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Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Writing in the 21st Century

Delve into the pluses and pitfalls of writing for new media using new media.

Evolving technology has expanded the tools available to all writers. It has also opened new venues — with new requirements — for their work. How can teachers make the best use of these new resources? The teachers show some beginning steps they have taken to integrate technology into their instruction and their professional lives, and talk about the benefits and challenges evolving media present to them and their students. In the writer’s workshop, Judith Ortiz Cofer leads the teachers as they reflect on the effect of technology in their lives.

Key Points

“Technology is making writing more accessible and more alluring.”

– Margo Jefferson

This workshop focuses on writing with new technology and for new technology. It explores how using new media shapes the task ahead for student writers, who will be expected to make meaning in many new media as they continue on in their lives


These are the key points the teachers, educators, authors, and students consider:

  1. Students today are using computers, software, and the Internet in an assortment of ways to express themselves. In doing so, they adapt their patterns of communication to the medium for which they are writing.
  2. Computers can be a boon to student writing. For example, they make revising and editing very simple.
  3. Computers and their use in student writing also create a new set of concerns for the classroom: i.e., not recognizing that conventions from one form of new communication aren’t applicable in another, plagiarism from the Internet, and accessibility issues.
  4. Students today will have to communicate using increasingly complex technology. They need to recognize that the same processes involved in paper-and-pencil writing apply to writing using new technology. They need to recognize that each medium in which they write has certain criteria that they must meet.
  5. Teachers can also use technology in the writing classroom of various kinds (VCRs, DVDs, CDs, and computer-driven applications) to help them in their professional obligations.
  6. Teachers need to help their students evaluate the applicability and usefulness of new technologies in their writing.

Technology can often help you meet some of your professional needs. Use this site’s Build a Rubric for example, for automated help in creating an analytic rubric to help you evaluate student writing.


Things To Consider

“Using technology to help you write is a powerful, powerful tool for kids.”

– Kylene Beers


  • How does the availability of word possessing software affect student writing? An analysis of a decade of research says that students who write with these programs generally produce longer, higher-quality writing than students who write with pencils or pens. This meta-analysis also found that students who wrote using computers were more engaged and motivated in their writing. This study, appeared in the February 2003 Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment. What do you think? Select the item that most clearly represents your opinion.
    I think computer technology has significantly and positively affected my students’ writing.
    I think computer technology has significantly and negatively affected my students’ writing.
    I think computer technology has moderately and positively affected my students’ writing.
    I think computer technology has moderately and negatively affected my students’ writing.
    I think computer technology has had no effect on my students’ writing.
  • Many people would like to use technology in their classes, but don’t know where to start. To explore one teacher’s journey into this world, read this article, written by Trevor Owen as the premiere article in his English Journal series, “Learning With Technology.” Other columns in this series are available online by subscription to NCTE’s English Journal.
  • Technology includes many new-and old-media. And teaching with technology should not be thought of as just working with computers. Check out this inventory of other available technology and suggestions for ways to use it with your classes.
  • Because the availability of computers can make a difference in the quality of student writing, the question of equal access to the technology becomes even more crucial. eSchool News Online devotes a portion of its site to helping teachers and administrators plan for including technology in their curricula and finding grants to help fund new technology initiatives.
  • Blogs (or Web logs) are an up-and-coming part of the Internet experience. These online diaries give writers instantaneous publication of-and audiences for-their work. Blogs are created for all kinds of communities of writers and readers. Check out Teaching Blog, Kevin Brooks’ blog for teachers interested in incorporating this and other technologies in their classroom. Brooks is an Associate Professor of English at North Dakota State University.

In the Classroom


“The skills need to create a well-crafted piece are the same, whether you’re building a Website or you’re writing a novel.”

– Christopher Myers


  • On a workshop day in her classes, Susie Lebryk-Chao often directs students to use the Internet to tour inspirational sites. You may want to use or adapt this worksheet for students to help them get the most our of their Internet experience.Here are some other sites you and your students can visit. Writing prompts or assignments should be adjusted to the content of each.
  • Use this survey to find out what technologies your students have access to and their level of experience/comfort with each. Compile results and discuss with the class or in small groups. To which community member might they turn if they encounter a problem in dealing with technology? Based on these results, what is a fair way of assigning writing experiences that require computer or Internet access? How can you best make use of technological resources available through the school?After the discussion, direct students to reflect in writing about what they learned about other members of their writing community and ways in which they might use this information to help them as they write and communicate in all media.
  •, a resource mentioned in the workshop videos, hosts Web space for users interested in setting up a site for their students. Access to the site is free for the first 60 days to allow users to try out this service. After that, there is an annual fee for maintaining the site.If you are interested in setting up a class Web space for your writers, you should also investigate your school or district’s sites to see if they can offer you space without charge.

Additional Resources

“Technology isn’t going to do the writing for you.”

– Ruthanne Lum McCunn


Listen to:

  • Margo Jefferson’s thoughts on writing and technology, expressed during an interview for this project. This Pulitzer Prize-winning author currently writes for the New York Times.

