Technology's Impact on Student Writing at the Middle School Level

By Cramer, Susan; Smith, Annette | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Technology's Impact on Student Writing at the Middle School Level


Cramer, Susan, Smith, Annette, Journal of Instructional Psychology


How does student writing in the areas of organization, voice, and/or ideas improve with involvement in technology rich instruction? Beginning and end of year middle school student writing samples from two matched schools in the same district were collected and analyzed for changes in organization, voice, and ideas. One school was believed to offer technology rich language arts instruction because of a special project called "The Movie Project" in which all students were involved. The other school offered a more traditional language arts curriculum. It was found that changes in achievement did occur but not in predicted directions. Likewise, the traditional curriculum was not necessarily void of technology use.

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Increasing student achievement in core school subject areas is of critical importance to most educators, parents, and communities. To achieve this end, many parents and other community members want schools to adhere to a traditional curriculum yet not present lessons in a dull and rote manner (What Parents Expect, Winter 1995/96). Legislators, on the other hand, appear to be most concerned with student mastery of content identified in state standards and measured via state tests. How this learning is to occur is not pre-specified, unless one connects the push with standards with the push for technology in schools. When these two funded initiatives are connected, one may presume that technology is the magic cure for increasing student learning. If this is true, educators have the choice of utilizing technology to deliver and support instruction which minors traditional practice or developing new instructional units which harness the power of technology, yet focus on student mastery of content and development of higher order thinking skills.

The authors of this study examined changes in writing achievement between two groups of middle school students. One group experienced a traditional language arts curriculum. The other participated in a more technology rich curriculum including a specially designed unit entitled "Movie Project" which fully integrated technology use and language arts content. A description of the sample, methodology and findings will be presented later in this article. It will include descriptions of the two curriculums, the "Movie Project," and changes in student writing. But first, attention will be briefly focused on what the literature tells us about technology's impact on both student learning and student learning in middle school language arts.

Review of Literature

The literature is both divided and mute in respect to the impact technology has on student learning. Lemke and Sweeney (1999), in their review of technology research report on Wenglinsky's Educational Testing Service Study, found that when computers are used to minor traditional practice and teach lower-order thinking skills (i.e. replacing paper and pencil worksheets with computer based drill and practice programs) student achievement drops. Conversely, at least in eighth grade mathematics classes, it was found that "use of computers to teach higher-order thinking skills is positively related" (Lemke & Sweeney, 1999, p. 37) to increases in math achievement. Robelen (1999, p. 1) reports that "critics argue that little substantive research establishes a clear link between technology and improved student learning."

Coley, Cradler, and Engel (1999) state "evaluations of educational technology are really evaluations of instruction enabled by technology, and the outcomes are highly dependent on the implementation of the instructional design" (p. 3). Robelen (1999, p.

1) appears to agree saying:

   Pockets of innovation exist where emerging technologies have played a
   significant role in helping to transform the way teaching and learning
   occur. Through new technologies, teachers have been reenergized, student
   motivation to learn has increased, and parents have become more engaged in
   their children's learning. … 

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