Put Those Pencils Down

Untitled What do you imagine when you hear the phrase "rough draft"? Do you visualize a piece of lined paper and a pencil? My inner editor is a serious killjoy, and I learned early on that she'll grab an eraser right out of my hand and wage a war of mass destruction on anything that doesn't look "just right" the instant it hits the page. That's when I started using a pen so that I didn't permanently destroy a choice little gem of a phrase just because it's not what I need right now.

Students in elementary school write almost every draft with paper and pencil. I know there are a lot of reasons for this (including lack of a sufficient number of computers for all the kids to be able to do their writing with a keyboard). At least one of the reasons is that many parents and teachers believe this is the best way to get kids to write.

As an adult, though, I generally do all my drafting directly into a word processor of some sort. If my writing piece is for someone else, I always take the time to jot down some thoughts first to help me organize and focus. Still - the drafting occurs with a keyboard instead of a pen or pencil. I know I'm not the only one...

We're a tech-savvy house, and we've invested in enough technology so that the boys can use a computer whenever they are allowed to do so. It's more motivating for the Geeklings, and I find that they are more willing to write when I let them use a keyboard.

Just a few days ago, I noticed something amazing as my younger son (who is in fourth grade) was working on a writing piece at home. It went beyond just willingness or enthusiasm about writing. Using a word processor was actually TEACHING him things about writing as he worked.

1) Immediate feedback about convention errors.

Spelling - When kids write a word incorrectly, they often do it repeatedly over the course of an entire paper. The more times they misspell the word, the more firmly that incorrect spelling is ingrained in their brains. Even if we tell students to go back later to spellcheck, the fact that a red wiggly line shows up tells them RIGHT AWAY that the spelling is wrong.

Grammar - I got to have a great discussion with my son about fragments when he didn't understand why he got a green wiggly line. He fixed the sentence by adding in a verb, and off he went. He also got reinforcement of the "a" vs. "an" rule - right on the spot. Don't you think he's more likely to remember a lesson that occurs when HE needs it?

2) Revision is an easier sell.

After a student finishes a draft, we expect him to revise. Those revisions can mean a lot of extra work. Sentences or paragraphs moved around. Elaboration added through more examples or sensory detail. 

When those revisions require students to recopy the entire piece (often several times), they are understandably reluctant to comply. "It's good enough, right?"  

What if they could just click the cursor into place and add the detail? What if moving sentences or paragraphs was just a matter of copy and paste? You know YOU wouldn't relish the idea of recopying a whole piece. When I asked my son to make some changes to his draft, and then showed him just how easy it was to insert his changes, he was a much happier writer. 

I understand access is the first hurdle. If you can allow your students to do at least some of their drafts using technology, take the plunge. Don't let "tradition" stunt the growth of the writers under your care. 

Sometimes - or as often as you can - have them put those pencils down.

I participate in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by the amazing educators at Two Writing Teachers. We write and share on Tuesdays. Stop by to see what others are posting!

Also - if you stop by and comment, and you are also slicing - PLEASE feel free to include your URL in the comments. With over 200 people slicing, it is often hard to go find your specific link on the Two Writing Teachers page, and I'd love to come read YOUR slice too!


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