In my office I sometimes feel like I am in an outpost of the galaxy. Messages come in periodically informing us of things going on in the schools, such as, “All the kids are now getting Chromebooks for writing.”
Out in my corner of the universe, I just scratch my head and wonder how something like Chromebooks is really going to help kids who struggle to learn how to write.
I see the use of Chromebooks as fun and they probably help kids become more technologically literate (not that they really need it, as most of them seem pretty literate as far as technology goes), but how does it help kids become competent writers?
For the 60% of those that I referred to on the positive side of the bell-shaped curve, Chromebook or even a nubby pencil and paper can probably work fine for them in terms of being able to generate a solid paragraph or a three paragraph essay.
A second grade child who had no learning problems recently wrote this as part of a classroom exercise:
“Shells work great with mulch. Mulch is wood, sand and mussel shells that go over the dirt to keep the soil wet and keeps weeds from growing. That is what happened at the end of the story after Grace asks about the shells.”
The words were nicely spaced and there were clear punctuation marks. (The writing was completed with a nubby pencil, I might add.)
Contrast this with Charles who was also a second grader, writing about something funny that happened in school. When I asked 8 and a half year old Charles to write a story that had a beginning, middle and end about something funny that happened in school he told me, the following:
“When my totoere read what I root it made me lauhg so hard I could not stop”
For the kids with learning problems, those in the 30-40% group, neither Chromebook nor paper and pencil are effective medium for them since writing is hard no matter what. Whether it’s old technology (a pencil with an eraser was at one time a cutting edge technology) or modern technology like a Chromebook, without direct instruction the child will be at a loss as to how to organize his/her thoughts into a solid paragraph.
Direct instruction means that the child will be directly taught discrete skills that will be practiced to mastery. For the first child who wrote about mussel shells and mulch, it looks like she has a pretty good grasp of sentence and paragraph structure. This child can already engage with open-ended writing.
Not so, young Charles. For him, focusing on simple sentences for a while would be a good way for him to go. Let him master writing basic sentences and after he’s done that he can write more complex sentences, ultimately leading up to the writing if a paragraph.
Sentences can be practiced on Chromebook or with an old school technology like paper and pencil. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is recognizing that kids who struggle with writing, need patient, direct instruction to be practiced over time to mastery.
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