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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Using Technology to Encourage Writing

The first time I saw an Elmo (a digital visual presenter) in action, my mind was flooded with ideas about how I could use it in my classroom to encourage my students to write.

Since writing with a strong voice is one of the common weaknesses found in the writing of the students in my middle school, I was able to convince my principal to buy one for the English department with the guarantee that I could show him obvious improvements in students' writing as a result of using the Elmo. I was a little nervous and hoped that my confidence was well placed -- having only seen one and not actually having used it.

The box arrived several weeks later, and the kids and I excitedly worked together to figure out how to get it to operate. Basically, using a built-in camera, it projects whatever you put on the platform up onto a whiteboard or screen. When I saw it demonstrated, I had not paid that much attention, for instance, to the fact that you needed an LCD projector to project the image from the Elmo. So I had to find one of those.

It didn't take too much time before it was up and running. The class and I thought it would be a very effective tool for revision. I asked who wanted to be Professor Elmo and bring up a draft of a piece of writing he or she had been working on to get group feedback. Just about every hand in the class went up. Now this was a class of seventh graders whose daily goal was to avoid being embarrassed, so I was surprised at their willingness to put a piece of their own work in front of the entire class.

Hilary went first. She had written a description of her hair modeled after a vignette in the young adult novel, The House on Mango Street. She put her first draft onto the platform of the Elmo and read her piece to the class. As she read we could follow along with the projected image of her writing. When she had finished, I asked the class to point out what they appreciated about the piece.

Many hands went up and the class made many specific comments about word choice, tone, organization, and so on, that they liked in her writing. As they did this, I underlined the specific text on the whiteboard that they pointed out. Within a short time Hilary's writing was marked up enough to show that she had done many things well in her writing. She stood next to the Elmo with a look of pride on her face.

Next I asked the class to point out parts of the text that were unclear or they had questions about. This time I asked Hilary to highlight sections of her own piece on the Elmo in response to the feedback. This would help her later when she was revising and wanted to recall parts that the readers were confused about.

After Hilary finished, other students had a chance to revise the same way. One thing I noticed was that some of the students who did not have a chance to get group feedback for their own pieces were making notes for revision on their own papers based on what they observed. One student even asked if it was okay to get ideas from the pieces that were brought to the class via the Elmo and use those ideas in her own paper. Of course, I told her that that was the idea -- writers learning from other writers. The class was instructed to work on a second draft of the piece of writing.

The next day, before I could ask for any volunteers, Hilary asked if she could get feedback on her second draft. I told her that was great and that I would like her to think aloud as she talked through the changes she made. I could not have scripted a better lesson on revision. She used the Elmo to project her first draft as she read through it again. Hilary added some of her thoughts about the feedback she had received and then she showed us her second draft. She highlighted the areas of her paper that she had revised and told why she had made the changes she did. We all got a much better look at the process of writing.

Then Hilary, without prompting from me, asked the group to focus on her ending for the piece. She said she wasn't satisfied with it and asked if they could help her with it. At this point, I had faded to the back of the classroom. She didn't need me right then. She got it. The class got it. And that was the beginning of some of the most deliberately crafted writing that I had ever read in that class.

The Elmo has become an integral part of my classroom. I might project the opening paragraph of a difficult piece of text we are going to read and we can go through together it marking it up (a reading strategy called syntax surgery) to model how good readers think as they read. I might grab a book by Sharon Creech off the shelf and show how she crafts leads in her writing, and then we'll practice imitating her style. All this can be impromptu -- based on the needs of the lesson and the students. No more running out to the copy machine. We can all have a discussion about a common text right there.

I have shared this piece of technology with other teachers. When I check my email in the morning, it is common to have several requests from other teachers asking to borrow the Elmo for the day. I think because they are used to using an overhead projector, this is a comfortable leap for them.

I was working with a group of National Board candidates recently and there was a digital visual presenter in the classroom we were using. One woman asked if I could look at one of her entries. I suggested we look at it as a group using the Elmo and she agreed. We had a very valuable discussion on her piece, marking as we talked though it. By the end of our session together, everyone in the group had volunteered a section of his/her writing for revision. They loved it -- just like the kids. And their writing improved dramatically.

Comments (21)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

You may want to check Edutopia's grants page. There are also some good reader comments pointing to additional sources of grants.

Marie Vazquez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The first time I experienced an ELMO presentation was at a workshop at Teacher's College. As a previous reader commented, I too began to think of the possibilities for instruction. Smartboard requires preplanned lessons. With an Elmo, you can take a reading or writing conference you just had with a student and turn it into a minilesson for the whole class. Rather than just hearing you conference with a fellow student at a table, as Teacher's College suggests, students can literally see the conference you are having with student. Those of us who use Teacher's College will immediately benefit from this tool.

