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Insights From the Development of a Digital Writing Tool That Supports Students With Learning Disabilities

Screen shot of Writer's Key online tool for teaching composition writing

Ge Vue, Tracey E. Hall, Kristin Robinson, Patricia Ganley, Emma Elizalde, and Steve Graham


Learning Disabilities Quarterly




Conducting focus groups with target audiences to assess user needs is a critical step in the process of designing and developing a web-based writing environment. This descriptive study examined focus group data gathered to address two questions: First, do data from focus groups affirm and expand our understanding of writing and writing development among middle school students? And second, do data from focus groups provide information helpful to the use of digital technology for enhancing writing instruction, production, and engagement?

Analysis of students’ writing experiences across grade levels revealed that sixth graders placed more emphasis on procedural knowledge such as format, editing, and timelines, whereas seventh and eighth graders placed more emphasis on substantive processes such as plan, draft, and revise. Students’ writing experiences also showed a disconnect between writing behaviors they engaged in on their own (texting, social media, and email) and writings they learned in school.

Future research and instructional practice implications are discussed, including providing ongoing supports when writing and use of digital technology to enhance instruction and engagement.

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Cite As

Vue, G., Hall, T. E., Robinson, K., Ganley, P., Elizalde, E., & Graham, S. (2015). Informing Understanding of Young Students’ Writing Challenges and Opportunities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 39(2), 83-94. doi:10.1177/0731948715604571

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