Department of Educational Psychology
University of Illinois
1310 S. 6th St.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA
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f: (217) 244-7620
Education, K12; Education, higher; Research, academic
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; More equitable access to technology or electronic information; Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Leverage of public funding; Partnerships between public and private sector
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This story was collected as part of the “Teaching Teleapprenticeships” research project at the University of Illinois, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
I would like to talk about how the use of computer networks changed an elementary school composition class. Last February through May, I had the chance to help a class start using computer networks and to observe how students of the class changed their writing attitudes. The class was one of the ESL classes of an elementary school in a middle-sized Midwestern city. The class consisted of 17 fifth graders coming from various countries all over the world. Some of them had been in the United States for one and a half years and others had been for only a few months. Although they could speak, read and write their own native languages well, they did not have adequate command of English. Their level of writing English was equivalent to that of third or fourth graders. The teachers who also had learned English as the second language understood them well.
When I visited the class for the first time, the children were writing a summary of a story individually. While writing, some children were talking with other children and some children were walking around. Obviously, they had little motivation to write a summary. The teacher paid more attention to spelling and grammar than to the content of children’s written products. Because she corrected them whenever children made mistakes in spelling and grammar, children seemed to be sensitive to such errors. But, they did not pay attention to the content of what they wrote. They could not express their ideas fully or organize them effectively. Neither did they develop their points of view and conceptions of the topic in the course of writing unlike mature writers.
However, this situation changed when they started participating in a large network-based educational project. Many K-12 classes in the United States and in foreign countries, university students and faculty members, and people of NASA took part in the project, in which they proceeded with studies and activities on various aspects of space and weightlessness, and communicated with other participants by writing messages on computer networks. The children of the ESL class were very interested in space and life in space and were eager to learn about them. They read books on space, took notes while using computer material for learning about zero-gravity and space life, and carefully listened to an invited speaker’s story on planets and astronauts. They were motivated to write what they had learned and to write questions about space. They collaboratively wrote messages to send on computer networks in order to communicate with other members in the project. During their writing, they tried to examine and clarify their ideas. It is interesting that they were never reluctant to write when they were writing about space on the computer networks while they had been easily distracted in writing a summary in the composition class. Some students did not want to stop writing even though the teacher urged them to go to lunch.
In this way when children were given real purposes and readers, they were more interested in writing and participated in writing activities more actively and enthusiastically than in the formal composition class. They even used writing as a tool to develop their thoughts. Computer networks have a great potential to create authentic writing environments in classrooms and to change the traditional composition class into a wonderful, attractive place for children to learn to write and to write to learn.