Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Great Debate - To Type or to Hand Write? That is the Question.

My first memory of sitting down to write was on my first day of school in Miss Persy's class at Bishopdale School.

I drew a beautiful picture of my family complete with a yellow spider sun and box house and Miss Persy wrote about my family underneath. She asked me to draw underneath her words so I did. A line. All the way around each of her sentences. 

I suspect I already could write as I like writing. I know that I didn't make that mistake again.

I remember writing letters to my grandmother and to cousins. We lived overseas for a while so I had a real purpose. It was a treat getting letters back. I wrote little poetry books with sugar paper covers attached with wool bows or staples. I had a lot of fun in Form 1 and 2 where my teacher allowed a group of us to write plays which we even performed on parent nights. These were usually based on books we had read and were definitely collaborative affairs. We carefully copied out the scripts for each other. Purposefully.

Even in the non exam years at high school we had imaginative teachers who allowed us to write the documents for medieval worlds. I remember a dictionary based on Jabberwocky and village magazines based on "The Sword in the Stone." We had copies of a lettering book and carefully traced or copied the fonts. 

But I'm not talking about hand writing drills. I remember going over and over letters at my expatriate school but discovering in New Zealand that my letters were not perfect enough. It was a real mission with an ink pen that had a scratchy nib and blotted the paper when I least expected it.

Handwritten essays at senior level were not so much fun. Writing and rewriting to make sure there were no mistakes - and second guessing where the grade or mark out of 20 came from.

By this time I had thrown away the cursive script as unwieldy, unattractive and belonging to my grandmother's letters. I printed neatly but had made my own style with little "a"s that looked like upside down "e"s and circles above my "i"s.

By varsity I had developed a scrawl suitable for taking down notes quickly although I still neatly printed essays, with that same rewriting I felt I needed for a quality product to impress the marker. I remember rewriting job applications many many times in order that the prospective employer would be impressed by my obvious thorough attention to detail.

My fingers still show the disfigured knuckles and sometime callouses of all that pen holding.

Then I stopped writing. I wrote comments on essays as an English teacher and my own banda sheets but I no longer "wrote". No audience, no purpose, no time.

Along came computers. What joy to type a letter which I could revise and send out to friends and family. I loved setting out the Parents'Centre newsletter. Why? 

An authentic audience. The ability to write and rewrite. The ability to satisfy my OCD tendencies with a beautifully typed piece of text.

I've promised myself this blog post for some time. I've read arguments about handwriting and typing. I'm not finished and I don't believe any of the pieces of research I've seen are conclusive.

I do know that writing is about joy of expression, meeting needs to communicate and choosing the best available tool for the job - my choice of tool.

I know students who didn't read a book until they wanted to read the road code.
I know students that only write in exams as a means to an end; but they text or use Facebook.
I have seen the "aha" moment on faces when Grandma replies to a post on a blog. 
I've heard students talk about the joy of writing on a laptop because they hate their handwriting style.

I enjoyed writing because I was creating. I do a pretty good two finger typist thing and would hate typing lessons just like I hated handwriting drills and other "have to complete" things. You know when you have to fill out a form or do a long survey? No joy there!

My 22 year old daughter completed her degree online. I completed my post grad paper online without ever touching a pen or paper. I actually made a point of it. I didn't want to rewrite text off bits of paper. I hate the piles of paper on my school desk that other folk have given me and that still require homes; while my computer drives are neatly filed and easily accessible.

So if I'm completing everything digitally and online, I wonder how my students will be communicating ten years from now?  We worry about the fine motor effects of not writing and the neural pathways that are not being formed, but should we? Are we not making other future focussed neural pathways? Developing our brains rather than our pencil holds?

Pam Hook's collection of research -