Elementary Schools : Oregon : Teaching the Write Way


IMPROVED STUDENT WRITING has long been agoal of Mapleton School District 32, as district scores onOregon’s yearly writing assessments have ranked consistentlybelow the state average. New writing goals were created fiveyears ago, accompanied by professional development for teachersto develop methods of bettering students’ writing skills. But allthe work was done with paper and pencil, and with little to showfor it, until the district turned to technology for help.

In 2006, Mapleton launched Writing Instruction Through Technology, a project supported by money from the state’s EETT fund. The influx of technology has sparked a new way of doing business in this small (180 students) rural school district off the coast of Oregon.

The percentage of fourth-graders who passed the statewriting exam jumped 50 points this past year.

Before the funding came through, many Mapleton teachers had workstations in their classrooms that were incompatible with the district server. The district’s one functioning computer lab was a dinosaur graveyard. Equipment was unreliable, outdated, and rarely used. When the grant was awarded, the Mapleton’s 18 classroom teachers received laptops and projectors, and each building was outfitted with a modernized computer lab. Digital cameras were made available to each staff member, and four individual classroom sets of 10 cameras apiece were available to teachers to check out and provide to their students for project work. Teachers received comprehensive professional development throughout the school year, to help them learn how to use the new tools as well as how to integrate them into instruction.

The new technology has generated what can fairly be called a writing metamorphosis in the district. Students are now completing writing projects that were not even imagined in the district only a few years ago. For example, first-graders are creating biographies of friends for which they take photos themselves and add text, sounds, and visuals that bring their work to life. Second- and third-grade students have mastered the tools of Kidspiration, a mind-mapping program from Inspiration Software, to organize their ideas and use in the creation of personal digital toolkits containing images, video clips, and text. The students use the materials gathered in their toolkits to make multimedia reports on content ranging from Native Americans to dinosaur investigations.

Book reports have also been transformed. For a novel she read, Katie, a fifth-grader, was required to complete traditional book report tasks such as plot summary, character analysis, etc. Rather than fill in a printed form, she used a digital camera to take pictures of the artwork she created for the report and to record her voice; she used the camera’s video capability to take clips of herself talking about her book. She imported her work into Windows Movie Maker to create a multimedia report infused with digital imagery, video, music, and sound.

“What really impressed me was Katie’s ability to multitask,” says her teacher, Sarah Timpe. “She actually made me feel like I am doing something right as her teacher in preparing her for real-world experiences.”

Digital cameras were also put to work by teacher Vern Eastburn’s sixth-graders, who used them to create oral histories of elder Mapleton area residents. The students used the cameras to record video, and iPods to capture audio, then edited their work with support programs such as Audacity and Movie Maker. The oral histories will be an asset to the newly formed Traveling Children’s Heritage Museum, which serves the district as a resource for acquiring and disseminating local history programs and activities.

Having just completed its second year, the Writing Instruction Through Technology initiative is already demonstrating a dramatic impact. For example, a year ago, only 25 percent of Mapleton’s fourth-graders met the benchmark levels on the state writing test. This year, that figure jumped to 75 percent. Technology has become a means of student achievement, and by using it effectively, the district has created a learning environment the equal of some of the finest Oregon schools.

Connie Eastburn is the elementary administrator and technologyproject director of Mapleton School District 32.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.