ERIC Identifier: ED264575
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Daiute, Colette
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.
Using Microcomputers in Elementary Language Arts Instruction.
The best way to integrate computers into the language arts curriculum
is to focus on the student and the curriculum -- not on the computer. Of course,
it is important to understand the capabilities that computer hardware and
software offer for language instruction. However, the key to using the
microcomputer wisely is to consider it in relation to teachers' and students'
goals and needs.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF THE LANGUAGE ARTS CURRICULUM?
Elementary language arts instruction is usually devoted to helping children
understand language critically and express themselves in speech and writing. But
individual students' needs differ from the first years of school. Some children
are able to write long pieces fluently, while others struggle with the mechanics
of handwriting. Spelling is more difficult for some students than others. Some
children like to write, and they write a great deal. Others don't like to write
but are quite talented orally. Such diversity is a problem for elementary school
teachers because meeting individual needs requires sensitivity to a variety of
students, orchestration of the elements of the classroom environment (desks,
books, visual aids, sounds), and ideas for stimulating all children to use
language in many ways.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE COMPUTER IN THE LANGUAGE ARTS CURRICULUM?
One of the main reasons some teachers find computers attractive is that
computers can present and monitor "individualized" instruction to many students
-- each at his or her own pace. Many computer programs provide spelling and
grammar drills that students can work through, pursuing supplementary or
"branched" lessons that are presented if they give incorrect answers. Such
programs free teachers from having to repeat the same information many times.
Although individualized drills may help students with specific skills, using
the computer only as a "tutor" does not address the goals of the language arts
curriculum or all the needs of students. Often, students with the weakest skills
use the computer only for drills, while more "gifted" students are allowed to
use the computer word processing programs for composing. The problem is that the
"weaker" students have limited written language skills because they have not
written in interesting, meaningful contexts. These students benefit from writing
and sharing stories just as much as -- and perhaps more than -- students who are
more proficient. All students should be given a chance to use the computer as a
Computer word processing programs can be used to enhance the communication
functions of writing because they provide easy revising capacities. These
capacities make collaborating with and responding to a reader's comments easier
for students than when they use a pencil. Children say that it is physically
easier to "say more" in a piece of writing when the addition of details does not
involve recopying. Computers also have the capacity to make many copies and neat
printed versions of texts.
Electronic mail programs also make writing to communicate with others
physically easier. Students find that when they engage in written discussions on
the computer (either by exchanging letters n diskettes or by sending electronic
mail to students at other terminals) they feel free to write as they would talk.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF COMPUTER SOFTWARE THAT SERVE IN LANGUAGE ARTS
Recently, many teachers and researchers have focused on using the computer as
a tool to simplify and enhance the writing process. For example, data base
programs provide research and organizational tools for students. These can be
helpful in collecting information before writing. Prompting programs offer young
writers suggestions on what to include in a given text or how to go about
planning it. These programs can also be used to present questions on a topic
when the student is ready for help. Word processing programs serve students as
they compose and revise their writing. According to many teachers and
researchers, working on organization, grammar, and spelling in the context of
one's own writing is the best way to learn. In this spirit, students can learn
more about spelling by running their work through spelling checkers when they
are ready to start revising or editing. In the process of using the computer to
check for possible misspelled words, many students notice other problems or good
points in the text as well.
WHAT ARE SOME METHODS FOR INTEGRATING COMPUTER USE INTO THE CURRICULUM?
When planning computer applications, teachers must consider the number of
machines they have available. If several classes share one computer per
classroom, students and teachers can use it as a message center and a publishing
machine for group projects. Producing a class newspaper is a popular activity on
the single-class computer. Of course, students can take turns at the computer to
write individual assignments. However, they may need several weeks or even
months to complete projects when there is limited access. If a classroom has
four or more computers, the possibilities for individual use become more
Since students are highly motivated to write and even to learn grammar and
spelling when they can work on the computer, the machine should be used by all
students, not just the individuals in the best or worst situations. Another
issue is student access to computers at home. Many teachers are concerned about
the fairness of accepting homework on computer printouts from some children when
others in the class do not have access to such sophisticated tools. Teachers
also wonder whether students who do not have their own computers should have the
most access to the limited computer resources in a classroom.
When discussing the question of access, it is important to realize that the
meaningful relation of computer activities to learning also determines the
usefulness of the tool. It has been shown that extensive writing leads to better
writing in the elementary grades. Therefore, if a student writes more when using
a word processing program, having extensive access to a computer is important.
We also know, however, that children do not improve language skills in a vacuum.
Simply having a computer is not beneficial without an environment of guidance
and response to student thinking, reading, and writing.
BASED ON RESEARCH AND PRIOR EXPERIENCE, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT IF STUDENTS USE
In the same way that many children began learning from television before
there was research on the effects of TV, many children are using computers
before extensive formal research has been done. Nevertheless, many researchers
and teachers have reported anecdotally that children enjoy writing when they use
computers. And when children enjoy writing, they write more. Since professional
writers confirm that the best way to improve as a writer is to write
extensively, this outcome is encouraging about the future of computer use in the
development of written language skills.
Young writers like to use word processing programs because they feel they can
create text more easily than when they have to hand-write. As has been
mentioned, students can also use the programs to make changes and corrections
more easily. Yet, in spite of the enthusiastic anecdotal evidence, formal
research has not yet shown that students make more mature revisions simply by
using a computer.
Since data base programs, prompting programs, spelling checkers, and other
language programs are relatively new additions to the curriculum, there are
fewer observations about their effects than about word processing programs. It
is clear, however, that students need guidance when using such tools.
HOW CAN TEACHERS BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH COMPUTER TOOLS?
The most direct and comfortable way for teachers to take the lead with
computers in their classrooms is to use computers for their own work. They can
start by using a word processing program to prepare work sheets, reports, and
lesson plans. They can put spirit masters in the printer if they need many
inexpensive copies of a work sheet. Teachers can also use a data base program to
store lesson plans and information about students' progress. A spelling checker
might even draw a teacher's attention to a typing mistake in a text. Perhaps
most exciting, teachers can use an electronic mail system or message diskettes
to engage in written communications with students.
DO YOUNG CHILDREN HAVE TROUBLE LEARNING TO USE THE COMPUTER KEYBOARD OR
Many children have an easier time learning to use computers than adults do.
If an instructor presents small sets of commands as they become useful for a
specific task (such as printing out a document), youngsters can learn to use
even a complicated word processing program. Young children remember commands
quickly -- usually after the first time they try them. With good instruction,
young children can also learn to touch-type.
Although children approach computers confidently, mastering the operations of
the keyboard and word processing programs takes time. At first, children will
not write more in the same amount of time than they do with pen. Children in the
upper elementary grades who have been successfully using pencils or pens take at
least a term to begin to write as much with the computer as they can with pen in
the same time. Typing and frequent access to the computer as a writing tool can
speed up this process. Even before attaining such fluency, however, students
using computers seem to be much more willing to stick to or return to writing
WHAT SOFTWARE SHOULD I BUY?
Since new and improved software appears on the market every day, a listing of
the best programs to buy is soon obsolete. Rather, the teacher should be aware
of the types of programs that he or she would like to use and some of the
sources of updates and reviews. EPIE (Educational Products Information Exchange)
and MicroSIFT are resources that offer continuous in-depth reviews of software.
Periodicals such as the THE COMPUTING TEACHER, INSTRUCTOR, SCHOLASTIC REVIEW,
COMPUTERS IN READING AND LANGUAGE ARTS, and CLASSROOM COMPUTER LEARNING review
software. If you can get copies of software for preview, resources like NCTE's
GUIDELINES FOR REVIEW AND EVALUATION OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS SOFTWARE can be
This Digest has shown that the computer can offer the language arts many
efficient tools for expression, student control of writing, and instruction
beyond the grammar and spelling drills most commonly associated with computers.
These computer tools are most helpful when used in the service of specific goals
by a thoughtful teacher relating to the abilities and skills of students as they
FOR MORE INFORMATION
THE COMPUTING TEACHER (Special issue on word processing.) May 1984.
Daiute, Colette. SMARTYPE: A TYPING PROGRAM FOR CHILDREN. New York:
McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985.
Daiute, Colette. WRITING AND COMPUTERS. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
Publishing Company, 1985.
Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE). 475 Riverside Drive, New
York, NY 10027.
Geoffrion, Leo D., and O. Olga. COMPUTERS AND READING INSTRUCTION. Reading,
MA.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983.
GUIDELINES FOR REVIEW AND EVALUATION OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS SOFTWARE.
Urbana, IL.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1984.
MicroSIFT. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory 300 S.W. Sixth Avenue,
Portland, OR. 97204.
Taylor, Robert P. THE COMPUTER IN EDUCATION: TUTOR, TOOL, TUTEE. Reading,
MA.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1980.