Computer or notepad?

Yes, that is the question. I have had this question constantly on my mind after seeing it come across my Twitter feed:  “Wrestling with parent ? my child likes to write on the cpu & I’d rather he did by hand. Shouldn’t he write by hand? How to reply?”

That’s a tough one. Especially for me, a person who thinks she used to write essays and drafts by hand, but can’t even tell you the last time she did it. In fact, I remember absolutely despising having to write by hand when I could type. (My tenth grade teacher made us write a lot by hand…I didn’t like English class that year, but that’s an entirely separate story I will have to save for another day, ha!) When I think about the way I write, I can honestly say the only time I use paper and pencil is to 1) write out a very brief sketch/outline and 2) mark-up and edit. That’s it. Which leads me back to this question: what would I tell a parent who asks me a question like that?

The bottom line is every student is a different learner. Maybe some students work better typing, whereas others work better writing down things first and then typing. I’m not sure that I see it as a you either write by hand only or type only attitude. I think both can go hand in hand. (But it’s never really that easy, right?)

When I think about my students, I think about employing different strategies to meet each of their individual needs. I also think about showing them how to use those strategies to work best for them. In other words, I don’t think the question is about technology or no technology, I think it’s about helping people see how to best utilize the tools/resources around them to work more efficiently and effectively, as well as find out what works best for them. In the end, I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching my students only using paper or only using a computer. I think there is a fine middle ground that can utilize both resources differently for different assignments (if this makes sense at all).

So, perhaps my answer to that parent is still muddled around in my head somewhere. Yet, I know I would have to stress the importance of both practices and why each one is just as important as the other. I would also have to show the hows/whys behind why each practice works and how to best implement these practices (i.e. Spell check on the computer is not always 110% correct! This is how you mark out a mistake on a handwritten document!) I also have to keep in mind that what works for me as a writer may not work for my students. And I feel fortunate to have been in many situations with students (or close friends) who have asked me to help them get started on a writing assignment in which I have been able to sit down with them and say, “OK, let’s start here…” and devise a plan that works best for them. Thus, I really think establishing what works and what doesn’t work for each writer greatly helps…

And to close, a random thought: it’s funny that all of the books, articles, etc. I have read focus on writing strategies overall…but have never truly addressed the question this parent posed. Funny to think that 21st century writing comes in multiple forms today, but not everyone looks at it that way. To some, writing is writing, pen in hand, paper on desk. That’s it. But to me, writing is so much more today…

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