In Praise of Keyboarding

January 28, 2010 @ 1:37 pm | Filed under:

Monica Edinger has updated a post she wrote five years ago about technology in the classroom. I was particularly struck by this bit (emphasis mine):

Fortunately, as I described in my 1994 article, my students quickly proved the worth of this purchase.  Given the choice between writing with a pencil and writing on a portable word processor, most soon preferred the latter.  Initial frustrations due to minimal keyboarding skills and technical knowledge gave way to delight as the children discovered how much easier it was to plan, draft, revise, and proofread their work.  Students became much more independent as they discovered that they could move around text, add and subtract information, and even correct spelling without adult help.  The level of their writing soared now that the arduous nature of handwriting had been removed.  More children began seeing themselves as serious writers, taking their portable word processors out during free time to write stories on their own.  It was clear that the introduction of the word processors had been a great success.

This speaks to something I tell people all the time when they are expressing frustration over problems with getting kids to write. From the time I was tiny, I loved to think up stories (my mom saved my very first story ever, “The Big Ice Cream,” which contains such scintillating dialogue as “Hi! Hi! Hi! Mommy!”) but I have never really enjoyed writing by hand. And by “never really enjoyed,” I mean I kind of loathe it. My wrist begins aching after just a few sentences. So all through grade school and middle school, I started lots of stories but abandoned most of them unfinished because I didn’t like the physical act of handwriting. In high school my folks gave me an electric typewriter, which changed everything. And when I graduated from high school, they gave me my first computer, a kickin’ Commodore 128. (You know you’re jealous.) Finally my fingers could keep up with my thoughts—and my poor, feeble little wrist needn’t be overtaxed ever again.

And of course the cut-and-paste function is the best thing to happen to writing since the alphabet.

So my advice to parents who’d like to see their kids doing more writing is to give them access to a word-processing program and a fun typing tutorial. (Beanie has enjoyed this one.) Handwriting is still an important and useful skill, but there’s no reason it must be tied to the creative act of writing—and may in fact stymie the process. I’m quite sure I’d never have become a novelist if I’d been forced to rely on my cantankerous wrist.

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11 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Susan says:

    How true this is! After years of frustration with my son’s slow handwriting, I’ve finally seen the light and let him use the computer to do a large amount of his writing. What a relief! I’ll never let his slow hand-writing hold him back again.

  2. christie says:

    Whew! that typing game is fun! I am a fairly fast, but inaccurate, peeking typist. I never took any keyboarding, and I sure do wish I had. Maybe I should work on it.

  3. Charlotte (Matilda) says:

    But what about a 12 year old boy who is very much the “I hate writing because my brain works faster than my hand but I get frustrated with typing too because I’m not that good at that either”? Should we shut down all serious writing endeavors and concentrate on typing lessons?

  4. Melissa Wiley says:

    Charlotte, I would. My kids have liked the Jumpstart Typing and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing cd-roms as well as that Dance Mat Typing site I linked to above.

    In high school, the one elective my mother insisted I take was typing. I was furious, because it was only offered at the same time as creative writing, and I really really wanted to take creative writing. Years later I realized what a favor she did for me. I think that typing class did WAY more for my writing career than the creative writing class would have. 🙂 (And of course it made being an English major much easier too. Can’t imagine having had to hunt-and-peck all those papers!)

    (Thanks, Mom!)

  5. sarah says:

    I have the same problem with my wrist, and before I got a laptop I couldn’t even type much because my back and arms hurt too much.

    But when it comes to my dd, I’m a slacker. She is learning typing the same way I did – no programmes, just doing it lots. (I am a two finger typist but I go really, really fast.) I feel guilty that I haven’t given her proper lessons.

  6. coffeemamma says:

    Keyboarding also makes a *huge* difference for kids like my son who have dyslexia and/or fine motor issues. The physical act of writing is tantamount to torture for him, and spelling is a nightmare- yet he is one of the most creative (and funny!) kids I know. Letting him loose on the PC keyboard was the best decision we ever made; strangely enough, his reading improved right along with his typing skills.

  7. Robin says:

    We use Typing Instructor in our homeschool. I got it from Timberdoodle (my favorite company for homeschooling and out-of-the-ordinary toys). It has a lesson plan that you can tweak, and it has typing “games” that can play after learning a certain amount.

    I assign it in whatever class they are in when they can reach all of the keys. 😉 And I don’t have to supervise it one bit, other than watching every now and then in the beginning to make sure they aren’t peeking at their fingers.

    I’m really looking forward to when my one budding writer is more proficient. She writes great stories, and likes to give them as handmade gifts, but I’m currently her secretary. 😉

  8. Pippi says:

    It’s also fun for the younger crowd. My two-year-old LOVES typing. I never let her touch the computer until I was flat on back with first trimester fatigue and she begged to “pess buttons!” I was too tired to argue so I pulled up the word processor and let her press away. All of the sudden she knows most of her letters and is having blast not just typing them, but looking for them around the house.

  9. Mama Squirrel says:

    Our Crayons (third grader) tried the first lesson from Dance Mat Typing this week–lots of fun, thank you! Is there any way I haven’t figured out to actually log in there and be able to go back to what you’ve done?

    We also have a CD-Rom called Type to Learn.

  10. Lenetta @ Nettacow says:

    I found this very interesting! I linked to it on my weekly roundup, the post is under my name. I guess we don’t realize the beauty of keyboarding since we’ve gotten so used to it. Excellent points, thanks!

  11. Lori says:

    As one who could NEVER compose at the keyboard (typewriter or computer) I always LOVED to write everything longhand. Whenever I am anxious or scattered, writing lists and notes by hand still soothes me. I have long been a stickler for proper handwriting with my kids, but can see now (4 boys later) how it can be so draining when linked to actual “writing.” I’m going to start the younger ones on a typing tutorial and let the stories flow…thanks for the inspiration and encouragement, Melissa!