I didn’t ever expect to write a post with this title, but this has been stuck in my head for a while, I started writing it a few weeks ago.

Kenny Pieper is one of my favourite education bloggers. He doesn’t write much about technology but I don’t miss a post (his Book is a good read too).

In a recent post he writes about using google docs with his class and this bit brought me to a halt:

I would never use it with younger kids; they need to write accurately with pen or pencil before they should move on to more focused tools but for seniors it works really well.

From: What’s Up, Docs? Digital Technology in English.

I’ve recently finished my first year in a classroom in nearly a decade. A lot had changed! One of the thing that changed in my classroom is the children each had use of an iPad. I’ve blogged a bit about some of the technical aspects of the experience but not about some of the decisions made about when to use technology and any benefits. At the start of the year I didn’t introduce the iPads straightaway, but established jotters as normal. We discussed the importance of keeping using the jotters and over the year came to some sort of balance. I’d estimate about 1:2 iPad to handwriting ratio. Given that the primary sevens would be going to a new school next session where they would not have 1–2–1 devices I did not want to put them at any disadvantage.

It was a small class and only the older children, the primary sixes and sevens, did a lot of daily writing on the iPads. I’ve not got any statistics or real findings. I do feel that writing digitally has help with some of the processes of writing. In particular the ability and willingness to revise written work. Correcting ones own writing is a lot easier on a device and gives a more pleasing result in the main. Reorganising writing is easier too. Moving paragraphs around, or just creating paragraphs out of a block of text is a lot easier.

That should make improving writing easier? I hope so.

Kenny writes about his own experience of finding examples of his handwriting from the past.

I found a little piece of my own history when I came across the old notebook. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that same opportunity were to be denied to future generations?

From: What’s the point of handwriting?

Which was obviously an enjoyable experience for him. My own history with handwriting has been different.

All the way through school (and university) I got reminded that I would lose marks for my handwriting writing. I can’t recall ever feeling pleased with it.

Left handed, primary seven lessons with pen and ink were a smear. Even with a left handed fountain pen.

At sixteen, taking a shotgun licence form to the local police station my printed ‘signature’ provoked a ‘call that a signature son’, I’ve signed a scrawl ever since.

A gap of nearly 10 years between university and Jordanhill did nothing to improve the situation.

My first permanent head teacher gently suggested I practice writing on the board and at home. This I did for a few minutes at home (copied out the Tao Te Ching), and when I arrived in school. This improved my classroom writing enough to get by. Making Banda worksheets was an extended torture for me. Usually making a mistake right at the end.

When the same head suggested I improve my non-existent ICT skills by taking home a computer for the summer break I was not too keen, but I went along with it. I discover ClarisWorks and the ease of editing. I was much more interested now.

I write a lot. I’d not argue that I am a good writer, but I love blogging, as a way of sharing but more as a way of thinking.

The main difference between my blog and the few journals I’ve kept (I’ve found old travel ones) is that I can read the blog. I can search it too and find what I half-recall.

I don’t know if digital writing is better or worse for pupils literacy. I’ve read various bits of research but nothing conclusive. I certainly feel digital helps me and perhaps some learners.

Update: while this post has been maturing in drafts I read: Can’t Trust It: Typing vs Handwriting which indicates that the water is muddy.

17 thoughts on “Handwriting

  1. Interesting post John.

    I often wonder about the way time is used in school and what we could add and what we could ‘lose’.

    I’m not sure how much of a necessary skill handwriting is beyond being able to write legibly. Would that time be better spent coding, group working, doing the daily mile, etc?

    Spelling is another thing I wonder about. When we teach children with dyslexic tendencies, we discuss what ‘work -arounds’ we offer and how technology makes it much less of an issue. Yet we spend and hour a week sometimes drilling and testing spelling.

    I know what my thoughts are around using these times but what frustrates me is that there is never even a discussion.

    • Hi Robert, thanks. I guess handwriting might slowly slip off the curriculum if we get to a point where we have enough devices in school. I agree we really do need to have discussions about this unless we are just going play catch up with whatever comes along.

  2. Interesting observations John, on a topic I’ve never really resolved for myself either. My handwriting at school was never great and I too was advised to practice .. which as a 7, 8, 9 year old, of course I took to assiduously! In later years however, as a teacher writing annual reports for students, I was often complimented by parents on my handwriting. How things can change! I’m doing a fair bit of writing these days as you can imagine, and like you, I find the process of drafting, reviewing editing and redrafting so much more effective (and fulfilling!) using digital technologies. Nor, as you suggested, is it only about the finished product, but for me, is about the mental processes through which I go whilst working towards a finished product. It’s about learning. Even if I wanted, I wouldn’t be allowed to submit a finished product in handwritten form, but it’s interesting to speculate what effect it might have had on my learning. I am in no doubt whatsoever that the two products (digital and analogue) would have constituted quite different knowledge (There’s a bit of actor-network theorising hiding behind there by the way ;-).

    To return to the the pupils though, I think I agree with both you and Kenny, though am of course singularly unqualified to justify that. Were they my pupils, I’d want to expose them to both the digital and analogue realms and I’d probably shift the balance from an emphasis on handwriting in the early years more towards digital as they got older. I’d justify that in a couple of ways (although I can’t point to any research evidence – shame on me!), but I would invoke the more universally applicable notion that people are indeed different. What might work best for one wean won’t necessarily work for all. I wonder what the right ethical thing to do would be for an 8 year old John Johnston equivalent these days? Oblige them to work at their handwriting until it is considered ‘acceptable,’ or to encourage them to develop, record and express their ideas using whatever means suit them better? There’s quite a lot to unpick there I’m sure.

    • And just as a side-note, I composed that comment in Notepad (Windows) then copy-pasted it onto your blog. Less to do with drafting, and more to do with planning for the possibility that the comment might nor parse through upon clicking ‘Submit.’ Been burnt there once too often not to have eventually have learned that lesson.

      This brief comment on the other hand …

    • Hi Ian, always good to get some actor-network theory;-)

      Thinking a wee bit more about this and about your subsequent comment, I am convinced that different writing techniques have effects on the way we learn/think. For me blogging is a lot about getting my own thoughts straight. The ease of editing & rearranging makes it easier for me to rearrange my my thoughts. I suspect that different technologies have different effects too. Writing on a phone or tablet or a particular application helps or hinders in different ways. A blog post can for me, start as an idea on my phone, sync to my iPad for padding (sic) out and on occasions finish up on my laptop.

      As you say, lots to unpick.

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