Separate but Equal - Writing and the iPad #writing #iPad #edtech #edtechchat

Figure 2
Source: Pew Research

"I want my students to learn how to write the way the need to on the test first, then they can learn how to do it on their iPad." Ah, what a troublesome perspective this can be for teachers who want to use technology in their classroom, but find themselves teaching to the test, albeit, a writing test. This attitude isn't just present among the teachers I speak to; check out this research:
Alongside the use of digital tools to promote better writing, almost all AP and NWP teachers surveyed say they encourage their students to do at least some writing by hand.  Their reasons are varied, but many teachers noted that because students are required to write by hand on standardized tests, it is a critical skill for them to have.  This is particularly true for AP teachers, who must prepare students to take AP exams with pencil and paper.  Other teachers say they feel students do more active thinking, synthesizing, and editing when writing by hand, and writing by hand discourages any temptation to copy and paste others’ work
While I thoroughly disagree with the second assertion highlighted above, I can certainly see a few nuggets of truth glinting at the bottom of the stream of ink liberally flowing from on high. Writing by hand is a critical skill, and you have to build stamina. In Texas, consider the following assertion:

Students in 4th and 7th grade take the STAAR Writing test.  Unfortunately, 3-8 STAAR testing is not available "online" except for the first time they have an oral administration option available for qualifying students to test "online."
As I reflected on this approach, I toyed with the idea of concepts we have about writing and how they manifest in certain environments. For example, as a writer, I would seldom find a "real life" situation where writing HAD to occur by hand simply because that's the way an editor wanted to see it. Instead, the preference would be for digital. In schools, though, we find ourselves doing things because writing by hand is the way we have to because of some assessment by legislators who seldom write anything by themselves...they have a whole team that collaborates. Ironic, isn't it, that our children learn to write alone in ways that will seldom be used when they grow up? As adults, we all write non-fiction more than fiction.

How One Might Describe How Some Teachers Approach Writing Instruction

In 5 Steps to Digitizing the Writing Workshop, I explored the concept of ratiocination:

Collaborative word processors can also serve as a way for students in groups to interact with ONE text online. Imagine having a piece that needs editing. Paste the text of that piece into a collaborative word processor, then engage in group "ratiocination." 
Ratiocination, a term encountered in an article by Joyce Armstrong Carroll, involves using color codes that symbolize specific modifications that can be made to a text. These color codes can be used to visualize certain writing habits, mistakes in your writing. Students can learn to decode clues, as Carroll (Source: Acts of Teaching says, and "figure out words and meanings to solve the mystery of their written drafts." 
The idea that we have to teach students how to do this with paper-n-pencil-markers first before introducing them to the technology is...troubling, to say the least. With young writers, we pre-dispose them to certain tools and approaches that impact them for years to come. I've seen this in my own children, one of whom grew up writing with paper-n-pencil and the other using his iPad Mini or netbook. The former took a long time to "unlearn" the paper-n-pencil approach as she moved into environments that allowed her to use technology at school. The latter does his composing and writing--like I did--using a mobile device.

In fact, this approach to composing and writing with a digital device is my way, too. I grew up in the midst of this contradiction. At age 13 years of age, I started writing with a desktop computer (Apple //e) using PRINT statements in Basic programming, eventually graduating to a word processor. While I could certainly pre-write, draft, on paper, I quickly realized as a teen that writing and composing on a computer was MUCH easier. Why? Draft revision was easier on computer...and, given my son's experience on his iPad Mini, it's easier there, too. Publishing is also easier. I definitely see my time as wasted when I have to move from paper to digital simply for the sake of publishing or sharing content.

The concept of separate but equal finds it ways into our approaches to teaching and technology. Unfortunately, that can mean that of the two approaches--one with technology, the preferred without using paper-n-pencil--held as equal except when "reality" places demands on classroom time. This kind of thinking or approach to technology appears functional, utilitarian, but in truth, ends up being an excuse for why our children aren't taught with technology.

 In certain schools, teaching writing is centered about helping students do well on state assessments. This means learning how to do what we do with paper, pencil, and highlighters/markers as THE definitive writing approach, rather than learning how to do the same thing with digital tools.

Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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