NonFiction writing and reading has always been a challenge for the students in my school. In just a few days, I have seen a dramatic improvement in their note taking skills and their understanding of the structure of nonfiction texts.

I am now searching for grants to purchase one for my classroom. It is important to buy one which will deliver a high quality image so a good projector is also necessary. If you have a low lumen projector, the effort is futile because the students cannot see the image clearly.

I will keep posted to this site for any feedback on your experiences or help procuring a document camera and projector.

Jan Blase's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, I am waiting to get my document projector installed in my 1st grade classroom. We are in the process of writing our goals for the year. I would like to use the technology for my goal. Do you have any ideas about how I could use the document projector for my goal. I appreciate any help. Thank you.
Jan in Nebraska

Andrea Andersen's picture

i have used an elmo in a kindergarten class and the children love it! we were able to show examples of the students' work to the class to show what "worked" and what "needed improvement"! i feel it really motivates students to do and share their work.

Susan Rice's picture

Two things I like about what I read. I think the Elmo is great for the impromptu moment or what some of us call the teachable moment in our classroom. The second aspect is that everyone can see. How many times a kid missed a concept because they are not the tallest in the class or the kid that can't be still always seemed to end up in front of them in a demonstration is too numerous to count. I know that several science experiments had to be repeated, so everyone could see. Now, we can repeat an experiment to test its validity not just so everyone gets to see the result of one experiment that was done three times.

Judy's picture

I don't have an ELMO yet but after reading your article I can't wait to share my success stories too.

Liz Spratt's picture

This is my first year as a first grade teacher and believed the Elmo was going to be great to show pictures of books as I read to the class. Apparently, I was wrong. Thank you for all of the ideas for use of the Elmo in writing. It is so important to model over and over for the first graders on any subject. I can't wait to get to school and show them many examples of the writing process. Letting them edit papers with the class should be a helpful tool for writing.

Rannie Huang's picture

My name is Rannie. I work for ELMO Headquarters in Japan as a global marketing officer. I am so glad to know that so many educators in the USA who really interested in how ELMO can help for better learning and teaching.
As we have released an educational technology called ELMO wireless tablet, I am hoping all of you would be interested in knowing the details of our tablet initiative which will be launched in the USA soon.

ELMO wireless tablet is a teaching tool which can operate both ELMO document camera and the computer. Aslo, you will be able annotate on the real subjucts projected on the big screen. If you are familar with document camera, you will definitly love this device. It is actually very similar to an interactive whiteboard, but you do not need to stand in front of the screen all the time as it is protable and wireless.

We are planning to launch an initiative to have excellent teachers in the USA to try ELMO tablet and together get meaningful findings on how the technologies can help to improve teaching and learning.
Hope you will be interested in it.
I am looking forward to hearing from all of you.
Thank you

Rannie Huang's picture

My name is Rannie. I work for ELMO Headquarters in Japan as a global marketing officer. I am so glad to know that so many educators in the USA who really interested in how ELMO can help for better learning and teaching.
As we have released an educational technology called ELMO wireless tablet, I am hoping all of you would be interested in knowing the details of our tablet initiative which will be launched in the USA soon.

ELMO wireless tablet is a teaching tool which can operate both ELMO document camera and the computer. Aslo, you will be able annotate on the real subjucts projected on the big screen. If you are familar with document camera, you will definitly love this device. It is actually very similar to an interactive whiteboard, but you do not need to stand in front of the screen all the time as it is protable and wireless.

We are planning to launch an initiative to have excellent teachers in the USA to try ELMO tablet and together get meaningful findings on how the technologies can help to improve teaching and learning.
Hope you will be interested in it.
I am looking forward to hearing from all of you.
Thank you

Mary Gordon's picture
Mary Gordon
Grade 6 teacher from Kingston, Jamaica

Hi, a colleague of mine showed me the Elmo once, but she was having trouble setting it up, so I never got a chance to see how it works. After reading your post, I was very enlightened, as I can see how it would work for my grade 6 class who are struggling writers. There are many issues that I have with their writing, and this would help a whole lot to see them critique each others work. I know they value their peers' contribution.

Once I tried to retype some of their writing pieces and displaying them using the multimedia projector, but that did not capture all of the things that I wanted to highlight. I sometimes have them do paired editing, but with the Elmo, whole group editing can be made possible. I believe that using the Elmo will help us to make great strides in the writing class.

I will revisit my friend to help her dust it off and ensure that it works properly, so that I can get to use it until I can encourage the school to purchase one, or acquire one by any other means.

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