Technology-Based Graphic Organizers to Support Writing

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Dr. Anya Evmenova

Dr. Evmenova is a professor in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. Dr. Evmenova teaches undergraduate, master, and doctoral courses in assistive technology, special education, and research methods. She is the recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award, Online Teaching Excellence Award, and John Toups Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Teaching from GMU for her UDL-based instruction. Her research interests focus on the research and development of technology for inclusive education and academic instruction for students with various abilities and needs and Universal Design for Learning. Dr. Evmenova has raised more than $18.5 million in federal and state grants to support her technology development endeavors.  

The problem highlighted in this brief

This brief focuses on the use of technology-based graphic organizers (TBGOs) with struggling writers.  Writing is a complex task with which students with and without disabilities struggle (Graham et al., 2017).  One practice to help struggling writers is teaching them to use graphic organizers. Graphic organizers support students through visual and spatial displays and can improve comprehension and quality of writing when used during pre-writing activities (Hughes et al., 2019). TBGOs can offer additional benefits and scaffolds as they are presented digitally including text-to-speech, built-in video supports, hover-over hints, drop down menus, and individualization based on goal setting (Evmenova et al., 2020b).

Why does this topic matter to teacher preparation?

In order to support teachers with teaching writing to diverse students, they need to learn (1) evidence-based practices for writing, (2) technologies that support those evidence-based practices, and (3) how to marry these together within the context of the classroom (Goldman et al., 2023a).  In this brief, Dr. Evmenova shares how theTBGO developed by the Writing Efficiently with Graphic Organizers (WEGO) team can be integrated within teacher preparation programs in order to provide pre-service teachers with explicit instruction for classroom usage. 

About This Brief

In this brief, readers will learn about the importance of using technology-based graphic organizers (TBGOs) to support the writing process for students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and other struggling writers. Additionally, Dr. Evmenova will discuss the TBGO developed by the WEGO team at George Mason University, how to use it with students, and how to use it with pre-service teachers. 

Research and Practice Context

Using Technology to Support the Writing Process

Increasingly, student writing and technology are becoming intertwined (Goldman et al., 2023b). The writing process, which includes planning, drafting, and editing/ revising is taxing on the working memory (Berninger et al., 2002). Challenges for students who struggle with writing during the planning and editing/ revising stages of the writing process include those related to self-regulation and executive functioning (i.e., goal setting, planning, self-monitoring, organization, etc.; Goldman et al., 2023b). WEGO TBGOs have been identified as a strategy to support students’ writing process during these stages (Evmenova et al., 2019). Graphic organizers have been found effective at increasing the number and quality of ideas in persuasive essays and better thesis statements (Regan et al., 2018). TBGOs with embedded self-regulated learning strategies and explicit strategy instruction were found to be a useful support throughout the writing process (Regan et al., 2018). Beyond this, TBGOs are flexible and can easily be differentiated and modified to meet the diverse needs of the classroom (Regan et al., 2018). 

The following are key insights shared by Dr. Evmenova on this research. The interview focused on six questions around technology-based graphic organizers in teacher preparation as well as recommendations for teacher educators to incorporate these ideas. 

Q1: What issues are you trying to address through your work with technology-based graphic organizers?

Dr. Evmenova, along with Drs. Kelley Regan, Amy Hutchinson, and Boris Gafurov at George Mason University, developed the Writing Efficiently with Graphic Organizers (WEGO) project aimed at improving essay writing outcomes for students with and without disabilities and supporting teachers with data-driven decision-making during writing instruction. 

Dr. Evmenova: “ We have been working to develop these technology based graphic organizers to support essay writing for students with high incidence disabilities, [English Language Learners] students as well as just anybody who struggles with writing.”

Q2: Can you walk us through how your work with technology-based graphic organizers supports students with disabilities?

Evmenova and her team recently published a study that investigated the impact of their TBGO on the persuasive writing of students in grades 6-8th with Learning Disabilities. Findings included significant differences in the number of words, transition words, and essay parts between the pretest and the post-test with and without the TBGO, when students received the TBGO intervention (Evmenova et al., 2020a).  

