The Potential of Document Sharing for Scaffolding Writing Instruction

The Potential of Document Sharing for Scaffolding Writing Instruction

Katherine Landau Wright (Texas A&M University, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2970-7.ch010
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Abstract

As the current focus of education is often on test scores rather than student learning, many public school teachers do not emphasize the development of cross-curricular writing skills in their curriculum. With the inherent pressures of standardized tests and growing class sizes, the burden of assessing writing projects often makes them prohibitive. However, recent research has shown that developing strong cross-curricular writing programs can not only support content knowledge but also raise standardized test scores. Web 2.0 document sharing technology can reduce teacher workload while providing more scaffolding and instruction than traditional writing assignments. Using these programs, instructors can implement collaborative writing projects that will allow students to learn as they write. This chapter uses pedagogical frameworks such as Balanced Literacy, Gradual Release of Responsibility, and Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development to support the implementation of cloud software in public schools. It also outlines action research from a middle school classroom using cloud technology and makes practical suggestions for use of free software in secondary curriculum.
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Introduction

At the conclusion of a public school education, students must be competent writers in real life situations. If learners are only completing writing assignments in English/Language Arts classes, they are missing opportunities to apply content knowledge in authentic circumstances. This need for real-world writing instruction is apparent in many corporations. Due to the growing use of technology in the workplace, casual communication frequently happens in writing (such as emails) rather than in conversation. This has been seen in the post-academic world as many professional firms have been forced to hire trainers and consultants to teach their employees proper written language skills (Davies & Birbili, 2000). European nations that provide multiple educational tracks for high school students must bare this fact in mind, as students who traditionally would be successful with minimal literacy skills may now require stronger reading and writing abilities.

Cross-curricular literacy programs in public schools have the potential to address this challenge. Recent studies have proven the correlation between strong literacy skills and standardized test performance. High school students who are able to infer purpose and context while reading exam materials perform better than their peers (O’Reilly & McNamara, 2007; Wiley, et al., 2009). Furthermore, analytical reading and writing skills can compensate for a dearth in content knowledge (Visone, 2010; Gibson & Keyes, 2011). Therefore, literacy development must be every instructor’s concern, not just that of the English/Language Arts teacher.

However, in the United States, federal legislation known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have increased pressures on teachers, administrators, and school districts to “teach to the test” to ensure that student performance meets adequate yearly progress (AYP). While the stated goals of these acts are to provide equal education to all students and prepare them for college and a career, teachers see the immediate threat of state intervention, including the possibility of school closures, should their students not meet performance standards (United States, 2010). Furthermore, NCLB legislation does not define writing as one of the pillars of literacy. In fact, writing is only listed as additional subject matter to be tested if time allows. Many teachers are left feeling that there is little room to integrate cross-curricular literacy instruction into their course, especially in high-need areas where class sizes and the instructional loads of most educators have increased significantly in recent years.

Instructors in the United States are not alone. After taking control of the government in 1997, the British Labor party began investing in the public education system and demanding concrete results. While celebrated for increasing education spending well beyond the rate of inflation, many have criticized the standardized tests required of public school children. One study done by researchers at Cambridge University found that class time was being spent taking practice tests in order to ensure students were prepared for the exams. One of these researchers openly admitted that the curriculum, especially in elementary schools, had been narrowed to ensure schools have the requisite percent of students pass their English and mathematics exams (Olson, 2004). In both the United States and Great Britain, integrating literacy development into content instruction could broaden curriculum while still preparing students for the state-mandated examinations.

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