Preventing Technology from Taking Over the Writing Process by Tracy Coskie and Michelle Horno

Preventing Technology from Taking Over the Writing Process

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Tracy Coskie (Western Washington University) and Michelle Hornof (a Bellingham, WA elementary teacher) say that when technology is used in writing instruction, teachers should engage students in real writing tasks and focus first on the writer, then on the writing, and only then on the technology. Stamina, ideas, voice, and craft – these are the core elements of the writer’s workshop. Coskie and Hornof have a five-point acronym for maintaining effective writing instruction and preventing “tech takeover” – E-BEST:

Embed technology in writing content. “Sometimes it is tempting to dream up flashy projects for our student writers as an excuse to use a new tool or program,” say Coskie and Hornof. “… Instead, consider first how technology can be embedded in the work you are already doing in writing workshop.” A program as straightforward as Microsoft Word might be the best platform for a photo essay. 

Busy does not mean purposeful. Students can be highly engaged in various aspects of computers but stray from their core purpose. For example, Coskie and Hornof noticed students working on a typing program and racing to meet its goals by hunting and pecking faster and faster – thereby reinforcing bad habits at the keyboard. Students working in Microsoft Word can spend hours playing around with Word Art, Clipart, photo borders, background colors, fonts, and font colors and lose sight of what they are trying to create.

Keep a critical Eye, exploiting tech’s potential and watching for problems. For example, students can use Prezis to give a nice sense of how details fit into the whole, but audience members can get dizzy if there’s too much zooming in and out. Teachers need to learn the potential and pitfalls of programs and guide students to use them effectively. 

Promote Social interaction. Coskie and Hornof suggest using the “each one teach one” approach when introducing new technology, exploiting the interactive potential and getting more students actively involved. “One of the hallmarks of a strong writer’s workshop is that it is a supportive social environment,” they say, “and this approach to technology helps to create that environment.” 

Teach technology explicitly. Students will need some aspects taught directly – for example, downloading pictures from a camera and saving them onto the computer. Coskie and Hornof recommend a mid-workshop tech tip – partway through the workshop, give a three-minute tip on one aspect of technology and add it to a growing chart of skills and techniques on which students can draw as they work. This also allows the teacher to check for understanding and re-teach to certain students if necessary. 

“E-Best Principles: Infusing Technology into the Writing Workshop” by Tracy Coskie and Michelle Hornof in The Reading Teacher, September 2013 (Vol. 67, #1, p. 54-58),; the authors can be reached at and

From the Marshall Memo #505

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