Dr. Evmenova: “we're really trying to build in a lot of different strategies that students can internalize and then hopefully generalize to writing without the tool.”

Q3: How do you integrate technologies to support writing into your teacher preparation program?

One way that Evmenova and her team support the dissemination of their work with TBGOs to current and future teachers is through the resources on the WEGO website. They provide modules for self-paced professional development where professionals can learn about WEGO, using TBGOs in writing instruction, and using data-driven decision-making in writing instruction. 

Dr. Evmenova: “we need to tell our future teachers about tools like this. Right? So first of all, we need to raise awareness, the way we do it is obvious that we share all our work with our prospective teachers.”

Q4: How can we better prepare educators for using these technologies in the field?

Dr. Evmenova shares that, in teacher preparation programs, it is imperative that teacher educators integrate technology into their programs. She underlines the importance of getting pre-service teachers comfortable with using technology as a critical component of their teaching and student learning outcomes, as well as teaching pre-service teachers to try new things and be adventurous with technology. Dr. Evmenova strongly believes that the teacher educators role is to teach future teachers to research and find tools to use on their own. 

Dr. Evmenova: “I am a huge proponent of walking the walk and talking the talk. In my personal opinion, you really have to use these tools and that goes about technology, be it graphic organizers or any other technology, or UDL, it's not enough just to talk about those things. Students in the teacher preparation program need to get it in the hands”

Q5: What implications do you see for future research, and what are some questions we might be asking?

Dr. Evmenova shared that the next phase of their research is developing supports for teachers and families to improve student writing outcomes. Within the TBGO dashboard, teachers have the ability to score rubrics and view decision-making trees to guide their instruction. Additionally, her and her team are considering what features of the TBGOs are most effective and use those to guide future development. 

Dr. Evmenova: “What exactly do we need to have in order to make this a sustainable and effective intervention that everybody will continue using.”

Resources

In the interview, GUEST provided resources and technology tools for teacher preparation programs starting with TOPIC

WEGO

This is the general link to the WEGO project.

Modules

This is the link where you can find the self-paced modules to learn about WEGO and TBGOs.

TBGO

Visit this link to access the WEGO TBGO. 

References

Berninger, V. W., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R. D., Begay, K., Coleman, K. B., Curtin, G., Hawkins, J. M., & Graham, S. (2002). Teaching spelling and composition alone and together: Impli- cations for the simple view of writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(2), 291–304. doi:10.1037/0022- 0663.94.2.291

Evmenova, A. S., Regan, K., & Hutchison, A. (2020). AT for writing: Technology-based graphic organizers with embedded supports. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 52(4), 266-269. doi:10.1177/0040059920907571

Evmenova, A. S., Regan, K., Ahn, S. Y., & Good, K. (2020). Teacher Implementation of a Technology-Based Intervention for Writing. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 18(1), 27-39.

Goldman, S. R., Carreon, A., & Smith, S. J. (2023). Aligning an Editing and Revising Writing Strategy to Technology Supports for Students With Learning Disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 0(0). doi:10.1177/01626434231211294

Goldman, S. R., Carreon, A., Smith, S. J., & Zimmerman, K. N. (2023). Educational Technology to Support Written Expression: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Special Education Technology, 0(0). doi:10.1177/01626434231210987

Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2017). Evidence-based writing practices: A meta-analysis of existing meta-analyses. In Design principles for teaching effective writing (pp. 13–37). Brill. doi:10.1163/9789004270480_003

Hughes, M. D., Regan, K. S., & Evmenova, A. (2019). A computer-based graphic organizer with embedded self-regulated learning strategies to support student writing. Intervention in School and Clinic, 55(1), 13-22. doi:10.1177/1053451219833026

Regan, K., Evmenova, A. S., Good, K., Legget, A., Ahn, S. Y., Gafurov, B., & Mastropieri, M. (2018). Persuasive writing with mobile-based graphic organizers in inclusive classrooms across the curriculum. Journal of Special Education Technology, 33(1), 3-14. doi:10.1177/0162643417727292

Suggested Citation

Goldman, Samantha R. & the CIDDL Team. (2024). Technology-Based Graphic Organizers to Support Writing. The Center for Innovation, Design, and Digital Learning.