Technology Impeding Students’ Writing?

October 6, 2009 at 9:14 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

(Authored by Chelsea Griswold)

Last month, Berninger conducted a study that compared students’ ability to write with pen and paper or using a keyboard and computer. Berninger studied 2nd, 4th, and 6th graders with and without writing disabilities as they wrote the alphabet, sentences, and essays.

The study showed that while keyboarding was a more effective method of writing the alphabet, older students wrote more complete sentences and longer essays by hand. Furthermore, students wrote their essays faster when they wrote with pen. This trend of more rapid and lengthier composition with pen was also found with second graders.

It is important to recognize that longer and more quickly composed essays do not necessarily mean better quality essays. Fisch identifies this issue, as well as student ease with computers, as possible flaws in Berninger’s study. He suggests that it is possible that students do not have as much experience with keyboarding  and word processessing programs as they do with writing by pen. This inexperience would greatly impact the length of time it took for students to write an essay. Also, if a student is focused on finding the letters he or she needs on a keyboard, that student may be less likely to concentrate on effectively communicating their thoughts; thus reducing quality or length of their essay.

Anne Smith’s students (and others) weighed in on Berninger’s study as well. Their reviews and comments were mixed.  Clearly, writing by hand and by keyboard have different advantages. This study pointed out specific advantages for writing by pen, however the comments noted that writing using the computer allows for efficient editing, and greater clarity for writers with poor handwriting.

Additionally, the advantage of using a keyboard is being able to quickly communicate with others around the world. As Mary’s post states

“Literacy in the classroom will come in the form of many web 2.0 tools”

and so our students need to be able to communicate effectively using the keyboard to be literate and take advantage of web 2.0 tools. So, despite advantages of hand written communication, all students must be able to write using a keyboard as well as using pen.

This research and blogs raise some interesting questions for educators to consider. Are we impeding literacy, specifically writing skills, among our students by asking them to use a computer to communicate their thoughts? If so, are other technologies hampering students’ literacy, especially in technology-heavy courses such as math and science? Is it more important for students to be able to communicate using the keyboard as opposed to pen and paper? Should typing be a skill that receives greater emphasis than hand writing in our schools? How do we help students become more effective writers when using computers?


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  1. I found it interesting that the older group wrote longer essays on paper than with the computer. Our experience at home has been exactly the opposite. Our oldest, a solid left hander with a good writer’s voice looks upon writing with distain.

    As with many lefties, his writing is messy and cumbersome. He is a completely phonetic speller, often misspelling the simplest of words. Writing on the computer provides him the neatness he desires and boosts his confidence with spell checker coming to the rescue often. I believe his spelling has actually gotten better because of this. He is very conscious of his tendency to spell phonetically and in the presence of the spell checker, his tension seems to ease.

    When considering the reference towards the keyboard being an encumbrance I would tend to agree, at least initially. At first, typing was initially an arduous task for Cristian. For a student trying to formulate sentences on the computer, this undeveloped skill could pose a significant obstacle, even becoming a barrier to learning. Introducing a Sponge Bob typing game did help him to increase his typing proficiency and to significantly speed up the process, making typing much more enjoyable in the process.

    In our writing exercises at home we often use concept mapping prior to writing and that strategy has helped to increase response depth. It is initially done on paper to establish key ideas and for question formulation and subsequently on the computer via software (Inspiration 8) if a more permanent and easily modifiable format.

    Recent work conducted by speech and language pathologist Ingrid Behrns ( found that using computer actually helped to increased writing ability of test subjects affected by aphasia. Individuals with aphasia often have difficult reading, writing, and understanding language. While a time investment was initially learn the programs, Behrns notes that even individual who had aphasia for longer periods of time benefited, noting that they constructed longer sentences and where able to make corrections more easily.
    Perhaps the simple addition of these and other prewriting strategies could help students to combine the two activities into one more efficient exercise capable of bringing student’s voice to the mainstream. Being able to produce quality subject material, which can be shared instantly around the world provides an incredibly venue for the discourse which is so often missing from classrooms today.

    Bill Simons

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