On the second day of the conference, the first talk I attended was “Rethinking the Writing Process with the iPad” with Karen Janowski. I am especially eager for this topic as using the iPad as a word-processor is a common way that it is applied and often meets with ergonomic frustration. I know that as a touch typist, I can write well over 90 words a minute. The iPad cuts that down to at least half.
She started by pointing out the flexibility of the iPad which means that these tools are not limited to older children – that we can apply various techniques and processes to students of all ages using the same tool.
Students of all ages and skill levels often struggle with good writing. “S/he has great ideas. They just can’t get them down on paper!” For many students, the paper and pencil are the struggle – the tool can be the hinderance.
- What skills are required for successful written expression?
From planning, organization, ideas, critical thinking, knowledge and understanding, communication skills, understanding grammar and spelling, imagination, etc., students need numerous skills in order to be successful writers. To help students achieve success in writing, we need to identify the breakdown in their individual process so that we can effectively intervene.
- Is what we’re doing working?
Most educators can say that what they do works for most students, but definitely not all. As educators, we generally need explicit writing strategy instruction – planning, revising, editing. These techniques are especially effective for low achieving students.
Word processing alone has had only a moderate effect on improving student writing (about 10%). While not insignificant, it’s not enough for students that truly struggle with their writing.
Karen recommends using various applications, like Videolicious, to help students tell their story. This way, students can first tell their stories visually and orally before they take the next step of writing.
What we need to do to help our students is to: provide strategies, allow our students to make choices, and select tools that are “mistake tolerant.” Going paperless is not only an ecological goal, but it also helps struggling writers because paper is often ‘the enemy’ for struggling writers.
- Building Vocabulary
A prominent vocabulary is key to developing great writers. There are many tools to help students expand their vocabulary. Karen uses Spelling City as an example of one such tool.
- Brain Storming
Different brain storming tools are available to students. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Mind Mapping with MindMeister (Mind Mapping in my Classroom with MindMeister). It is, however, a little more advanced and may be challenging for younger children to use.
There are other graphic based brainstorming tools such as Popplet. It is very easy to use and applicable for students at all grade levels.This allows students to organize their thoughts visually and tactically. The finished product can be saved as a .jpeg or exported in various formats. This way, students can take the final version with them for the next steps in their writing.
Another visual organizational tool is Inspiration, which allows you to build thought bubbles and diagrams. It provides students various formats for them to use when they organize their thoughts and ideas.
There are numerous pre-write tools for the iPad and what makes them distinct from paper and pencil is that they can be colorful, dynamic, easily malleable, and image based. The tyranny of the paper is gone.
Everyone knows that the iPad can be used as a word processing machine. However, it is far more flexible than traditional word processors and exponentially more so than pen and paper. Most people are familiar with Pages, Apple’s word processing software. However, there are numerous other options that are more appropriate for struggling students.
A good diary based writing app she suggested was Emotionary, that can help students to articulate their feelings on paper using various visual and textual cues.
Scribble Press is another word processing app that helps students to develop ideas and stories at a very young age. It includes several stories that require only small sections of text for students to complete. Students can incorporate drawings and sound (including their own voice). These are age appropriate, developmental apps that are more fun, versatile, and accommodating than traditional pen and paper writing.
Another great story telling application is Toontastic which teaches students how to develop a story arc in a fun and interactive application. Students follow the steps of setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution by building a playful cartoon.
A colleague once told me “There are no good writers, only good revisers.” Revision is instrumental and key to developing good writing skills. There are numerous tools that allow for individual and collaborative revision. Google Drive (formerly google docs) is a great, free tool for peer collaboration. This allows synchronous editing for students and teachers. It is an excellent universal tool for advanced writers.
There are many tools available to teachers to help their students in editing. One is a checklist. There are some great checklists and checklist templates at PBLchecklist. At PBLchecklist, you can create one that will be published to a URL and can thus be published on a course website or distributed to students electronically. Your checklists can be as intricate or simple as you would like and are flexible enough to be created age and ability appropriately.
- The Finished Product/Publication
There are numerous drafting and publication applications out there in addition to Apple’s Pages. What is great for students with Learning Differences is that there are numerous assistive writing applications. Karen highlighted iWordQ ($24.99), while pricy a great tool for students with writing disabilities. For more free apps, see her page udltechtoolkit and Free Apps for Educators.
There are so many tools for writing available on the iPad that cannot be replicated in a traditional paper and pencil environment. What makes the iPad unique is that it can be used at a variety of age and skill levels and accommodate a myriad of learning differences. From pre-writing to finished product, “there’s an app for that.”