1999 Conference Proceedings

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Constance McAvoy
2260 Victor Street
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8R4C5

Rationale for Assistive Technology Within a Structured Writing Curriculum

Crucial consideration should be given to the importance of supporting independent production of coherent writing through assistive technological tools and well-designed curriculum and instruction. Many educational situations have placed heavy emphasis on the student as the resource for writing activities and have failed to address the often limited outcomes. Effective instructional methods, delivered within a carefully designed curriculum, in combination with access to appropriate assistive technological applications can include and encourage the student who experiences challenges in independent written communication.

Educators must assume every student has the capacity to write. Before one can begin to change a condition one must believe in the possibility of change (Lauter and Howe, 1970). This search demands spiritual robustness by educators in order to discover, implement, and assess the tools which may promote independence in writing for students with serious writing deficiencies.

Teale and Sulzby (1986) contended that the orientation to literacy is important to remember because it shows that the foundation for children_s growth rests upon viewing literacy as functional rather than a set of abstract, isolated skills (Teale, W., & Sulzby, E. (Eds.) (1986) Emerging Literacy: Writing and Reading, as cited in Strickland and Morrow (1989) p. 24). Graves and Montague (1991) note that focusing on development of story writing abilities in students with LD, as an emphasis on content rather than process equals success and fun for the students which equals increased motivation to write. Coaching to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus teach themselves (Wiggins, 1990) is seen as a goal for effective writing instruction. Students begin to assume more responsibility for their own writing and organization. Students as workers rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher as deliverer of instruction services becomes the model for the classroom.

There is a call for teaching methods to be personally meaningful, helping the student interact with people. Learning takes place as the child interacts with peers and adults in social settings and a conducive environment (Vygotsky, 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Psychological Processes (as cited in Strickland & Morrow, pg. 31). Deshler, Schumaker, and Ellis (1986) noted that at the middle school level, peer support and acceptance outweigh virtually everything else. Piaget maintained that children acquire knowledge by interacting with the world or the environment (Piaget and Inhelder, 1969) The Psychology of the Child (as cited in Strickland & Morrow, pg. 28). The ways in which we teach reading and writing must be developmentally appropriate (Teale and Sulzby, 1989) and age appropriate according to students_ needs, interests and intended audience.

In order for one to express oneself, to convey understanding through communication, one strives to be independent. To build independence in writing, it is important to focus on the students' reality and meaning system to construct activities. To that end, students will perform tasks representative of those most useful in their world. Wiggins (1993) discussed performance as contextual involving constant judgement in adapting knowledge and placing an emphasis on habits of the mind not learnedness, citing the aim of education being to help the individual become a competent intellectual performer. Wiggins (1993) discussed understanding as employing knowledge wisely, fluently, flexibly, and aptly in particular and diverse contexts, executing a task and bringing it to completion.

Technology can play a powerful role at every step in a person_s life, particularly those individuals with special needs. The computer can assist with providing experiences to enhance and supplement strengths and skills, or to compensate and accommodate for limitations and disabilities. Schmitt (1992) advises that adaptations, in terms of access to technology, should be looked at from a hierarchical viewpoint. Modifications for the student should be made only to the degree appropriate for a particular situation to provide the least restrictive accommodation (Schmitt, 1992). Modifications are intended to make learning tasks more accessible.

Research has shown that the writers using the word processor are more likely to experiment with the composition, viewing it as a dynamic piece of work (Gebhardt, 1986; Hawisher, 1987; Lutz, 1987). The experience of writing with a word processor allows the student to review revision as a more central part of the composition process (Reynolds and Hart, 1990). Revision of the mechanics of writing is made easier through the use of a word processing program.

The most important thing for a classroom teacher to know about computer adaptations and adaptation devices is that there is a wide variety of solutions and that highly trained specialists in technology as well as in specific needs are available to provide information and suggestions. Technology teams comprised of speech/language pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, computer specialists, and parents work together to facilitate the use of technology for inclusion for maximum cognitive and social development. Technology provides a means but it is not an end in itself. (Male, 1994, p.4).

Research indicates that students with learning disabilities may continue to have problems with reading, writing, and math as adults (Smith, 1988). Technology use may enable these individuals to function independently and successfully beyond their formal schooling years.

We should be seeking a more robust and authentic construct of understanding. Competence is more like contextual insight and good judgement than mechanical expertise. When we link skilled use of the computer with skilled teaching and good curriculum we can expect real benefit. When we do put that combination together we will be providing the best learning environment for our students (Riedl 1991).

CSUN Presentation Information

In this presentation, instructional strategies which address the use of assistive technology within an effective instructional writing program, designed to support students'writing in inclusive curriculum assignments, at the secondary level, will be discussed. The presenter has worked on projects in secondary schools as a facilitator for development of an assistive writing program. The instructional strategies in this presentation will include:

This presentation is developed with the belief that writing is an act that requires direction, modelling and scaffolding to enable writers to convey meaning to an audience. Basic writing structures derived from the most frequently expected structures of writing including reports, narratives, explanations, procedures, argumentatives, and discussion will be shared.

Assistive technological applications and scaffold design facilitate improvement in the quality of the writing of students with writing disabilities. Options, including phonetic spell checking, outlining, and word prediction are combined with scaffolding support to provide the challenged writer with the continuum of support needed to independently produce written communication. Through involvement in the instruction and assessment of writing in which these options are utilized at the level required, teachers and parents and the writers themselves develop an intimate understanding of the writer's capabilities and needs.


Gebhardt, R. (1986). Computer Writing and the Dynamics of Drafting. Journal of Teaching Writing, 5, 193-201.

Graves, A., & Montague, M. (1991). Using Story Grammar Cueing to Improve the Writing of Students with Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities research and Practice, 5, 88-93.

Hawisher, G. (1987). the Effects of Word Processing on the Revision Strategies of College Freshmen. Research in the Teaching of English, 21,145-159.

Lutz, J. 91987). A Study of Experienced Writers Revising and Editing at the Computer and with Pen and Paper. Research in the Teaching of English, 21 398-421.

Male, M. (1994) Technology for Inclusion; Meeting the Special Needs of All Students. Second edition. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

Schmitt, D. (1992). Hierarchy of Access. Presentation at Closing The Gap Conference, October. Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Strickland, D.S., & Morrow , L.M. Emerging Literacy: Young Children Learn to Read and Write. : Newark, Delaware: 1989.

Wiggins, G. (1993). Assessment: Authenticity, Context, and Validity. Phi Delta Kappan.

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