Using Technology Tools to Teach Writing Works for ACE Partner Schools
By Martha Sessums, with Guest Bloggers Sailaja Suresh and Julie Kessler
Pretend for a moment – you’re 16- year old from Burma, and your family arrived in the U.S. after spending 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand. You don’t know English, but you want to go to school to learn the language and other subjects so you can succeed and get a job. You’re lucky. You can attend one of the International Schools in the Bay Area.
When I asked the ACE Partner Schools to start a conversation about using technology to help teach writing, the first ones to respond were Oakland International High School (OIHS) and San Francisco International High School (SFIHS.) These schools have a big challenge. They provide quality education for recently arrived immigrant students in the Bay Area who may not know English. Sometimes, they don’t know how to write or read in their native language either, but the goal is to prepare these students for college and their career.
For these schools, technology is helpful in teaching the language and in improving writing skills. In fact, students write all the time. At SFIHS, each semester every student must prepare a portfolio report about their group project. (Check out this video.) At OIHS, students also write about their group projects and their immigrant experiences, which have been published into a book.
Here are the reports from these schools about using technology to teach writing:
Oakland International High School
Sailaja Suresh, Academy Director and Curriculum Coach
The PEW study findings mirror, I think, what we are seeing at OIHS. The quantity of writing that students produce on a daily basis has probably increased quite a bit as their access to technology has increased: Facebook, text messaging, email. . . all of these platforms allow students to communicate with each other and with their teachers on a much more regular basis.
This also allows students to communicate about schoolwork, in English, after the school day, which is terrific. A big part of our model is encouraging students to use more English throughout the day to help improve their fluency, so they can graduate on time.
However, given the informal nature of writing in these media, formal writing conventions like capital letters and punctuation tend to be neglected by many students when writing in the classroom. Plagiarism also becomes a bigger issue as it becomes easier for students to copy and paste a piece of text online than producing their own, original writing. We spend a lot of time talking to students about these issues and about the importance of learning how to write for college and for work, in the future.
But, ultimately, technology gives us the ability to make writing more exciting for students, whether that’s because they are publishing a website, writing text for a video, asking a teacher questions after school, or editing a classmate’s work. It’s a tool and it is part of our job to help them learn how to use it effectively and appropriately now and in the future.
San Francisco International School
Julie Kessler, Principal
The use of technology in the writing process does create better buy-in from students. For language learners specifically who are navigating their identity as writers, but also navigating their identity as writers of English, the use of technology for translation is particularly important.
Our school has a no electronics policy for calls and texting, but our kids use their phones in class for translation all the time and we encourage this practice. Technological tools are teaching tools for our students as writers.