Noella Mackenzie

Keyboarding, handwriting or both for 21st century learning?

Think about the writing you do each day and what tools you use to do it. If you are anything like me, you jump from one screen to another, from tapping away with your fingers to holding pencils and pens to write in notebooks, on shopping lists and in your diary. You probably have not thought much about it.

For instance I am writing this blog on my laptop having just replied to a text on my smart phone and added some notes to my paper diary using a pencil. I do have an electronic diary, but after a bad experience of losing 6 months of diary entries from my electronic diary I now have both paper and electronic. You might be like me there too!

Literacy in the 21st century

This is the world our children are experiencing. The way they are becoming literate in the 21st century is so different to the way most adults today became literate.

We became literate in a time when literacy was reading, writing, speaking and listening, and life moved a little slower. (When I started my career we used the phone to speak to someone who was in a different location. Now I text or email more than I actually speak on the phone. )

But today 21st century texts are increasingly multimodal. They are created using different modes working together. A picture book is an example of a very simple multimodal text (images plus written text) whereas a webpage, or a movie, are both very complex multimodal texts with images, sound, movement and written text (even movies use writing in titles and credits and don’t forget subtitles). Children of today do not know a world without mobile phones, tablets and computers. They often learn to swipe a touch screen before they learn to hold a pencil. So where is this taking us?

Technology in schools and handwriting

 You might be surprised to know that half the tasks primary school children do at school every day involve writing. While some may think that this is done using technology, the reality is that is not the case. While schools strive to provide technology in many of our classrooms access is limited and issues with software, hardware and security and constant. Consequently, most of the writing our children do in primary schools at least, is handwritten. Is this a bad thing?

I am reliably informed that even in schools that are wealthy enough to provide (or require) that every child has their own laptop, there is a recognition that children still need to learn to write by hand.

I would like to know more about the attitude of teachers to handwriting and how they use it in schools today. I also want to know what parents of school aged children feel about what is happening for their children in terms of handwriting and keyboarding.

 What research so far says about handwriting

 There is a sound theoretical basis and mounting evidence to suggest that the relationship between handwriting and quality of written text is strong and surprisingly robust. It is certainly important when children are learning their letters. They learn the name of the letters, the sounds they make in different words, how the letters looks and importantly how to form or create the shape of the letters. There are also important connections here to how we remember.

Even adults remember more of what they write by hand than what they write on keyboard or tablet.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also teach children how to use keyboards, although there is some research to suggest that keyboard skills should build on from the skills of handwriting. According to Stevenson and Just (2014) it is more effective to teach keyboarding skills in Year 5 or later. Interesting.

What is important to learn when it comes to handwriting?

We can form letters in different ways and use a variety of styles. What is important is that the processes of letter formations are efficient. Most scripts have been designed with advice from experts in the area of fine motor control and posture.

Good pencil grip is important

Likewise, pencil grip. The recommended pencil grip is designed to allow the writer to write efficiently without straining the fingers, hand and arm muscles.

Handwriting is best understood as having efficient ways to write letters and words that lead to written text that can easily be read by both writer and other interested people. It is not about neatness, perfection or any particular script.

When letter formations are taught, children learn efficient ways of forming letters. When children rely on copying letters they can create inefficient processes that can become habitual. When children are guided to hold their pencil correctly at an appropriate time in their development, they develop an appropriate grip that will work for their fingers, hand, wrist and arm.

This can start before they start to learn to write, when they are drawing, and can be well established before they start to learn how to form letters and write words. If however, we don’t take notice of how they hold their pencil a poor pencil grip can also become habitual and very hard to change even though it is placing strain on the hand, wrist and arm.

It’s not just young people who use a mixture of handwriting and keyboarding today

I wonder what you were taught at school in terms of handwriting and keyboarding. My 90-year-old mother was taught Copperplate, and still has beautiful handwriting. While she doesn’t use a computer keyboard, she does text on her phone and use one finger to find her way around her tablet.

I was taught how to print (good old ball and stick) and then graduated to cursive at the same time as I graduated to a pen in primary school. I am self -taught when it comes to keyboarding. I so wish I could touch type. It would make the writing I do so more time efficient. But touch typing was not seen as a skill for students in the academic strand when I was at school.

What is happening in our schools today with the mixture of handwriting and keyboarding?

 This is the topic of my current research. I am looking at what is happening in schools with the mixture of handwriting and keyboarding. I am interested in the attitudes and experiences of teachers and parents around handwriting and keyboarding.

If this topic has tweaked your interest, perhaps you would like to respond to the confidential online survey. It is available now and closes on June 30.

My survey is for primary school teachers and parents of school-aged children. Go HERE to do it

Reference List available on request: nmackenzie@csu.edu.au

MackenzieNoella Mackenzie is a Senior Lecturer in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, Albury. She provides CSU students with current, authentic learning opportunities and assessment tasks which link contemporary literacy and relevant technologies with teaching and learning theories, practices and pedagogies. Noella is a member of the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE). For the past 8 years, Noella has focused on the teaching and learning of writing. The program of research has included (1) the examination of the relationship between drawing and learning to write, (2) the transition experiences of early writers and (3) writing development in the early years. In August of 2016, Noella will work with a colleague in Finland researching what Finnish children know and can do, in terms of writing, and how their teachers support their ongoing learning. Her research informs, and is informed by, her ongoing professional work with teachers in schools and her university teaching. Noella has been recognised for teaching excellence through awards at the state and national levels.

