In class on Friday, I asked each of my students to complete a writing activity based on The Librarian From The Black Lagoon. The Grade 1 students were focusing on beginning, middle, and end, and they could either share their ideas in short sentences or a list, and the Grade 2 students were focusing on story elements. They needed to write their ideas in sentences. For various reasons, two of my students completed this writing activity on the computer, and the rest of the students wrote using a pencil and paper. They all wrote for about 30 minutes, and they were all working hard at this independent activity.
I was amazed. While I know that the students were doing their best work, I could not believe the difference in this pencil/paper writing versus the writing that I get from the students on the computer. I reminded the children to check for capitals and punctuation as I always do, but many of them had capitals in the middle of their sentences, even though this hardly ever happens when they type their work. Most of the Grade 1 students forgot a capital letter at the beginning of their sentences, but many of them remember when they are typing. Numerous students from both Grade 1 and 2 forgot punctuation marks, but they almost always remember them when typing. So why the difference?
I think that for my Grade 1 students, they are still learning how to form the letters correctly, and this impedes their writing when they are writing with a pencil and paper. This same problem does not exist on the computer. I also think that when the students are writing on a computer, they are usually writing for an audience, so they force themselves to go back and check for punctuation, grammar, and spelling too. They knew that I was the only one reading this work of theirs, so the change in audience meant a change in their approach. It really is amazing, but when my Grade 1 and 2 students are blogging or using GoogleDocs, all of them are successful, and the quality of their writing largely increases from what they can produce with a pencil and paper.
I’m not saying that I will never use a pencil and paper with them. Students need to learn how to print, and they need to learn about correct capitalization when printing too. I know that last year’s Grade 1’s did both, and I did see far fewer convention errors with the Grade 2’s versus the Grade 1’s. My approach for printing might change though. If I said that I would take a photograph of their work and upload it to their blog, I wonder if the students would have gone back and edited their work differently. I will also use various writing tools (from chalk and markers and pens to pencils), so that the students get excited about writing too. I think that attitude makes the difference.
What about you? Have you had a similar experience to this? I would love to hear about it.
I, too, have noticed this and I agree with all of the reasons you mentioned and I can think of one or two more reasons. I think that typed text makes it easier to notice upper and lower case letters because of the uniformity of the size as opposed to the variations often seen in the sizes of a first graders printing. Also, because first graders are starting to read more they are seeing more and more typed text while reading and it helps them notice mistakes more. One of those often quoted sayings is that the more you read the better you spell. I think this is true. The brain starts to remember those high frequency words and students notice spelling mistakes the more they read and typed text reminds the brain of the text the students are reading. I definitely notice improved conventions when my students (and my fifth grade daughter) type rather than print – even when I experimented and turned off all spell checking and grammar checking applications.
Thanks Jill! I never thought of this before, but I think you’re absolutely right. Almost everything that the students are reading is typed, and you quickly notice in typed text when a capital letter is out of place. I’ve heard the line before about the correlation between reading more and spelling better, and I completely agree.
Thanks for sharing these great points!
Do you think audience plays a role in writing? Your students are using periods and capitals when Tweeting or typing. They see the importance of the punctuation for the reader. Do they have others reading their stories?
Carmel Crevola said something fascinating yesterday. She says talking about how we get K students to understand that what they think can be spoken, what they say can be written and what is written can be read. She said, are you still a writer if you can do it mechanically? We said, yes you can organize your thinking and have your thoughts written down. She said, Don’t let the mechanics of holding a pencil or the formation of the letters limit the students writing ability. Hmmm… something for all of us to think about.
Angie, this is a fantastic point! I sometimes have my students read each other’s work when they write it by hand, but I must admit that I don’t do this as often as when they publish a blog post or work together on a GoogleDoc. Maybe providing that audience for their other written work would improve their use of conventions in this work too. It’s funny: I’ve heard what Crevola said before, but it never really resonated with me until right now. Thanks Angie!
Hmmm…It’s funny – I sometimes see the opposite with my kids. When writing comments for Twitter I notice that some of my students – even those who generally use appropriate mechanics – forget to do so when typing a message. Part of our problem might be that we don’t have enough iPads, so the kids could be feeling rushed when they are sending their message. My other thought is that they are so excited to type for a real-time audience and they just want to type their thought and SEND it, already! My students have not typed any longer projects such as complete stories, so it might change thinkgs when the writing has a different purpose and is not limited to 140 characters.
The students do read their handwritten writer’s workshop pieces in the writer’s chair, and they quickly realize how important punctuation is when sharing their stories orally. Thanks for making me think about the difference technology makes!
Julie, you just made me think too. Maybe having my students read their handwritten pieces regularly in a Writer’s Chair (for an audience) would make a difference for my students when it comes to conventions. I also know that my students spend a lot of time writing on the computer, so maybe with more time and writing longer pieces, this is making the difference in their writing. It’s hard to know. There’s so much to consider.
Thanks for your comment!