Hey Mom! I Spell Better When I Type!

sailingWe were on port tack in the middle of the Atlantic, moving fairly smoothly toward landfall in the Azores. Our family of four was on the way from New Orleans to West Africa in our 31 foot sloop.  After some rough days, it was a relief to keep my food down and enjoy being at the helm. Melissa, 11, was reading in the hammock, and Matthew, 13, was wedged in the companionway typing his log.  I had been encouraging him to use our little portable typewriter, because he was left-handed and had considerable difficulty writing legibly.  I was sympathetic because I could remember my own elementary school tears, trying to write as a lefthander.  I remember forcing myself to turn the paper to the right and hold my hand under the line so I wouldn’t smudge the ink.

Matthew used the left-handed  “inverted” hand posture when he wrote, cocking his wrist and using the larger muscles of his wrist and arm rather than the fine motor coordination of his fingers.  The letters ran together as if his mind was racing ahead of his fingers.  He missed details, like dotting i’s and crossing t’s.  He didn’t notice his spelling errors and could hardly read what he wrote.

He discovered typing on our voyage to Africa.  For “schoolwork”, we asked both children to keep a log of daily activities and events.  We had a contract to write a book about the voyage with all four of us as authors.  He soon realized that typing was going to make the task much easier.  He could read what he wrote, for example.  But realizing that he spelled better when he typed came as a sudden revelation.

On this particular day, he turned around with great excitement to announce his discovery.  “Mom, I spell better when I type!”  And it was true.  I compared several samples of writing cursive or printing with a pencil and with keyboard over the next months and there was no question that he spelled better when he printed and when he typed.

betterspell

So began my interest in writing as an important element of language development, and in the possibilities of how the keyboard might be a tool for facilitating reading, writing, and spelling for young learners.


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