Note: This is the one of several chapter reflections on the excellent book written by Dr. Liz Stephens and Kerry Ballast on “Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing: Digital Make-Overs for Writing Lessons.” Read all contributions in this series.
When I opened up Chapter 4 of Stephens’ and Ballard’s “Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing,” I had no idea something my mother–a veteran mathematics teacher, now retired, had been drilling into my head about my two children–had been saying would be accurate…vocabulary is critical to understanding mathematics. This attitude–which was in absence when I was learning math as a youngster–is described in a word–numeracy or quantitative literacy.
This “quantitative literacy…is the ability to read, interpret, and/or apply numerical information.” And, as my 82-year old mother is fond of pointing out, “If you don’t know the vocabulary in math, you’re not going to do well.” The authors go into detail on how to take advantage of information-processing theory to “self-modify” our learning. Self-modification is a process whereby the learner uses knowledge and strategies acquired from earlier problem-solving to modify a response to a new situation or problem. This process can be taught through the use of Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS).
VSS is a strategy for learning “new terms and concepts. By selecting words while investigating information and creating a personal glossary, students can take an active role in learning, or can self monitor learning.” There are obviously, a lot of tools that could be used to encourage students to “self-collect” vocabulary. The authors suggest the use of a CyberWall, which can be created using a wiki page, whether for a student, a group, or a class. Other tools include collaborative word processors and/or spreadsheets.
As significant as that nugget of information is–which is explored in more detail in the book, of course–I found the following piece to be of particular interest:
A person’s knowledge of the vocabulary of a discourse community often determines whether that person will be able to communicate with, and therefore align with, like-minded members of that group. That is, she will or will not be viewed as a member of that discourse community.
I have to admit that this made me think of a Stephen Downes’ presentation I saw recently (it’s worth watching for the special effects at the start of the video, but also, more importantly, for the great ideas!). One of the points he make is the level of contribution or participation…
This focus on vocabulary and how essential it is to one’s ability to fit in is problematic for me. But it’s also an indicator of the total level of participation one must engage in to be considered. Writing like a duck is certainly important…isn’t it?
I’d like to see writing that is free from vocabulary specific to any one area, yet, I can certainly understand how important it is to know the right vocabulary to explain a highly technical subject. As the authors point out, “purposeful writing entails the use of precise language to explain something.” The role that technology can play through the addition of images, video, sound can help get the message across in different ways.
The best quote in this chapter–from my perspective–was the following, since it highlighted the importance of technology in writing and appropriate vocabulary use…and I have to admit that I thought of enhanced podcasting as one technology use justified by the quote and the underlying research:
Linking words to visual or auditory representation can reinforce existing knowledge and help construct new knowledge.
If that’s not a justification for taking advantage of technology, such as digital storytelling, online literature circles, then I’m not sure what is.
Some quick reflections on purposeful writing:
- I’m not sure I bought the whole concept of purposeful writing as a frame for writing with technology. Much of what I understood as purposeful writing is really about taking advantage of the technology tools available and being aware of your audience, rather than focusing on vocabulary.
- The focus on self-monitoring learning, the VSS, as nice as it was to read about those, are a distraction from the idea that writing for an audience is what purposeful writing is about. As such, it might have been helpful to consider some of the different audiences that are “out there” for students to reflect on, and what, for lack of awareness on my part, mores and folksways are out there to be cognizant of.
- This chapter really did tap into my interest level because it reminded me of high school sociology class and college technical writing courses. I’m just not sure focusing on vocabulary covered it. However, I can see why it would be important. Maybe I’m too “nitpicky” on this one.
- One neat tool I didn’t know about was NumSum.com, a sharable spreadsheet tool. Another alternative–not mentioned in the book–is EditGrid.com
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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure