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Project-Based Writing: At the Intersection of Technology and English Class

Pennsylvania Convention Center, 201AB

Participate and share: Interactive session
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Ed Tech Teacher on Special Assignment
Petaluma City Schools
Laura Bradley has taught middle school English, Digital Design Lab and Broadcast Media in Sonoma County, California since 1988. Laura is currently the K-12 Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment for the Petaluma City Schools District. She holds an M.A. in Educational Technology and is a National Board Certified Teacher, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Digital Innovator All-Star, and first place winner of the Henry Ford Teacher Innovator Award.

Session description

Writing + technology + student-driven projects = enthusiastic engagement in the writing process. Inspire your writers with projects that honor student voices, offer choices and culminate in publication. Whether you teach first graders or 15 year-olds, you will leave today’s session with projects and resources to ignite your writers.

Purpose & objective

A challenge for teachers and their students is enough engagement in the writing process that students will care enough to work beyond their initial rough draft. Revising, editing, giving, receiving and responding to feedback are all dependent on the student’s own investment in the writing. Giving students choices in their writing is just one small step towards full student engagement.

Project-based writing not only honors student voice and choice, but it also moves writing to appropriate digital spaces to better meet the needs of the writers. While online tools like Google Docs allow students to share and receive feedback beyond their teacher, other platforms like the National Novel Writing Month for Young Writers website offer myriad writing supports for students, such as goal-setting and tracking towards a goal, pep talks from published authors, writing prompts to support them through writer’s block, and publication of writing for peer feedback and expanded audience.

Project-based writing also increases the students’ responsibility for the writing, as they are asked to pitch a proposal for their writing, outline their goals and reflect on their progress throughout the process. Publication of their writing builds investment (as a student told the presenter, “No offense, Mrs. B., but I put a LOT more effort into my writing when I know my classmates will see it, compared to just you seeing it.”); and technology offers a greater variety and reach of audiences for publication.

Attendees in this session will gain:
--How technology can support and improve student writing and writing projects
--How ISTE and ELA writing standards can be met with project-based writing.
--Specific examples of writing projects
--Strategies to support students throughout writing projects.
--Tips for planning a writing project.
--Free websites and resources that support teachers and students through writing projects, including curriculum guides and lesson plans.

Evidence of success comes from the presenter’s 30 years of teaching, in particular the significant increase witnessed in students' enthusiasm for and participation in writing projects (digital magazines, published novels, children's books). Success is also seen in the presenter and her students being featured in articles, videos and a book about project-based writing. Evidence of success also comes from author Liz Prather, who shares her students' successes in her book, Project-Based Writing.

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15 mins: presenter asks attendees: If they could spend a week, month or semester writing a story about anything they want, what would they write about? Could be fictional; could be semi-autobiographical; could be any genre: dystopian, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, romance, etc.
--Attendees post their responses in a shared Wakelet.
--Attendees discuss with neighbors/share out what they notice about the range of stories and the power of being able to choose.
Same question, except now what topic would they want to devote a semester to learn and write about for non-fiction writing.
--Attendees post their responses in the shared Wakelet.
--Group again discusses what they notice.
10 mins: presenter shares the definition of PBL and how writing projects can combine PBL with purposeful technology; and the power of project-based writing, both from research and from her own 30 years experience teaching writing:
--the student in the center of their writing;
--student voice/choice honored throughout the process;
--students learn to advocate for their place in their writing;
--student engagement in writing improves their efforts to edit and revise;
--extended writing project builds student stamina for writing;
--productive struggle and publication results in pride and confidence
--technology tools and platforms can improve student writing, from engagement to drafting, from feedback to revision, from editing to publication.
15 mins: presenter shares examples of her students’ writing projects, allowing time for attendees to ask questions about the projects. Included will be examples of how standards are met within the projects, as well as the technology and classroom strategies to support students through the writing projects:
--Children’s books
5 minutes: presenter shares website and book by Liz Prather: academic, high school, student-centered writing projects:
--Student ownership + student responsibility, from pitching each project, to a formal proposal, to individual goals, to proposed timelines, to daily writing and final publication of each project.
--Book: Project-Based Writing, by Liz Prather
--Student writing tools website:
10 mins: presenter shares a writing project planning doc with participants, who then brainstorm how they might create a writing project for their students; presenter available to answer questions.
5 mins: conclusion:
--participants share-out/discuss project plans
--Q & A.

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Supporting research

Decades of research have shown that student writing improves greatly when students are given some control over and ownership of their writing [National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS, 2001) the National Writing Project, the National Commission on Writing (Applebee, 2006), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE, 2006)].

Allowing students to choose the genre, topic, content and length of their writing empowers and inspires students to engage more fully in the writing process. The responsibility inherent in this kind of control results in more time spent on revision and editing, as well as improved writing skills and a more positive attitude towards writing (Morrow, Gambrell, Duke & Del Nero, 2011; Yancey, 2009). When it comes time to proofread, correct and revise their writing, students who have been given ownership are now more willing to invest the necessary time to polish their work for publication (Atwell, 1998; Moss, 2010; Rief, 2006).

There is also research that supports the use of new technologies to improve student writing:
Access to word processing has been shown to benefit young writers (MacArthur, 2009; Morrow, et al, 2011; NBPTS, 2001; NCTE, 2006). More than just the relative ease that word processing brings to writing, word processing also improves students’ attitudes towards writing (especially for those who struggle with writing), increases the amount of editing and revising that students do, and provides more opportunities to make writing a social process (Goldberg, Russell & Cook, 2003; MacDonald & Caverly, 2006; Millman & Clark, 1997; Yancey, 2009).

Research also supports the recommendation that project-based writing include publication of student writing both during and after the writing process (Atwell, 1998; NBPTS, 2001; NCTE, 2006; Rief, 2006).

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Session specifications

Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level:
Skill level:
Attendee devices:
Devices useful
Attendee device specification:
Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Subject area:
Language arts
ISTE Standards:
For Students:
Creative Communicator
  • Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.