing on carrying students from engagement through persistence to editing and production for audience, all with software that is already on most school computers or which can be accessed at no cost.

These are the critical issues in creating and supporting emerging writers. Students must have ways to begin writing which do not generate massive frustration. They must have ways to complete writing which do not exceed their ability to persist in the task. They must have effect ways to edit even if their reading decoding skills are week. And they must discover that writing has a purpose beyond teacher-defined school success: without this feedback, engagement and persistence will inevitably wane.

In their 2004 article Englet, Manalo, and Zhao state, “Without access to these functions, the memory or cognition of a problem solver might be overwhelmed (Pea, 1993; Stone, 1998). In this manner, technology serves as a type of social actor or intellectual partner. Together the individual-operating-with-the-mediational-technology can participate in a process that, barring this support, might lie beyond his or her attainment. (Pea, 1993; Salomon, 1993; Wertsch, 1998).” Five years later we can provide this functional support on any internet-connected computer, and on many “smart” mobile phones. Offering our students the opportunity to use their cognitive efforts for the learning of writing skills, rather than overcoming capability differences.

- Ira Socol in Los Angeles

Englert, C.S., Manalo, M., Zhao, Y. (2004) I Can Do It Better on the Computer: The Effects of Technology-enabled Scaffolding on Young Writers' Composition. Journal of Special Education Technology. Volume 19 Number 1.

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