Every year it seems as if spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have become a little harder for students to master. Despite the great lessons they have had before. Despite the repeated instruction, reminders, and opportunities in previous year’s classes, the fundamentals of writing just seem harder to master.
Some might say that it is not a big deal. That most written work doesn’t require handwriting anyway. That handwritten work is slowly dying and so why waste time worrying about things that can be auto-corrected. And sure, computers are definitely the way of the future, the way much of our society already is, and yet, there is still a place for handwriting. For sitting down with a paper and pen(cil) and doing the work. Even if kids choose to not do so on their own. And while, I am a fan of spellcheck, Grammarly, and all of the autocorrections Google Docs does for us, we kept wondering as a team whether these tools were part of the problem. Perhaps because we have moved so much of our writing to the computer, kids are not naturally noticing their own patterns? Not noticing when they don’t capitalize on their own name, the beginnings of sentences, proper nouns because the computer does it for them? Perhaps punctuation is being added at the end because it is easy to do on a computer and so it is missed while writing? The only way to find out was to try to integrate more handwriting, see if it would make a difference.
So this year, every single time we do our free writes in our writer’s notebook, they are by hand. Typing is no longer a choice unless it is a required component of an IEP. Kids are asked to grab a pencil, we have plenty, and to formulate their thoughts on paper. In the beginning, there were groans, complaints of how their hand hurt, which I get, how they preferred to type. But we stuck with it. Asking them to create in pencil, revise in pen, get a smelly sticker if you put in the effort (whatever they think effort might be).
And slowly, we are seeing a change. More punctuation, for sure. A greater awareness when sentences don’t make sense. More capitalization. The small components that seem to be needed as students grow as better writers. Better letter formation as kids realize that they can control their handwriting because they need to. We don’t assess their free writes, they are for them to play with writing, not for us to create a grade, but we do ask them to pay attention to the basics: Does it make sense? Did you capitalize? Did you use punctuation? But that is not the only change. We are seeing more writing. More ideas coming quicker. Better ideas being developed. Kids wanting to share their stories, their thoughts. Kids experimenting with the way they write and what they write about. An added bonus, but an important one, as we tackle all of the emotions that sometimes stop kids from feeling like writers.
Typed writing is still a part of our class. When we do large projects, when we research and such. And yet, there needs to be a space for the written word by hand as well. As more and more districts race toward one-to-one, I worry about the effect of eyesight with the increase in screen time, I worry about the lost instructional time every time a child has to log in, find the website, and the internet is slow. I worry about how kids share that sometimes staring at a blank document is more overwhelming for some of our kids than a blank piece of paper. So as my students tell me time and time again; everything in moderation, and that includes working on a computer.
For now, we will continue to sharpen our pencils every day, share a prompt, and ask the kids to fall into their writing. To simply try to write something, even if it is not very good. To focus on reclaiming this part of themselves that they may have become disconnected from in rush to computers. Settle in, settle down, get to writing…
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.