Learning to write in Year 1 is vital: new research findings

By the time children are eight they can spend up to half their day at school involved in a range of lessons that require them to write. Consequently, children who struggle with writing can be seriously disadvantaged.

My colleagues and I decided to investigate what was happening with the teaching and learning of writing in the vital second year of schooling, Year 1.

Learning to write is quite different to learning to read

Learning to write is quite complex and it is a skill we develop over a lifetime. Many adults find writing at work quite challenging. From that perspective it is quite different to learning to read. Most people can read quite well by about mid primary school and then difficulty is only determined by the content, context and familiarity with the language being used.

Learning to write however, has been likened by one researcher as similar to learning to play a musical instrument, it takes dedication, good teaching and lots and lots of practice to master. In the USA, research that explored adults’ ability to write suggests that poorly written job applications are a problem for many aspiring job seekers and many salaried employees in large companies require intensive writing instruction so they can write at the necessary standard for their jobs.

So what makes writing so complex you might ask? Firstly it is physical (handwriting or typing) but secondly it requires thinking and planning at lots of different levels simultaneously.

Authorial and secretarial writing

Specifically, writing involves two different groups of skills: authorial and secretarial.

The authorial writing skills are those involving understanding how to create a particular kind of written text (e.g. a business letter or a report), how to construct sentences in an appropriate way for the particular text and how to choose the best words to make your intended message clear to the reader. The secretarial writing dimensions or skills are focussed on spelling, punctuation and either handwriting or keyboarding.

We use quite different writing styles when we write for different purposes and audiences. For example, I write a lot in my role as a university academic but this is my first blog posting. I have had to think about how to write this blog posting quite differently to the way I think when I write a research article for a research journal. Children often start their formal writing with recounts but they then learn how to write narratives, letters, reports, persuasive texts and more.

Bringing the authorial and secretarial skills together is quite demanding for writers.

If a writer is concentrating on one or more secretarial skills it is harder for them to think about the authorial skills. Think about it as trying to keep lots of balls in the air at the same time.

What our study involved

In our study we were interested in how children in year 1 were managing the authorial and secretarial writing skills. We gathered samples from schools in NSW and Victoria at the middle and end of year 1. We analysed the samples using a tool which we designed for this purpose. (For details on the tool we used and to see some of the samples we collected please go to the Writing Analysis Tool HERE.)

Our findings

Our study provides interesting reading. Some of the findings were:

  • Children made improvement in all writing dimensions from the middle to end of Year 1, suggesting this is an important period of learning for them.
  • Across the samples the growth in sentence structure (an authorial skill) spelling, handwriting and punctuation (secretarial skills) were smaller than the growth in text structure, vocabulary use (both authorial skills). Sentence structure and punctuation showed the smallest amount of change from the middle to the end of the year.
  • Children were allowed to choose what they wrote about and most chose to write recounts (e.g. On the weekend I went to the football . . .)
  • Samples were examined in relation to each participating school’s Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) score as an indicator of Socio-Economic Status (SES). We found that in the middle of year 1, samples from schools with low ICSEA scores were not as strong as those schools with average or high ICSEA scores on all of the authorial and secretarial dimensions. However, by the end of the year, samples from children attending schools with low ICSEA scores had improved and had actually caught up with the children from schools with high ICSEA scores in terms of sentence structure.
  • Girls in the study performed marginally but consistently higher than boys on all dimensions at both data collection times. It is important to note however, that many boys achieved the mean scores for the girls.
  • We had a small number (40) of students in the study for whom English was an additional language. On average these children demonstrated scores on all dimensions at both data collection times that were marginally lower than the children for whom English was their first language. It is important to note however, that the EAL children’s gains between data collection points were greater than the non EAL children in 4/6 dimensions (text structure, sentence structure, vocabulary and handwriting). While they hadn’t yet caught up with their non EAL peers, they were making good strides towards doing just that.
  • In the second round of data collection, there was an interesting relationship between spelling and text structure.

Where to from here

Success with the authorial dimensions of writing means a child can organise their writing using a format which is appropriate for the intended purpose (e.g. a report or letter), write in grammatically correct sentences and carefully choose words so that readers can easily understand their intended message. Success with secretarial dimensions means a child can use tools like spelling, punctuation and handwriting (or keyboarding), to be able to write easily and efficiently and make their writing easy to read.

Our research can help teachers pinpoint children’s writing strengths and needs and track their progress. Teaching can become more focused in this way. We believe teachers of writing in the early years of schooling will find our research useful in their everyday classroom practices.

 

 

MackenzieDr Noella Mackenzie is a Senior Lecturer in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, Albury. She provides CSU students with current, authentic learning opportunities and assessment tasks which link contemporary literacy and relevant technologies with teaching and learning theories, practices and pedagogies. Noella is a member of the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE). For the past 8 years, Noella has focused on the teaching and learning of writing. The program of research has included (1) the examination of the relationship between drawing and learning to write, (2) the transition experiences of early writers and (3) writing development in the early years. Her research informs, and is informed by, her ongoing professional work with teachers in schools and her university teaching. Noella has been recognised for teaching excellence through awards at the state and national levels.

The full study by Noella Mackenzie, Janet Scull and Terry Bowles is available HERE