The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Refashioning the Writing Space

Refashioning the writing space for the elementary school student

Commentary #2~ Kelly Kerrigan Section 65A

What does the writing space look like today?

The writing space has undergone many changes in technology, from stone to papyrus to manuscript to computer screen. “Each writing space is a material and visual field, whose properties are determined by a writing technology and the uses to which that technology is put by a culture of readers and writers” (Bolter, 2001, p. 12). Bolter discusses how recording, organizing and presenting text is now done with a word processor and the Internet. One might see this as the modern take of the wall of a public bathroom stall. There are thoughts to ponder, to take away, and others to merely disregard. Sifting through these thoughts can take a moment or a few trips. It is our prerogative to decide what’s worthwhile.

Most adults are aware of changes to our current writing space, but what does that mean for the elementary school student? “Our culture has chosen to fashion these technologies into a writing space that is animated, visually complex, and malleable in the hands of both writer and reader” (Bolter, 2001, p. 13). For a parent of an elementary school student today, this image of the computer and online writing space as being malleable could provoke major fear for their child. This is especially true if the parent has never used the internet during their secondary or post-secondary education years. As a teacher, I have come across many parents who are opposed to using the internet as a writing space. For the children that I teach, their generation needs to be taught how to use this space appropriately and to their advantage, for this is their codex!

Bolter argues that the writing space is a cultural decision. Our current use of the internet as a writing space is a refashioning of the printed book. That being said, do we try to differentiate within this writing space? Do we as readers and writers tend to shun those rants and raves on weblogs and prefer instead those who have posted a document? As if those who took the time to post a document are much more competent in their thoughts than those who write in the common forum or wiki. Teachers must help students discern what is appropriate, but also help them use these spaces effectively.

For the elementary teacher and student, the forum and wiki are great spaces for students to develop their writing skills (McPherson, 2006). Collaboration within these contexts also provides an excellent space for skill development. “Unlike much of the individualized writing required in school and the real world, writing entries in a wiki demands that students be taught writing skills that emphasize negotiation, cooperation, collaboration, and respect for one another’s work and thoughts” (McPherson, 2006). One could imagine the wiki as the technology replacing the bathroom stall!

How does the changing writing space affect literacy?
As Bolter states, “literacy is, among other things, the realization that language can have a visual as well as an aural dimension, that one’s words can be recorded and shown to others who are not present, perhaps not even alive, at the time of the recording” (p.16). Within a wiki, students can use different mediums to enhance their message. “… Students can use wikis to insert music, graphics, video, and photos in their writing and to communicate meanings that were once inaccessible or not fully expressed through the printed word” (McPherson, 2006). This has a huge effect on the overall literacy of a group of students. For those who struggle with writing assignments or with conveying meaning in their work, using a multimodal approach to complement their writing can foster student achievement in literacy.

Research has shown that these new technologies being employed in the classroom challenge the traditional views of literacy (Jewitt, 2005). The technologies that create a new writing space enable a new level of literacy for elementary school students. What it means to be literate in the 21st century is very different from previously set standards. Unfortunately, students are caught between what is written in the curriculum and what is real. Teachers who embrace the new literacy standards are often criticized or held back from trying out new ideas, such as wikis; While older generations of teachers force their students to maintain the literacy levels they were once held to. The refashioning of the writing space for today’s student population involves new technologies, including the use of online writing spaces. All teachers need to embrace these technologies in order to maintain a high level of literacy for their students.


Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Jewitt, C. (2005) ‘Multimodality, “reading”, and “writing” for the 21st century’,
Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(3), 315–31.

McPherson, K. (2006). wikis and student writing. Teacher Librarian, 34(2), 70-72. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database on November 4, 2009.

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 9:28 am }

I agree that we need to incorporate new technological tools, but I think we also need to evaluate their effectiveness in the classroom.

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