In the beginning was the word, along with the pencil and paper, and the word was with students. Eons later, teachers looked at student writing and saw that it was (to invert the Old Testament lingo) not good: a Tower of Babel. So our priority was to create a set of technology tools (no stone tablets) to guide students through the writing process.
We started with work begun in 1974 by 25 teachers who met at UC Berkeley to develop ideas to improve writing instruction in area schools. That meeting grew into the Bay Area Writing Project and then into the National Writing Project, which promotes K-16 teacher training programs. The project serves more than 100,000 teachers at about 200 sites and has worked with over 2 million teachers and administrators.
This organization promoted a five-stage approach to the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Over the last 30 years, professional development and student materials have focused on these stages.
During our 2004 English Education Forum at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Indianapolis, we asked high school and college English educators two key questions:
- Could technology resources enable you to teach writing more effectively?
- What resources are most essential?
The answer to the first question was yes. As for the most essential resources, teachers were adamant. They needed tools to help students revise their work. More specifically forum participants stressed the revision tool should do the following:
- Capture students' writing
- Enable students to add, substitute, and delete ideas to enhance clarity
- Enable students to rearrange blocks of material to improve organization
- Provide feedback to help students make better choices
- Capture students' revisions and edits
We built the first part of Writing Navigator—Writing Reviser—to meet all of these needs. The greatest challenge, and our proudest achievement, was developing a tool that provides guided feedback tailored to whatever the student writes.
Students can revise their writing with the help of this tool. It allows them to focus on their purpose and audience, essay structure, and use of written language (sentence economy, variety, power, and clarity). Students learn to ask questions experienced writers ask automatically. As a result, they begin to express themselves with greater precision and power.
Sound impossible? Stay tuned. In our next posts we’ll discuss how we developed Writing Navigator and ask you if the tool meets your needs.