On the Web:

  • Kairos is a refereed online journal exploring the relationship between rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy. The texts published here are developed especially for the Web, addressing topics such as “Critical Issues in Computers and Writing,” and “Hypertext Fiction/Hypertext Poetry.”
  • The Words Work Network is an online resource for students who create and maintain online writing sites., the largest nonprofit publisher of periodical contemporary literature in the U.S., established known as the “Words Work Network,” or “WoW Net”-to promote the highest standard of writing and contemporary literary art to high school students.
  • What can you do if the website around which you have built your lesson suddenly disappears? Web whacking is one answer. Find out how here.

In the Library:

  • Gruber, Sibylle, ed. Weaving a Virtual Web: Practical Approaches to New Information Technologies. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2000.
  • Howard, Tharon and Chris Benson, eds. with Rocky Gooch and Dixie Goswami. Electronic Networks: Crossing Boundaries, Creating Communities. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999.
  • Kajder, Sara B. The Tech-Savvy English Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2003.
  • Moeller, David. Computers in the Writing Classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2002.
  • Strickland, James. From Disk to Hard Copy: Teaching Writing With Computers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997.



Technology in the Classroom

Type of Technology & Suggested Uses

  • Live television
    • Newscasts can provide a glimpse into ways in which writing for this medium has developed. Watch them with closed captions for a better idea of what writing skills are called into play in creating these telecasts. Scripts may also be available from local new programs.Personality profiles can help students analyze style and presentation of ideas.Interviews with current authors (or programs about past and current authors) can provide students with an easy way to learn from professional writers and their craft.Educational channels often present workshops and programs related to writing in the classroom, not only for students but also for teachers.
  • VCR (Taped television, films) or DVD Players
    • Small clips from programs can be used to illustrate writing techniques or introduce ideas embedded in an assignment.An analysis of film structure can help students analyze and internalize narrative structures and character development techniques.Students can write and produce their own films, sharing them with their peers throughout the school.(Be sure to watch with the lights on to encourage students to see this experience as a part of their learning.)
  • CDs
    • Music can serve as a background for personal writing time, or as the inspiration for a critique or response to either the lyrics and the music, or both.Writers can use CDs to save their work. Their huge capacity makes it easy to store a semester’s worth of writing for an entire class.
  • Overhead Projectors
    • Sharing written information with this staple of the classroom has always been useful.Use this device to project object shapes that become the basis for creative or informative student writing.
  • Digital Cameras
    • Digital images can be readily used on Web sites to illustrate student writing or present a picture of the author.A visual diary of class activities can be maintained and made available on a Web site or in print as a celebration of the writing community or as the inspiration for student reflection on the writing they created during a certain activity.
  • Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
    • PDAs can be used to communicate between teachers and students. For example, tests can be “beamed” from a teacher’s PDA to a student’s (or group of students) PDA. Responses can be similarly transmitted.Students can use PDAs as portable journals, “beaming” writing from one PDA to another.Teachers and students can use PDAs to keep track of assignments and school calendars.Like cell phones and pager, some districts prohibit the use of these devices on school property. Check with your administration before going ahead with any activities related to their use.

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Margo Jefferson On Writing

Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, is The New York Times cultural critic, writing columns for the Sunday Book Review and arts reviews for the daily Culture section. In an interview for this project, she talked about current and emerging technology and how it affects a writer’s task.


“I think that technology is making writing more accessible but also more alluring. Again, it’s partly that game sense, but it’s so easy, you know, to send out a message, to� It’s also simultaneously like you� It has a feeling of keeping a diary. ‘You know, I’m just going to jot this down.’ Then if you want to send it to somebody, you do. And writing a letter where you’re addressing somebody very particularly but, you know, it’s supposed to be spontaneous. And, you know, maybe the fact that it’s in type helps us feel less self-conscious.

“You know, it certainly is quicker. And when you’re-when you’re� I do think we’re-our lives are so fast, you know, all these� I mean, in the-in the course of the day, the number of human encounters you have that really just have to do with business, you know, appointments, whatever, then you go home and your answering machine is probably full.

“And I just think it’s sensory overload and spoken language overload. You know, e-mail is a relief for all of that. It can offer you a kind of solitude that, you know, you can-you can time how you communicate to people.”

. . .

“Technology can help students because it makes research-to some extent it can make research quicker, therefore easier. It can also give you this sense you can get caught up in and excited in tracking material. It can feel a little bit like, you know, ‘Oh, I’m on the trail of something.’ A little bit of a mystery here. You know, that has its own momentum. I hope it doesn’t take away from, you know, a certain kind of pleasure that I still find in going to an old encyclopedia or tracking something down, but who knows. You know, we just aren’t in a position to know that.

“How it can harm? Again, just making students� How technology, I suppose, could harm students is it could-it’s so easy to get this material and just kind of put it together in what seems to be a simple, clear order that I suppose that could substitute, could become too easy and a substitute for your own organizing, you know, shaping, you know, making it your own. You know, ‘This is my voice. This is not just my voice kind of linking big patches of material.’ You know, again, I-I don’t like being, you know, a kind of, oh, gloom prophetess about this. I don’t know enough about it and every single form of technology that’s arrived-you know, has aroused thousands of doom sayers.

“There’s always something that’s sacrificed and there are always games. That’s just the nature of the beast. So it’s really, again, going be a lot about how schools and teachers work with it and work with their students.”