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Fourth-graders go digital

District launches $1.4 million digital writing program

Posted: January 29, 2009 10:28 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2009 10:08 a.m.

Plum Canyon Elementary fourth-grade teacher Deb Blesch, left, helps student Josh Lebman, as the class writes the story of the 'Monster in the Drain' on their new laptop computers, Monday.

Technology logged in as a central classroom fixture when fourth-grade students in the Saugus School District traded in their notebook paper and pencils for laptop computers.

District officials launched a $1.4 million grant to fund a digital writing program and purchased 1,700 laptops for fourth-graders in 52 classrooms, a district official said.

"We picked fourth-grade (students) because they have a state-wide writing assessment," said Jim Klein, district director of information services and technology. "The primary goal is to improve writing performance across all curriculums."

Now students can digitally create, edit and submit writing assignments in the classroom.

The laptops also link the students to an online writing evaluation tool called "My Access", said Arlene Anderson, district educational technology curriculum specialist.

"Students can write a paragraph and submit it to 'My Access' and within 20 seconds they receive a critical response telling them where they need to make adjustments in their writing," she said.

The program scores students based on a specific rubric and forces them to focus on different aspects of their writing, said Debora Blesch, a fourth-grade teacher at Plum Creek Elementary.

"I can give the computer specification on grammar, and it will just pick up on grammar usage," she said. "Or I could do nothing and they'll get a wholistic score."

The program's tools reduce the energy that teachers spend editing student submissions by more than 80 percent, Anderson said.

Klein agrees.

"We're getting the revision phase out of the way so the teachers receive the final product," he said.

The program also engages students in collaborative learning through the use of Web 2.0 evaluation, assessment, and social media tools, Klein said.

"It is about learning 21st-century skills: social networking, research, and technology skills," he said.
The electronic writing process helps students practice their typing skills.

"At age 9 and 10 they really don't have keyboarding skills," said Blesch. "I see them (typing) stronger than when I first met them. They're learning by doing."

The student laptops have longer battery lives and better memory sticks, Anderson said.

"The ones we purchased for the students are slightly different than what you would buy off the shelf," she said. "(Klein) worked to configure them so they would be really easy for students to use."

District officials purchased the laptops with funding from the Enhancing Education Through Technology grant. They applied for the grant in the Spring of 2008 and received full funding for $1.4 million dollars.

"There's a tremendous amount of training going into this project," Klein said.

Teachers are very happy with the results, Anderson said.

"Students want to write, suddenly. They're editing, peer-editing and striving to get a higher score," she said.

Officials hope the program produces a culture of technology integration and student enrichment that's revolutionary to elementary education.

"It's a level of technology that I didn't even know about (at their age)," said Blesch.

The Saugus Web site address is


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