Teacher Editorial | By Tara Gauchier (BOLT student)
See how nice I can write in cursive. It took me many years to perfect my handwriting (many more to get the perfect signature). I was not allowed to print in school and so I followed the rules and adapted my printing abilities to handwriting. But increasingly students are not taught to handwrite. Slowly handwriting has fallen by the wayside and printing became more common, but the change did not stop there, technology came along (specifically word processing tools) and is now regularly used in schools. I type everything now. My handwriting (I use the term handwriting and cursive interchangeably, they mean the same to me) is not as perfect as it once was and I find it to be time consuming and, let’s face it, my hand gets tired from lack of practicing the skill. This leads me to two (seemingly) simple questions; Is the idea of teaching students to handwrite archaic? Should teachers push the use of word processing skills over the use of the hand as a writing implement?
What do I mean by Word Processing?
Word processing is software that “allows production and revision of text-based information but also allows adding many kinds of graphic elements to text products” (Roblyer, 2016). Using word processing tools has made my life as a teacher easier. Without them writing this blog would take forever! My corrections and changes would lead to several revisions, which again would take me (insert whiney teenager voice over here) forever to complete a final draft. The more inefficient my writing mode is the more frustrated I get, which leads me to be highly unproductive (and cranky).
In my classroom, I can see the same thing going on with my students. They have grown up with technology and most of them want to use it for everything. When I was young (many moons ago) my downtime was spent reading or colouring with actual books made from paper.
Technology has now given children the option to do both without any paper involved! I think it is safe to say that times have changed, but is it for the better?
Question with No Answer
The above question, where I asked if the change is for the better, and I mean the gradual introduction and possibly soon to take over world of word processing tools in the classroom, has no one clear right or wrong answer. As with any decision a teacher makes in the classroom, what kind of tool is used for writing clearly needs to benefit the student using it. In my first year of teaching I was all about having my students handwrite, but you know what, it wasn’t because I thought it was better for the students. I did it because the computers and word processing software was unreliable and ended up using so much extra time that it was very frustrating (ever see a kid cry because they lost 2 pages of typed work because of the software? Not fun). With all the technological updates in the school over the past few years I have focused more on using word processing tools, mainly because it helps student engagement. But are there any other benefits to word processing tools?
Two Undeniable Benefits of Word Processing Tools
Yes, there are benefits to word processing tools. The first benefit of word processing tools are how they help teachers become more productive forces. Being able to create, edit and share documents with and/or for students is a definite plus. Word processing tools help me cut down on prep time for my classes which, free up a teacher’s (me) valuable time that can (hopefully) be rechanneled into working with students or designing (more engaging) learning activities (Robyler, 2016). If you have read any of my previous blogs then you know I am all about Google and the GSuite tools are my go to time savers in the classroom. I would never be able to do what I do without them, especially the amount of time I save writing and editing my and my student’s documents (Roblyer, 2016).
The second benefit of word processing tools is the capability they have for interaction and collaboration between teachers and students, students and students, or teachers and teachers.
Students who do not normally vocally share their thoughts, or have trouble writing (whether special needs or mental block) have an opportunity to share using word processing. As a teacher, I can see how happy my students are when we collaborate on something together. The type of collaboration that can be done with these tools, hands-down (no pun intended) over surpasses anything that can be done by hand. The collaboration between teachers can also be a wonderful thing. When teachers can collaborate more efficiently, they get excited and feel fulfilled and when teachers are excited then students feed off this excitement. It’s a ripple effect at it’s finest!
Does This Make Me a Bad Teacher?
Am I a bad teacher because I prefer to see a typed story or report as opposed to an illegible one? Maybe a little. Only because somewhere deep down I know that printing and cursive writing are on the verge of becoming a lost art. There are some really great articles, blogs and websites that give all sorts of information on why it is important to learn to handwrite and I do understand and agree with a lot of what they are saying, but the more I use and implement word processing tools in the classroom, the more I like them. I don’t miss the messy writing, I don’t miss the ripped paper, I especially don’t miss the complaints about how long it will take to write something by hand. What I do miss is the random little drawings that would pop up every so often on the side of a student’s work. I have seen many unicorns, flowers, rainbows and (my all time favourite) army men fighting each other with angry faces as I read different assignments.
Initial Questions Answered
The answers to my first two questions; Is the idea of teaching students to handwrite archaic? and Should teachers push the use of word processing skills over the use of the hand as a writing implement? are both no, but teaching handwriting, like any other skill, should have a clear purpose to it. Nothing should be taught just for the sake of teaching it. I have read about the many advantages to handwriting, but the less I use my hand to write the more accustomed I am to not be using it. My thoughts do not flow as freely now as they once did when I handwrite. In fact, I need a word processing tool to get my thoughts out, to share things, to keep in contact with people, and to work. I can honestly say that I cringed a little bit as I wrote all that. Somewhere deep inside me I do feel like it is wrong for me to admit that I, Tara, prefer to use a word processing tool over my faithful right hand which has been with me since the beginning of my writing journey.
Final Thought (More of an Afterthought)
Honestly, after much revision and rereading and second thoughts and, most definitely, second guessing myself I have come to realize that I do miss the simplicity of and the admiration I had of my handwriting capabilities. I still use it once in awhile, but, as I mentioned before, it is nowhere as neat as it once was. Ultimately, part of me is drawn to the speed and the capabilities of a word processor and another part of me is still attracted to the beauty of my own self-made cursive abilities.
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About the Contributor
Tara Gauchier is an elementary teacher navigating her way through teaching and learning in the digital world. She has recently delved back into the Twitter universe and, right now, is a small-time tweeter. Check out her progress as she expands her PLN by using Twitter to connect with others Tara Gauchier @tara_gauchier