2(2), February 1985, page 2

[conclusion of Parris article at top of this page]

Teaching Writing through Programming

Linda Hyler

South Junior High School
3027 Tomahawk Drive
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

I got involved with computers quite by accident--I needed an elective class for my doctoral program in educational administration. As a result, I have been involved with microcomputers since the School of Education at the University of Kansas offered its first class in educational computing. Since that time I have gone on to win jointly with my husband a first place prize from the Joint Council of Economic Education for a computer program and support materials we designed, and I have co-authored a computer manual, A Byte of the Apple, published by Reston. Obviously, I'm hooked on computers and want to share my love with my students. Despite my personal growth in computer knowledge and program design, my favorite activity for junior high students is still one of the first I developed.

I teach at South Junior High in Lawrence, Kansas. We had one of the first computers in our school district thanks to a government grant that our career education consultant received. That was a great year! I was the only teacher in the building who knew how to use the crazy thing or perhaps the only teacher crazy enough to want to know. At any rate, I could hog the computer--every day, all day. There was one tiny problem. We had no software other than the Basics disk and the SYSTEM MASTER. Then, there wasn't even that much on the market to buy--especially for education--nor was there money to purchase software. After we had all watched the Kaleidoscope program until we were seeing color patterns in our sleep, I decided that we needed to do something else, but was there life beyond the SYSTEM MASTER? Whatever I did needed to have some relationship to the subject matter in the core class I taught (American history and English integrated for two hours).

Because of the lack of software, our class at KU emphasized programming. Therefore, that was what I knew and what I could share with my students, but how to justify it in my curriculum? For years, I have had students write children's books and share their stories with a kindergarten class. Why not translate this activity to the computer? I did and what a success!

Writing was occurring at two levels. First, there was the creative writing of the story and second the technical writing of the program. Both levels emphasized different writing skills. Students had to create their story, plan it, compose the text, review, edit, and revise. This all had to be accomplished within the framework of BASIC programming. The programming demanded sequence, structure, outlines proofing, and revising (debugging). In both cases the goals were the same--clarity, coherence, detail, logic, precision, orderliness.

Before going to the computer, students had to plan their stories using story boards. However, what I loved most was what the computer and programming did for my students' writing habits. Suddenly, they had to spell words correctly. The computer would not stand for sloppy habits such as leaving letters out in commands. When they did make a mistake, they actually had to proofread to continue. For an eighth grader, proofreading is a fate worse than death. Yet, here were my little darlings proofreading their work and enjoying it. In addition, no one ever seemed to finish the book. There was always some item to add

COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 2(2), February 1985, page 3

or some bit of text to revise--without my "making" them. The young authors kept the books in a constant state of revision, never quite satisfied with their work. They had suddenly become self-critical about their stories in a positive way. Furthermore, students had to be precise, logical, cooperative, and responsible. Students who had previously slacked off on writing assignments suddenly wanted to take their turn. Initially if any lagged behind, the group pushed them on since the outcome depended on everyone's efforts. After all, everyone wanted to be able to share their stories with the kindergartners.

Each year the books have gotten more elaborate. One year one group added movement (raindrops appearing one at a time thanks to a time loop). The next year's class saw this and incorporated a rocket blasting off and returning. We have even moved into random color and some sound. As more advanced programming skills are being demanded by several groups, I just point them to appropriate references and let them do some research, experimentation, and problem solving to attain the skills they want. Each group gets more creative and the stories get better and better. This is certainly a project that is well worth the time spent!

If you are interested in trying this project in your class, I would be happy to share copies of some of our stories with you.