I was shocked to discover my very bright eleven-year-old granddaughter did not know how to use a mouse. She was interviewing me for a family history report, and we agreed it would be faster for her to type my answers directly onto the computer. When I suggested she use the mouse to correct errors rather than backspacing entire words, she informed me she didn’t know how. No one had bothered to teach her.
She knows how to search the web for information, find YouTube videos she likes, play games, and use apps to learn. She reads on a Kindle and is quite comfortable with and savvy about all kinds of technology. Just not using a computer to actually write something of her own.
When we tried to complete her school assignment together, my granddaughter was pretty quick at finding the keys to type the words. As a hunt and peck typist myself, I accept that kids no longer learn touch typing. After all, they don’t have time at school to teach cursive either these days. I guess since most kids use chrome books or laptops to write, the mouse function is built in. I’m old, so I love my mouse.
But here’s the thing. Writing would be so much easier for kids if they knew how to right-click on a misspelled or non-capitalized word or grammatical error to correct it rather than backspacing over the entire word or phrase and retyping it. It would also help if they understood the concept of a rough draft. First get ideas down in a document and then go back to make corrections. Change fonts, underline or bold words and phrases, add spaces between paragraphs later. It’s so much easier and doesn’t interrupt the flow of their thoughts. Also, being able to cut and paste to reorganize their writing is a very important skill for students to know.
I love using a computer to write. Back in the day when I was in school, I literally had to rewrite an entire composition to make major changes. Remember writing outlines? That was the only way to be sure your handwritten thoughts were organized before committing them to paper. By college, I had a typewriter, along with white out and correction tape. Still, once my words were on paper, I could only make minor corrections. So yes, I love word processing.
Learning to write a coherent essay or report would be easier for students if they understood the power of being able to edit their writing with the click of a mouse, or whatever passes for one on a Chromebook. But I also wish more time were spent on the building blocks of writing before they were handed that assignment to write a report in elementary school. I remember when my own children received these assignments before they understood what constituted a sentence or paragraph. Once, I asked a teacher how my child could produce a science report when the class had not learned what a paragraph was. He told me they would be teaching paragraphs later in the year in reading class. This was just writing for science.
That really confused me, and as a former English major and high school English teacher, I taught my children how to write a standard five-paragraph essay. No sense learning bad habits doing reports for science that were poorly written. Now, I see my children teaching their children things like where to place commas and how to write sentences that are neither run-ons nor fragments. From what I hear from my children who have taught at the college level and read cover letters of job applicants, many highly educated folks in college and beyond lack these skills.
Teaching children how to write on a computer involves both the traditional lessons of how to compose and punctuate their ideas to form coherent sentences, paragraphs, and essays, as well as how to unlock the power of word processing. Schools still spend a lot of time on rote memorization of spelling lists, often without understanding the meaning of the words or how to use them in context. Since spell check is a part of their lives, the emphasis needs to shift to the neglected aspects of vocabulary building and actually understanding how to incorporate these words into their writing.
In today’s world, kids also need to learn how to use computers to enhance and improve their writing. I asked my granddaughter when she was taught how to use the computer at school, and I was shocked to learn her word processing instruction consisted of two weeks of “keyboarding” in third grade. Being able to take advantage of what word processing offers is an important 21st century skill. Students should also be taught how to use spreadsheets and make power point presentations.
I had to teach myself all of these things as an adult because computers didn’t enter my life until I returned to college to earn a master’s degree in 1985, and went on to direct a preschool after that. Having had the painful experience of losing the first draft of my master’s thesis on my son’s Apple IIC, I was determined to become proficient in what I saw as a life-changing option for someone like me who loves to write.
Learning how to use a computer on the job was often challenging but also essential, and I know there is still more for me to learn. But for today’s school children, it is inexcusable that they are not being taught how to unleash the power of word processing. They will not have the luxury I had of figuring out computers on the job. Proficiency with computers and the ability to write well are essential to truly being college and career ready.