Supporting the Development of Writing Abstraction with Technology

Supporting the Development of Writing Abstraction with Technology

Kevin M. Oliver (North Carolina State University, USA) and Ruie J. Pritchard (North Carolina State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5982-7.ch018
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This chapter overviews the concept of writing abstraction as conceptualized by Moffett (1992a) as two progressions writers must learn to negotiate. In the first progression on audience, students learn to make verbalizations to the self, then write informally to peers who understand the student's language, then formally to distant others who require more abstract or culturally accepted conventions. In the second progression on topic, students learn to write about sensory stimuli experienced, then to retell past experiences, and finally to propose more abstract generalizations and theory. To help students develop the capacity for writing across these continua, the authors recommend emerging communication tools and networks for accessing and writing to increasingly distant others, as well as emerging Web 2.0, multimedia, and research tools for capturing and writing about experiences or conceptualizing generalizations and theory. The chapter closes by noting future research directions in writing across audience and multiple modes with digital tools.
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Digital tools for writing have emerged over three and a half decades from word processing and desktop publishing to email and conferencing to Web- and multimedia-based development (Porter, 2002). Each wave of writing technology has had some impact on either the form of writing products, the processes for developing documents, and/or the social interactions around prose (Porter, 2002).

It is clear that technology has influenced the form of contemporary writing which today often looks less linear and sequential than print versions and embeds audio-visual elements to enhance clarity and promote “new genres and conventions for writing” such as video book trailers, wiki books, and digital stories. (Kajder, 2007; NCREL, 2003). Hughes (2007) notes that modern literacy now encompasses more than reading and writing, including “usage and comprehension skills in speaking, listening, viewing, and representing... [or] communicating through a variety of media” (p. 1). This comprehensive view is evident in the new Common Core Standards for the English Language Arts and Literacy adopted so far by 48 states (Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, 2013). Since the 1974 emergence of the National Writing Project, a professional development program for teachers based on how real writers write rather than on how the textbooks of the day proposed writing be taught, educators have suggested the term composing--more commonly associated with creating in the arts--as a more appropriate term for describing what happens when one writes. This term seems apt to describe writing in the modern classroom, given that many tasks involve the design of non-linear texts with not only words but also images, audio-video elements, and links (Frost, Myatt, & Smith, 2009; Grabill, 2005; Herrington, Hodgson, & Moran, 2009). For example, a traditionally linear student text can be combined with media such as music or images, and take on new layers of meaning and expanded interpretations (Hughes, 2007).

Modern technology is also changing our processes for developing writing. Writers have enhanced access to: technology scaffolds to aid in writing processes such as planning and revising; background content they can use as a foundation for writing; authentic audiences with which they can collaboratively write or publish their writing; and authentic projects where their writing takes on relevance (Devoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010; NCREL, 2003; Warschauer, 2009).

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