Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reading and writing for an audience

The discussion of a common reading experience for all students and faculty in the upper-school (grades 9-12) and the recent article adopted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) with regard to 21st century literacies raises an idea that is not necessarily original but also not something going on yet at D-E as far as I know.

Update on 3/3/07: I'm pleased to report that my statement above was incorrect. D-E's first experiment with student blogging started in our Middle School in early February with the Umpleby Independent Reading Book Review Site. The blog was setup for a similar purpose to what I am suggesting except that students read and wrote about a variety of books rather then a common reading experience.

While I would prefer this comment to come from a full-time classroom teacher and not me (as some people see me as having a "techie" agenda), here it is anyway rather than risk the idea not occurring to others who might support it.

It is worth kicking around the thought of encouraging or at least providing a place for students and faculty to publically share thoughts on the book that is chosen while it is being read or shortly after finishing it. Doing this in the one-shot, adult-lead discussion group fashion like has been done in Community of Readers has value. However, an asynchronous opportunity to write might appeal to different students (and maybe faculty) in different ways and might also prolong the conversation.

One way to do this that has seen increasing use in schools nationally and internationally is through a web log (blog). (What you are reading now is a blog although it is not a good example of what I'm suggesting.)

Teachers or students can write "journal" entries that anyone on the Internet can read and comment on. (For example, you can click on Comments or Post a Comment at the bottom of this blog article to write your reaction on what I'm saying.) In addition to the obvious benefit of just encouraging students to write, posting articles publically can give some students extra incentive because they consider the audience more authentic than writing just for their teachers. In some cases, others outside of the school who have also studied or have experience with the work (including professionals and sometimes even writers) have commented on students writing presented this way and that could be quite a motivating factor for students to continue to write.

While we could also do this with a Blackboard discussion group, it would not have the public access that has the potential to make a positive difference in some students interest and engagement in writing about what they are reading.

That fact that the Executive Committee of the NCTE adopted a statement on February 15 that includes using communication technologies as an essential skill for twenty-first century readers and writers is also interesting and relevant. (Will Richardson, a prolific educational blogger, writes more about this NCTE statement and literacy at the blog Weblogg-ed.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Writing scores increase for one-to-one laptop students

A recent article in eSchool News directed my attention to an October 2007 research report on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). The MLTI is a one-to-one laptop program started in 2002 by the state of Maine. The program provides laptop computers to all seventh and eighth grade students attending public schools and their teachers. In addition to the computers being available to students in school, each student has access to the laptop at home on nights, weekends, and breaks during the academic year.

The report titled Maine's Middle School Laptop Program: Creating Better Writers (available here) describes quantitative results indicating that the MLTI program has improved middle school students' writing.

The study compares the results of the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) writing scores from 2000, which is the year before MLTI began, and 2005 for all eighth graders statewide. Results show a statistically significant improvement in the 2005 scores -- an average student in 2005 scored better than about two-thirds of all students who took the test in 2000. With regards to scores indicating student proficiency in writing, 41.4% of eighth graders reached that standard on the MEA in 2005, which is up from 29.1% of eighth graders who took the test in 2000.

Also, the researchers examined the 2005 writing scores against an independent variable measuring the level of use of the laptop in the writing process as reported by students. This analysis found significantly higher scores from students using a laptop more fully in the writing process such as for writing drafts and the final copy as opposed students who used the laptop for only part of the process or not at all. With regard to comparing the extremes, the average "Best Use Group" student scored higher than 75% of the "No Use Group" students. Writing proficiency as measured by the MEA scores was achieved by 43.7% of the students in the Best Use group and 21% of the students in the No Use group.

Here are a few other items from the report that I found interesting:

  • Many people debate the merit of using standardized tests, which are often more about recalling knowledge than demonstrating skill or high-order thinking, to measure the learning that is important for students growing up in the 21st century. However, the researchers make a good point that the MEA writing test used for this study actually uses writing samples from students and is scored in a double-blind fashion.
  • It is difficult to attribute the increase in writing proficiency to one-to-one laptop use because may other contributing variables could be present in any particular school. However, the report points out that the results are likely to be due to the laptop program, at least in part, because the increase in proficiency scores occurred across the total population of eighth graders in all Maine middle schools where other contributing variables are less likely to be a constant in all schools.
  • Writing for students who had used laptops improved regardless of whether they were tested by producing a writing sample on computer or with paper and pencil. Therefore, it seems the students became better writers in general as opposed to just when they have to produce on word processor.
  • It is noted that teacher professional development related to integrating technology into curriculum and practices, and teachers helping students learn how to use a laptop as a writing tool were a necessary condition for success.

If any of this interests you whether you agree or not, I suggest reading the report. The main content is about 9 pages long (including figures and tables).