Research - Technology to support writing

Prepared by: Sheri Lenzo, Teacher Leader for Assistive Technology, Oak Park District 97, US


Summary of “Supporting Struggling Writers Using Technology: Evidence-Based Instruction and Decision Making” (Special Education Assistive Technology, Illinois State University) (Peterson-Karlan & Parette, 2007).

Good writers use three primary, recursive processes (National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006):

1. Planning (generating ideas, setting goals, and organizing, referred to in this report as “planning”)
2. Translating (turning plans into written language, known as “transcription”)
3. Reviewing (referred to here as “editing and revising”)

These processes are represented in instruction as writing strategies in which students are:

1. Provided models
2. Receiving some direct instruction
3. Receiving some kind of scaffolding (an explicit framework or sequence of steps) that gives them an organizational scheme
4. Given guidelines for using inquiry strategies (e.g., comparing and contrasting explaining how evidence supports a claim)

Reform in writing instruction, the National Commission on Writing (2003) presented four challenges:

1. Increase the amount of time that students spend writing
2. Improve the assessment of writing
3. Apply emerging writing technologies
4. Provide professional development for all teachers

Among national organizations considering writing outcomes, there is widespread acceptance that
writing has moved from a paper and pen activity to one that is technology driven.

Three approaches to technology have emerged:

  • Technology-supported writing – advances all phases of writing—planning, transcribing, and editing and revising.
  • Technology-enabled writing - provides new sources for and means of obtaining information (e.g., the Internet, search engines) and enables sharing, editing, and collaboration among writers, teachers, and peers. (National Writing Project, 2006).
  • Multimedia writing - enables writing in new ways & transforms writing by introducing new electronic genres and multimedia forms in which composing involves a combination of media, including print, still images, video, and sound (National Council of Teachers of English, 2004).


Generally, the available literature indicates that struggling writers exhibit problems in one or more areas of:
(a) Planning, (b) Transcription, and (c) Editing and Revising
(Englert & Raphael, 1989; Raphael & Englert, 1990).