4(2) p. 128

PRINTOUT: Three Books on Writing and Word Processing

Ken Autrey

Parson, Gail (Ed.). (1985). Hand in Hand: The Writing Process and the Microcomputer. Juneau: Alaska Department of Education. Distributed by NCTE.

Rodrigues, Dawn & Rodrigues, Raymond J. (1986). Teaching Writing with a Word Processor, Grades 7-13. Urbana, IL: ERIC and NCTE.

Solomon, Gwen. (1986). Teaching Writing with Computers: The Power Process. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

The three books under review here attempt to show in various ways how current writing theory might best be combined with word processing. The longest of them (Solomon) runs to only 142 pages, so the scope of these recent additions to the computers and writing bookshelf is limited. The 137-page publication edited by Parson is the most ambitious, while the Rodrigues booklet (83 pages) attempts to address only a narrow range of concerns, in

p. 129

keeping with the "Theory and Research into Practice" (TRIP) series of which it is a part.

Hand in Hand is both a report on a project involving computers and writing and also a handbook for secondary school teachers wishing to make fuller use of word processing in the classroom. The book had its genesis in 1984 when ten teachers in Juneau, Alaska committed themselves to learning more about current composition theory while exploring connections between computers and writing. The result is a lively collage of personal narratives, testimonials, field-tested ideas, photographs, and brief essays. It is an experiment in collaborative learning and writing, compiled and edited by Gail Parson, a consultant for the Alaska Department of Education. Because the group included teachers of geography, biology and reading, as well as English, the book has an interdisciplinary slant.

The strength of this publication--and its potential value for other teachers--is the enthusiasm of the collaborators and the personal flavor of their first-hand accounts. Furthermore, as the contributors address practical problems, such as how to accommodate a classroom full of students when only a few computers are available, their personal experiences convey more credibility than would a more hypothetical account.

The book opens with a chapter on the writing process as explained by two English teachers. Chapter Two is an introduction to word processing itself. And Chapter Three concerns hardware and software used by the Alaskan group. Then, a longer chapter--and one of the book's most useful--details the training of teachers

p. 130

and students for this project. Chapter Five addresses a problem that has often been ignored in the literature: ways of organizing a class in which computers are being used. Chapter Six is a brief, impressionistic assessment in the form of a series of quotes from the ten teachers.

Each chapter includes Hot Topic pages which provide teacher options on a particular pedagogical issue, opinions often extracted from their journals. Most chapters include From the Classroom segments, each spotlighting particular instructors and learning activities they've devised. In addition, the book contains a number of brief teacher-written essays with titles like "Me? Computers? Impossible?" These frequently recount a teacher's doubt or reluctance followed by a conversation experience and a testimonial for this new method of teaching.

At times, the connection between the computers and the writing tasks are explicit, as in Didi Ryall's explanation of an activity requiring students to write guides for a computer game. In other units, such as the one on letter writing, word processing does not seem integral to the activity described. A more serious liability is that the activities do not always embody the sound writing pedagogy suggested in the first chapter. Furthermore, some sections, such as John Wyatt's discussion of hardware and software (though apparently well-informed) is too brief to be of much help. And it is difficult to understand why the editor saw fit to tack onto the book as an appendix three articles from other sources; as laudable as these may be (one of them is a widely cited

p. 131

article on invisible writing with computers); they do not fit this collection.

Gwen Solomon's book, Teaching Writing with Computers, has a purpose similar to that of the Parson book: to show how new writing pedagogy and computers can complement one another. She too takes her audience to be elementary and secondary school teachers and begins with her version of the writing process, which she calls "POWER" (Prewrite, Organize, Write, Exchange, Revise). The first part of the book consists of nine chapters, all rather sketchy, some hardly more than a set of notes, which outline Solomon's methods.

The bulk of the book, over two-thirds of its 142 pages, is a series of thirty modules, or lessons for applying word processing to writing. In each case, Solomon lists aims, objectives, motivation, and procedures. Unfortunately, many of these appear poorly conceived. Most modules do not clearly link the word processing with the writing. And despite the "POWER" process delineated in early chapters, her suggestions often reflect an outmoded pedagogy. Whereas she notes that "grammar as traditionally taught is an exercise in futility" (24), modules such as "Parts of Speech" run counter to this assertion. In short, this book seems likely to do more harm than good.

Of the three items reviewed here, the Rodrigues book may well be the most useful. The authors explain their purpose in the introduction:

Our intent in this booklet is to demonstrate how you can use a word

p. 132

processor as your central software package and how you can create lesson files for students so that you can teach writing in ways that research has indicated to be valid.

The nine-page chapter on "Theory and Research" is highly selective but serves well enough to lead into the major portion of the booklet, which applies theory to practice. The authors provide some general guidelines for incorporating word processing into a writing course. Then, they illustrate the concept of the "lesson file," which is the major asset of this brief publication. The idea is disarmingly simple: instead of purchasing software for prewriting, editing, and other tasks, the teacher can achieve the same results through imaginative use of the word-processing package itself. One of the lesson files, for example, shows how a heuristic procedure appropriate for a particular writing assignment can be placed on a disk for student use, allowing the student to work gradually from notes into drafts on the same disk. The substantial appendix is a sampling of lesson files, such as files for peer critiquing, editing, and literary research skills. In the Rodrigues' book, there is a correspondence here between current composition theory and practical advice. Thus, it avoids the discordance which is a major liability in the Solomon text and lesser one in the Parsons collection. This volume in the TRIP series shows that if used wisely word processing can complement a theoretically sound approach to writing instruction.