Should my tween’s writing assignments be handwritten or typed?

by | Jul 11, 2016 | Special Needs, Struggling Writers

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.”

>> 20 Ways Handwriting Is Good for You and Your Studying

Making Exceptions

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! 

WriteShop I & II homeschool writing curriculum for teens

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.

Should my tween's writing assignments be handwritten or typed? | WriteShop

10 Comments

  1. S. Peterman

    I’m aware of the above beliefs and appreciate them however, having a child who scores A+’s but loses marks for (initially) not writing out a pencil rough copy of a story, I have to note that this philosophy has significant flaws. Your examples apply only to a specific sample of the population which could be examined as it leaves holes in it.

    My general point here, however, is that the few items you’re referring to that currently may still require handwriting are for those in specific categories or inaccurate – my daughter will never take SAT’s, for example, and her enjoyment of writing stories is fading fast with this process Many any jobs can no longer be applied for in any other way than via computer as handwritten applications are not accepted. Taxes are soon not not going to be able to be done in handwriting, and pension benefits applications are no longer being permitted to be applied for by hand. C’mon. Catch up.

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      I appreciate your feedback. As you noted, my examples “apply only to a specific sample of the population.” And that’s true; I’m mainly addressing homeschool parents who use WriteShop curriculum. But even when a student is not using WriteShop, I also suggest under “Making Exceptions” that a child who is reluctant or resistant can be allowed to type. This would include your daughter, whose creativity and love for writing seems to be stifled by writing by hand.

      My article, recently reposted, was originally written eight years ago, so you’re right: it could use some updating. But in doing so, I would only supply further arguments on the value of writing by hand, such as critical thinking, improved problem-solving skills, and general creativity.

      Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away
      Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?
      What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades?

      Handwriting may be going away for filling out forms, but it shouldn’t disappear completely. I hope it remains an important skill on a number of levels.

      Reply
  2. Michelle Cannon

    Great post! And so glad you mentioned learning disabilites. My daughters have dysgraphia, so obviously keyboarding helps them move a little faster in their writing. HOWEVER, writing is important to brain development. So even though my kids have this, I still encourage writing. And you know what? They, like their mom, actually enjoy the physical act of writing. “It’s satisfying,” my 18-year-old says.

    So parents, don’t let dysgraphia discourage writing. They CAN do it, and their penmanship improves the more they practice.

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with your dysgraphic kids and handwriting. I love that your daughter considers it satisfying!

      Reply
    • Kim Russell

      My 17 year old son has dysgraphia and has hated the physical aspect of writing. I have made him do about half of his assignments with handwriting and the other half on computer. I have also had him dictate many of his assignments to me and I wrote them down. This past semester he took an English class at our local community college, where he had to write two two-page essays in class. His writing didn’t always look good, but he got A’s on both of those papers and an A in the class. He surprised himself and me!! Encouraging physical handwriting is important for kids with dysgraphia, but I knew when I had to do the writing for him or let him use the computer.
      It’s a balance.

      Reply
      • Kim Kautzer

        Kim! What an encouraging story! I know you’re proud of your son for persevering. I can see why you’re so glad you made the decision to keep promoting handwritten papers at home. It paid off in spades!

        I share many of your experiences. Though my son wasn’t dysgraphic (that I know of), I let him dictate his rough drafts to me on many occasions while I wrote for him. It allowed Ben to formulate strong ideas and arguments without the added pressure of having to write them down himself. I also required him to copy those rough drafts in his own hand. As he grew older and more capable, I had him hand write some of his papers from scratch. Plus, he learned to type, which was so helpful. Like your son, mine did surprisingly well in college. I remain a big fan of teaching penmanship.

        Reply
      • Michelle Cannon

        Absolutely! Everyone is different, too. For all I know it’s a sensory thing for us. We just love the feeling of pen to paper. But my 13-year-old could care less if she EVER writes again (she also hates reading whereas my other dyslexic kids enjoy it). It’s all about balance and what works for each person

        Reply
        • Kim Russell

          That’s the beauty of homeschooling: teaching to each student’s strengths. My son would have been held back in traditional school, but he is thriving in homeschool. Every student is different, and balance is so important.

          Reply
  3. Kim

    I appreciate your thoughtful reply, Elisheva! I totally agree with your comments about students with learning disabilities, which is why I did make mention of letting up on such kiddos by allowing them to type all their drafts.

    While notetaking in a university setting can certainly happen on a laptop these days, other settings are not so conducive. For example, it’s not always convenient or “proper” to drag one’s laptop into church or other venues. Hand notetaking skills come in handy in these cases.

    And perhaps some day the SAT essay will be computerized. For the time being, while it’s still a handwritten assignment, students will need to be able to both think and write on paper rather than keyboard.

    I still hold to my belief that, at least for now, it’s good for students to write one of their three drafts by hand rather than on the computer. However, I’m delighted that there are options for students like your son who learn with difficulty. The computer is a wonderful thing.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Reply
  4. Elisheva Levin

    Much of what you say is true, and yet, for children like my son, writing more than a sentence or two is simply not an option. He has dysgraphia that is part of his autism spectrum disorder.

    Although the SAT currently requires a handwritten essay, his disability will allow him to use an alpha-smart or a computer. I believe the SAT will soon be computerized, just as many professional licensing tests currently are. So writing for many people like my son will be limited to signing their names and making short notes.

    Also, in university settings, more and more students are using laptops to take notes, and professors are publishing their notes and Powerpoint presentations online through WebCT and other course management tools.

    Writing by hand is more and more confined to short notes and personal correspondence–but even the latter is often done by word processing.

    All of this is to the benefit of people with certain types of disabilities.

    Reply

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