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?