Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing: Paper & pencil vs. Technology



Each student has a laptop on their desk...it's an English classroom...so it's obvious: let's use the computers to write. I'm finding so many surprises during this year with computers. Here's one I'd never guess: many students struggle to write using computers!

Drafting on the computer is a new way to write for students. Before this year, we drafted using paper and pencil, sometimes notebooks, sometimes loose leaf...but the tools were basically the same: paper and pencil. 

The act of writing is thinking. Now with computers we are asking the students to think using an entirely new tool. Previously, computers were used for publishing...to make things look pretty...to polish an already finished piece. Think about how different that is. Polishing vs. building. Building requires concentration and focus and trial and error. It necessitates a switch in perspective. The computer becomes a writing tool and not a publishing tool. It is now helping students build and create, as well as polish and celebrate.    

I've watched students struggle with fluency and thinking of ideas on the computer. I am forty one years old. In school, writing for me was always paper and pencil. As I wrote more in high school, we needed to type our papers. Freshman year of college is when the computer appeared in my life: 1989 Macintosh.  Still there was a dot matrix printer and it worked slowly. It was the first time that I attempted to DRAFT on the computer. I was thinking with my finger tips instead of my whole hand. 

I write differently in my notebook than I do on the computer. There's an intimacy in my notebook. I connect more. I write more slowly and my thinking is more reflective. Having said that, I feel like I have more a-ha moments on the computer. I can move faster and it's closer to keeping up with the speed of my brain. 

If we don't give the students the opportunity to compose, to think on a computer, are we doing everything to make them the best writers they can be? A computer does not make a writer. It's a tool...a tool with which they need practice.  

It makes me wonder about the standardized tests. Now, students complete all standardized tests on computers. Composing on computers for state tests creates a new way of writing and if students aren't rehearsed in composing on computers, it's one more obstacle and challenge in testing. 

After only a few weeks, I already see growth. The perception of the computer is changing in their eyes. Typing on a computer is no longer about publishing. It's about composing. It's about working. It's about thinking. It's about writing. 

12 comments:

  1. You have touched the topic that we all face as our society becomes more and more techno dependent. I used to draft on paper and publish on the computer, but when I went back to get my doctorate in 2000,it became too laborious and the young-uns in my class all did their work on the computer. I slowly drifted over the keyboard side and now do ALL of my writing on a tablet or computer. I DO use my notebooks for ideas, thoughts and note taking - particularly at meetings. I find I do not listen as well when I am typing but I am SURE this is a matter of experience! For our kids, technology is the future and composing on technology saves time AND makes revisions easier and more fluid!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have had these same thoughts and concerns. We have 13 ipads and I have the dream of my students composing on the devices. Right now they are a bit shaky. I think because they don't get enough practice, many prefer writing the old fashioned way.

    I know my progression as a writer has moved from paper and pencil comfort to now thinking on a keyboard. I'm so glad to see your class moving towards a type of computer literacy. While it is initially difficult, I think most will reach higher as writers and thinkers once they get accustomed to the process.

    Thanks for sharing, it give me lots of hope! for my kiddos.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, you gave me a lot to think about here. I used to only be able to write with pen and paper. Now, I can only write on the computer. (I'm almost 40.) You're right - it's a whole different ballgame when we compose on the computer. I'm saving your post. I need to do some more thinking about it. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! Thanks Dana...let me know where your thinking leads...

      Delete
  4. I've been thinking a lot about drafting on a computer vs. doing it longhand (for a number of reasons) after reading Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. Are you familiar with her new book on writing? If not, you might want to get it. It might fuel the thinking you're doing about this (for your students and yourself).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stacey, I have the book Still Writing and it's in my TBR pile. I'll move it to the top of the pile. Thanks!

      Delete
  5. It took me a long time to make the switch from drafting on paper to drafting on the computer. Now, I usually choose to draft on the computer. It's made me think about my own instruction with my fourth graders. Up until last year, we always drafted on paper first and then moved to publishing on the computer. With the advent of Google Docs and other options, most of my students now choose to draft using the laptops or iPads when they are available. This is an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's such a dilemma in that although most of our students (k-8) in the upper half of the school are doing most on computer, we are still using field journals and writers notebooks because we believe it down slow them down & it also helps the handwriting practice. Sounds weird but our alums who return sometimes say they struggle with essay tests in high school (which are still hand-written) because they can't 'hand' write fast enough. Until "everyone" has the use of the computer, I find the full use of the computer an issue. I am nearly always on a device lately though. Just handwrite notes and writers notebook. You've posed such an interesting question!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have moved over to the computer for writing more and more...even my notebooks are giving way to the digital age. Somehow, this makes me sad. Reading your post reminds me of the joys of pen and paper - the way I've done it for most of my life.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a thought provoking post! I think about my students how the different ones draft their papers. Some would love to do it on the computer, and others would struggle. Perhaps this is something I need to practice more with my students.

    ReplyDelete
  9. To be honest, I am terrified about using the computer for standardized testing. I teach fourth grade and most do not have the keyboarding skills needed to "write" a prompt for 55 minutes. We teach kids that when they write not to be overly concerned about spelling everything correctly...just get your thoughts down first. How do you you tell them to get their thoughts down when they are "hunting and pecking" just to find the letters? Some serious thinking needs to be done about this. Great post Michelle

    ReplyDelete

Please share your thoughts. I love comments!