QUESTION: My 12-year-old is a very reluctant writer who has done little writing. I want to know if he is supposed to write each of the assignments by hand, or can he type them? I want him to be creative and hopefully begin to like writing, but if he’s having to concentrate on his handwriting, I’m afraid he’ll never learn to enjoy it. Is it okay to let him type each copy of the assignment?
ANSWER: Kids should start getting comfy with a keyboard at an early age. After all, they’ll use computer skills all their lives! But unless students have a learning disability, we generally encourage them to hand-write the sloppy copy (rough draft) and type the next two revisions.
The Benefits of Writing by Hand
It’s important for students to keep up this skill. Even though you might hear that typing is the wave of the future, rest assured that your kids will always face situations where they must write by hand: note-taking, job applications, and timed essays come to mind. If they’ve had very little practice putting pen to paper, they’ll have a tough time of it when faced with an SAT question that must be answered without the benefit of a laptop!
Handwriting is becoming a lost art. Unfortunately, this is one occasion where your skill with a pencil matters. Graders read tons of essays each day. If they cannot decipher your script, they will lower your score. Do yourself a favor and write legibly. —The Princeton Review
Writing by hand also allows your child to proofread for spelling and grammar errors without depending on spell-check. Kids need to practice the lifelong skill of self-editing because, among other reasons, spell-check isn’t always accurate.
Other benefits include increased expression of ideas and better retention of information. Studies show that students who took notes by hand remembered more and understood the material better than those who took notes on a laptop.
A University of Washington study showed that kids “consistently produced more words more quickly” when they wrote by hand. They also “expressed more ideas.”
Your student may be on the younger side, extremely reluctant, or struggling with the physical act of writing by hand. All three of these describe my own adolescent boy! In these situations, it’s okay to let your child type his sloppy copy (or use assistive technology if needed).
Another idea: Let your child dictate his rough draft to you first as you write it down. Then ask him to copy it onto fresh paper before he begins to self-edit.
As small-motor coordination, hand strength, and overall handwriting skills improve through exercises like copywork and dictation, most students can eventually begin writing their sloppy copy by hand.
Typing Is a Good Thing!
Once your child has self-edited his rough draft using the Student Writing Skills Checklist, he can go ahead and type his first revision.
When I taught WriteShop classes, I actually preferred that my students type their revisions. Not only is a neatly typed paper easier for us to edit, it’s also easier for our kids to make changes before printing out a polished final draft.
Curious about all this talk of sloppy copies and parent editing and polished final drafts? This is all part of the writing process, which is incorporated into every WriteShop I and WriteShop II assignment.