Although this blog is titled with a question, I will not definitively answer it. This is an opinion piece based on my personal mindset and experience, but it may be helpful to some homeschool educators who wonder how they should incorporate the computer into their student’s writing program.
The fact is that kids born after 2000 are tech-innate. They don’t have to be taught how to use a smartphone or Google or a touch screen. They grow up with these things. It comes naturally to them.
But does that mean that these tech-innate kids should be using that technology when learning to write compositions? At what point should the computer or tablet become the default for writing?
Many people have opinions about this, but here are mine.
Writing on the computer in elementary levels (grades 1-6)?
Not. At. All.
At these levels, homeschool students should be writing academic compositions only by hand. Why?
- If students type their compositions from the start, they won’t develop the physical muscles they need to write properly by hand. Writing by hand is a necessary regimen to train their fingers to craft letters, words, and sentences.
- Learning to use the computer is distracting because it is an entirely different skill set. Elementary students need to focus on spelling and creating sentences—not navigating a keyboard or word processor.
Writing on the computer in middle school levels (grades 7-8)?
Yes… a little bit.
Now is the time to start integrating technology into the writing process, but don’t rely too heavily on the computer or tablet. Why?
- Some middle schoolers still need to work on their penmanship skills so need the practice of writing by hand. Honestly, this is a greater problem for homeschool students than public or private school students. Homeschool students have little incentive to write neatly because Mom can always just lean over and say, “What’s this word?” rather than giving the assignment a low grade because it was illegible.
- Middle schoolers are still young and distractible! On the computer, all the cool fonts and different colors and different sizes and—*gasp!*—adding PICTURES to the document is too fun to resist. Homeschool tweenagers will most likely focus on all the fun possibilities of the word processor… and forget all about actually WRITING well in the process.
At the same time, this is the age to start developing the computer skills that are necessary in the age we live in.
I suggest following the writing process by hand, and once the composition is complete, THEN have your student copy what they’ve written into a computer document. Now they can focus on developing typing skills and working with the computer without also have to think about drafting and revising and such because the composition is already put together.
(As a note, the EIW Scoring Services, which run from Levels 7-12, accept only typed compositions for all grades.)
Writing on the computer in high school levels (grades 9-12)?
In high school, homeschool students are creating longer and more complex compositions and should be very comfortable using the computer. Why?
- Typing their drafts rather than hand-writing them simply makes the process easier and more convenient in the revision stage.
- Homeschool high school students/graduates will be expected not only to write well but also to use the computer functions properly—such as setting the correct margins, line spacing, and paragraph indents. Developed writing and computer skills will be necessary in both college and office settings.
BUT, you don’t have to completely spurn pen and paper. Some students (and adults, such as myself) find brainstorming easier on paper than on a computer. Also, I do suggest editing hard copies of compositions. That is, print them out and mark them up; don’t edit exclusively on the computer. Something about seeing the ink on paper makes errors and awkward passages much more noticeable than text on a screen.
Quick side note: High schoolers should still be able to write compositions by hand, for the SAT and ACT still require handwritten essays. Also, almost every single college course I took included tests with essay questions that I had to complete with a No. 2 pencil. If your homeschool student has illegible handwriting or can’t get through an essay except on the computer… maybe work on that.
Writing by hand is important from the start and always will be, but introduce using the computer bit by bit as the student grows.
This is all my opinion about how to combine using technology and learning composition, but what’s yours? What has worked or hasn’t worked for your homeschool student?
After all, every student and every homeschool is unique. That’s the point, isn’t it?
By Athena Lester
Head of Curriculum and Scoring