Calculators, Spell Checks, and Ideas

As a regular thread of my educational contemplations, I wonder about the use of calculators and spell checkers in our learning. The debate is more than just about those tools – it’s really about the heart of learning, automaticity, and retained knowledge. I have a colleague that uses this analogy to try to convince me of her side of the argument: “Bo, are you teaching your boys to tie their shoes, or will they forever wear velcro?”

Recently, Bill Ferriter posted a brilliant piece entitled “Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?” Instantly, it reminded me of Jill Gough’s extraordinary post, “Calculator is to Arithmetic as Spell Checker is to Spelling???”

This morning, when I re-read both posts (I am a “stack reader”), I was reminded of the 6+1 Writing Traits Rubric that I have been studying with colleagues for the past 18 months. Finally, I had the Eureka Moment (sorry…I mean Coffee House Moment, Steve)! Texting and spell check and calculators may never help with conventions. BUT…I can imagine, as Ferriter and Gough suggest in their posts, that these tools make it easier for kids to spend more time in the other 5 areas: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, and Voice (and the direct or comparable areas in numeracy and mathematics).

As I understand the Bard Method of writing, one major tenet is to write often and to write often. We learn by doing. Failure is part of the practice. We don’t reinforce bad habits to an unrepairable degree when we fall while learning to walk or talk. Why do we assume mistakes always reinforce bad habits?

According to Ferriter and Gough, these tools are not crutches. I offer that they may even be wings for getting off the ground with ideas, organization, etc. May be worth testing the hypothesis, don’t you think?

2 thoughts on “Calculators, Spell Checks, and Ideas

  1. Pingback: Casio Reviews

  2. Bill says “Knowing how to spell isn’t essential—knowing how to identify errors and correct them is.”

    Can we also say ‘Knowing how to multiply fractions isn’t essential—knowing how to identify errors and correct them is’?

    It’s not like I can’t spell most words, right? I only struggle with some. To me, it’s like adding on my fingers. I have to chant “I before E except after C…” every time I try to spell receive. I add 8+5 on my fingers every time. Why shouldn’t our learners leverage the technology to dig deeper into Ideas, Multiple-Representations, Fluency, Organization, and Modeling?

    I would much rather our learners use their tools to practice, learn, and express themselves. I want our learners to find success with the big ideas. When I find success, I work more on the details.

    I love the connection to the 6+1 Writing Traits Rubric. I had the same reaction to Bill’s post yesterday. Thanks for connecting our work.

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