Over the past two weeks, the students at my school have been among the first in the state to take NAPLAN (National Assessment Program of Literacy and Numeracy) online. Traditionally these are a paper-based assessment. Students completed the writing test on computers, as well as numeracy, reading and language conventions (spelling and grammar). I was so happy (and relieved) at how well things went. This event highlighted ongoing debate among teachers in relation to the impact technology is having on the development of student writing skills. It is a topic I have been throwing around in my mind for some time now and in this blog, I share some of my thoughts....
My experiences as a writer
I wasn't the best student in Primary School. I remember with clarity the ordeal that writing was for me. It wasn't easy. I was a weak speller and I struggled to compose writing that flowed. My mother would have to stand over me to get me to finish my weekly homework project. I remember rubbing out pages until they'd tear and starting pieces of writing over and over again until my hand ached. My handwriting, in contrast, was beautiful. A more gorgeous page of student writing would be rare to find and yet the minute you actually read it...well, it was pretty average. Many primary school teachers of course know that you don't judge a piece of writing by how it looks on the page, but I am fairly certain it helped me fly under the radar as a child.
This continued into junior high school until my family got a computer...and I distinctly remember things changing at this point. Composing text became easier. Editing and improving my writing was quick and didn't require me to start over. Spelling didn't hold me back and I learned new ways to say things with the built-in thesaurus. I could set out a few ideas and pad them out. Something about it just worked for me. Fairly quickly, my writing improved. I even started to enjoy writing! By the end of high school, I was an A student in English...who went on to be a teacher....and now a blogger! (That is not me saying that I am a good writer, just that I enjoy it more)
It is for these reasons (based on my own experiences) that I do not see technology as the evil that many others do. I do not feel that using a thesaurus or spell checker is cheating. My spelling and vocabulary improved with the help of these tools. I actually believe that the online Writing NAPLAN test should allow students to use all of the tools that a real writer might have access to in a platform such as Microsoft Word. If you want to test grammar, spelling or punctuation - do this in the language conventions test and let the writing be about ideas, structure and fluency.
I acknowledge that this may not be the same for everyone. I just know it worked for me. In saying this, I challenge those who are inflexibly single minded on hand written composition to consider that it may not work for everyone also. With so much talk about enabling learners, individualisation and differentiation why are we not allowing students to benefit from technology tools?
Writing goes digital
Looking towards the future, not towards a test
It is worth considering what we should be preparing our students for. Years ago, the ability to write pages and pages was required for students to survive standardised testing. With tests such as NAPLAN now moving online, it begs the question if this kind of gruelling endurance is required anymore. When I think about my day-to-day life, even working as a teacher I do not write out a lot of things by hand very often apart from the odd sticky note. There are very few paper forms I have to complete these days. I am currently working on an essay for university and there is no way that I am hand writing that! This is just not how things are done anymore.
It's not about one over another - it's more about the what over the how
I am getting over so many binary arguments in education - it's not always one or the other. With so much technology bashing lately, I felt like I had to make the argument for typing but the reality is that both methods still have merit and application. The most important thing is what is being written, not how it is being written. Different tools suit different purposes. Sometimes it is good to scribble some ideas out and to this day, I still love a hand-written letter. But sometimes when you are trying to piece together a more complex piece of writing, you just need the flexibility of digital text.
I'd love to hear your perspectives on this topic. Please leave a comment below!
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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