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.