A lot of teacher-authors read my WordDreams blog. In this monthly column, I share the most popular post from the past month on my teacher education blog, Ask a Tech Teacher.
Good efriend Robbie over at Roberta Writes did research on the benefits of children learning to read using an ipad versus a paperback book. She came up with interesting findings (click to read them). She inspired me to share anecdotal research I did in the classroom with my students (I taught K-8 technology) on whether handwriting or keyboarding was a better choice:
Every year, I have 4th-grade students compare handwriting speed to keyboarding speed. We follow the Scientific Method:
- discuss the evidence–pros and cons
- develop a hypothesis
- test the hypothesis (with a series of four tests)
- revise if necessary
I wanted to test the reasons students come up with on both sides of this issue. I framed the discussion with state standards for keyboarding in mind as well as my school’s guidelines:
- students must type 2 pages in a single seating. That’s roughly 500 words at the 4th grade required speed or 20 minutes of typing at a single sitting
- students must type 25 wpm by 4th grade, 30 by 5th, 35 by 6th, 40 by 7th, 45 by 8th
Since fourth graders believed handwriting was faster, I put that as pro. Pros and cons came from a student discussion prior to the experiment.
Pro–handwriting is faster than keyboarding
- Students are better at handwriting. They’ve had more practice.
- With handwriting, students don’t have to search for the keys.
- I can handwrite forever. Keyboarding–I get frustrated
- With keyboarding, students have to use two keys for some symbols which slows it down
Con–keyboarding is faster than handwriting
- No worry about losing your paper.
- Pencils break, erasers disappear, points get dull. Then, I have to take time to get a replacement. Never happens with a keyboard.
- Hand never gets tired keyboarding [I disagree with that but this is student input, not my judgments].
- Eyes must constantly move from sheet to pencil. Once keys are memorized, I don’t have to do that anymore.
- Handwriting gives you writers bump if you do it too long—hurts for 4th graders.
- Erasing is easier on a computer.
- Spell check is easier on a computer.
- Writing on a computer is always legible.
- Quick formatting on a computer lets thoughts stand out.
- Correcting grammar and spelling is easier.
- Shortcuts in keyboarding make typing even faster.
- It doesn’t waste paper.
- My input to the students: You can only get so fast at handwriting–say, 45 wpm. Most students will exceed that speed with typing. Lots of people type 65 wpm. I type 120 (well, not anymore because of my arthritis). In the big picture, the average student will never handwrite as fast as keyboard.
Students really got into this discussion. There were hands up frantically waving until I had to pull the plug because we’d run out of time.
The test (five minutes typing and five minutes handwriting the same selection) had mixed results. No surprise, the better kids were at keyboarding, the more they liked it over handwriting and the faster they were. Most kids don’t handwrite much faster than about 32 wpm, a speed keyboarding can overtake by about fifth grade (Here’s another link to a comprehensive study on handwriting speeds).
The take-away after discussion: Handwriting maxed out at a much lower speed than keyboarding did. That motivated students to work on keyboarding because in the long run, it would allow them to complete homework faster, leaving them more free time for hobbies.
Truth, the results didn’t matter to me. We had a great time applying scientific experimentation to an authentic situation that students could relate to. Students talked about it for months afterward and were proud of themselves when one of our quarterly speed quizzes showed that they–finally–typed faster than their handwriting.
I don’t get a lot of comments on my teacher blog, Ask a Tech Teacher, so if you’re a teacher-author, I’d love if you’d drop by. If you leave a comment, I’ll definitely come visit you!
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.