The Donald Graves Address

2015 Address: Lisa Kervin on ‘Children Writing With New Technologies’

Writing is undergoing a period of great change in many classrooms. With new ways of producing texts and constructing meaning using new technologies, there is need to examine what these offer to text creation both in and out of schools.

Donald Graves, a pioneer in helping us understand how children write, gave us clear messages about the importance of investing time in all stages of writing, children choosing their own writing topics, the need for daily writing and time to revise, and the value of learning the ‘mechanics’ of writing within the context of reading and writing experiences. Some decades after these original messages, we need to revisit them as we ponder what Donald Graves might say about new technologies, and the opportunities and demands they offer to children as they produce and share texts.

New technologies allow for individual and joint construction of texts in multiple modes and media. Yet these social practices, and the wider learning opportunities afforded through the flexible and recursive ways in which children produce text with technology, have yet to be fully explored. Through analysis of children’s text samples we are able to identify a range of strategies they use as they go about a range of text production tasks. This presentation will explore learning to write from the perspective of young children as they engage with new technologies. Additionally, what this means for writing pedagogy and for literacy teaching and learning more generally will be examined.

Also access the companion text derived from this address in PETAA Paper 201: Students writing with new technologies, which identifies pertinent messages from Graves’ work and considers what these might mean as children write with new technologies.

Donald Graves (1930–2010)

Professor Donald Graves’ scholarly research and publication into how children learn to write revolutionised the teaching of writing in the 1980s, particularly for practitioners working in the early years of schooling. When Don passed away in 2010, he had written 26 books, numerous articles and spoken at many professional gatherings and conferences. He communicated with passion, reframed and raised learning expectations around student achievement and galvanised all who heard him to reflect powerfully and personally on their deepest teaching beliefs.

In one of his very early books, Don wrote: ‘Children want to write. For years we have underestimated their urge to make marks on paper. We have underestimated that urge because of a lack of understanding of the writing process and what children do to control it. Without realising it we wrest control away from children and place roadblocks that thwart their intention.’


To honour the importance of Donald Graves’ contribution to the teaching profession, ALEA and PETAA have made an ongoing commitment to support The Donald Graves Address. It is our intention that, through this address, speakers will revisit key messages from Donald Graves’ writings and research and draw connections with contemporary practice: identifying the roadblocks thwarting children’s natural intent to express themselves; challenging current orthodoxies; maintaining writing as a central, powerful and exciting process at the heart of children’s meaning making.

Lisa Kervin is an Associate Professor in Language and Literacy in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong. Lisa’s current research interests are focused on young children and the ways they interact with digital technologies and on the literacy development of children. Lisa is currently the NSW Director of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association.

Original book cover with Donald Graves adjacent to title

Donald Graves in Australia (Editor R D Walshe)

In 1981 the ‘process approach’ to the teaching and learning of written expression was generating a new energy among young writers K–7. Donald Graves' visit to Australia brought questions about 'process' research and practice — questions that are still as pertinent today, and answered by this classic publication in ePub. More details

In this short video from 2007 Donald Graves provides very clear and succinct advice on how to get a writing class started.