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Technology and Literacy – Creating Better Writers

There is a growing sentiment that success hinges in great part on a student’s self-confidence. Whether it is the study of sophisticated mathematics or tossing a basketball in a hoop, those who believe in their abilities are able to consistently move on to greater challenges with a sense they will be able to meet the expectations set forth.

No doubt, some folks would differ with that sentiment. At InstructorWeb, we see reference to the mainstays of ongoing academic success: the need for study, practice, and review. Certainly those elements play a key role as well.

But the site also notes that self-worth and self-confidence cannot be overlooked, that “mental attitude is more relevant to success than academic aptitude.” Even more importantly, InstructorWeb insists “children who are convinced that they can succeed will succeed” and “will do so without the anxiety and nervousness that is so common among poor achievers.”

Boosting Literacy Skills

iStock_000002832253XSmallThe importance of self-confidence is a critical development embedded within the results of a recent survey by the National Literacy Trust, a charity actively promoting literacy in the United Kingdom. The online survey of 3001 students from England and Scotland, ages 8-16, revealed key relational findings between technology and patterns of reading and writing, two areas many educators often see as disparate or even mutually exclusive.

Explaining the basics of the study, Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, told BBC News:

“Engagement with online technology drives” student “enthusiasm for writing” in all its various formats, “short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries.”

But ultimately, the key finding from the survey is one that educators should pay critical attention to: Children who blog, text or use social networking websites are more confident about their writing skills than those who do not use such sites.

According to the survey, when it came to writing, 75% of all students wrote regularly and most of those who did so reported putting both pen to paper as well as fingers to a keyboard. According to NLT, 82% of those surveyed sent text messages at least once a month while 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends. In contrast, 77% acknowledged putting pen to paper to write either class notes or when doing homework.

Though one might not be surprised at texting or instant messaging percentage, one of the most amazing statistics involved the significant number of students blogging. According to NLT, 24% of surveyed students wrote regularly on a blog.

Moving on to the element of confidence, of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, less than one in two (47%) rated their writing as “good” or “very good.” Meanwhile, more than half of all those (56%) who use social media and three of every five (61%) bloggers rated their writing as good or very good.

For those who continue to insist that technology is undermining basic reading and writing literacy, that the writing styles students use in online chat environments or when texting one another is detrimental, these findings and others had Douglas insisting he would have none of it.

“The more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills,” Douglas informed the BBC. “Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive – the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills.”

iStock_000008519301XSmallDouglas went on to relate one other critical point, one we have noted in the past: kids need to learn to distinguish between different writing styles.

Interesting Gender/Socioeconomic Findings

The random study yielded a near 50-50 gender split but did include a larger percentage of respondents who received free school meals (20.2%) than the U.K. average for primary and secondary students.

The male-female breakouts revealed some very interesting developments. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the boys reported that they did not enjoy writing as much as girls (38% vs. 52%). They also were more apt to rate themselves as ‘not very good writers’ (48% vs. 42%). In addition, boys were more likely than girls to agree with statements that ‘writing is boring’ (57% vs. 41%) and with ‘writing is more for girls than for boys’ (60% vs. 43%).

But for those looking to hook young men academically, the study revealed that boys held a more positive attitude towards computers and they were more likely than girls to believe that computers were beneficial to writing.

Another very interesting, and at times counter-intuitive development, involved the responses of the students qualifying for free school meals (FSM). First, there was no relationship between socio-economic status and enjoyment of writing, writing behavior, linking writing to success, views of writers, computer use, or attitudes towards computers. But heading back to the confidence arena, students outside the FSM group rated themselves as better writers than pupils who receive FSMs.

Similar Doubts Everywhere

Just as we see here on this side of the pond, there remains great skepticism among educators regarding technology use, particularly any steps that might encourage students to spend time online. In fact, John Coe, general secretary of the National Association for Primary Education, specified a growing concern of educators.

iStock_000000642945XSmallWhile there is no doubt enormous advantage to developing the relationship between teacher and child, Coe told the BBC, “sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the age of 13.” But Coe went on to add that NAPE was looking into ways to incorporate the passion students had for texting into teaching methods.

That said, reverting once again to the confidence arena, it is imperative that educators understand why technology can be such a positive tool overall. Surveyed students not only said they used computers regularly; they also believed that computers were beneficial to their writing.

They reported that a computer made it easier for them to correct mistakes (89%), allowed them to present ideas more clearly (76%), and that computers allowed them to be more creative, concentrate more and even encouraged them to write more often (60%). In contrast, two of the most common reasons why youngsters indicated they were not good writers involved an inability to write neatly (23%) or not being very good at spelling (21%).

Simply stated, technology gave these youngsters greater confidence. Combine that with the ever-present desire of students to use technology and we have a clear indication as to why teachers would do well to incorporate social media and blogging opportunities into their basic literacy programs.

In fact, in a day and age when there are growing concerns with the academic development of young boys, the use of technology could well be the path to enhanced engagement for this group.

2 comments

1 Cynthia { 01.08.10 at 5:55 pm }

I’m interested to hear the other side of the coin – how does their confidence relate to their actual results on tests and assignments? Does frequent blogging, texting and facebook updating translate to good test and assignment results? Are the confident students as good as they think they are? I hope the study addresses this question. I plan to track it down and read it for my self.

2 Glenn Wiebe { 01.11.10 at 11:44 am }

Thomas,

Appreciate the great article!

Quick observation about John Coe’s comment – “sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the age of 13.”

If true, that’s more an indictment of teachers and parents than technology. We all need to realize that caring teachers using technology have an advantage over caring teachers without technology.

http://historytech.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/digital-means-analog-analog-means-digital/

glennw

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