Touch typing or handwriting: which way to go?

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As an educator I am often asked by parents about the importance of handwriting and good old fashioned 'penmanship' versus the need for students to learn how to touch type.

Anxiety exists in both camps as parents seek to ensure that their children have the necessary skills for the 21st century as well as meeting current examination requirements at both school and university for writing handwritten extended responses. Additionally, I have been in discussions with ACARA as a representative of the Australian Primary Principals' Association as to when and with which age groups NAPLAN online is an appropriate methodology.

Much heated argument has surrounded the ACARA suggestion that Year 3 students are equally as able to respond to all tests, including writing, in an online format. Trial testing of online writing assessment with our Year 5 girls last term also highlighted technical issues that still require resolution at the ACARA end.  

Added to this debate, is the newly emerging research that handwriting notes enhances students' ability to learn, conceptualise and retain information better than when typing notes.

Research undertaken by Meuller from Princeton University and Oppenheimer from University of California in 2014 supports this statement: as when handwriting, students are not able to take down notes verbatim – as they can't write fast enough, thus, handwritten notes are a summary of ideas and information. The process of conceptualising and summarising appears to directly correlate with the later ability to recall, access and manipulate the information presented. Conversely, those using a computer are able to take down notes verbatim. This act of transcribing appears not to activate the higher order thinking in the brain and thus negatively impacts on effective learning.   

Yet what about writing to communicate ideas, stories and information? Research is clear on the benefit of extensive editing of writing that is possible when word processing. Such editing results in enhanced literary quality. The child who is told to go back and rewrite a 'neat copy' for presentation, after many hours of reworking the initial draft, is not motivated to write again when the process is so repetitious, boring and onerous.    

 

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Consequently, I have come to the conclusion that the debate of either handwriting or computer generated texts is the wrong one. What we need to be spending our and our children's energy upon, is how to build dual skill sets in both handwriting and touch typing. This then gives our girls access to the best of both experiences.

With this background belief in a dual platform, we have consulted occupational therapists to determine the optimum ages to teach each of these skill sets. Thus, it is that explicit instruction in handwriting is fundamental to our programs from Kindergarten to Year 4 with the pen licence still a highly prized acquisition at the end of Stage 2. Additionally, we ensure children from Early Learning onwards become familiar with the keyboard, mouse and online functions. We introduce touch typing to our girls in Year 3 and continue to practise this skill so that when the girls are using laptops to generate text, they have gained accurate and efficient touch typing skills before being involved in the one-to-one laptop programs in Years 5and 6.    

Currently we are undertaking a trial of a range of touch typing programs across Years 3 and 4 to ensure that we have the most effective program in operation. We undertake such trials at regular intervals as new programs become available and platforms alter. This trial will conclude at the end of this term, ensuring we are well placed to roll out the most engaging and effective touch typing program in 2018.   

Becoming a great communicator is our clear goal for all our Junior School girls. Ensuring they have the tools at their disposal to support such an intention is business we take most seriously.

 

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