This is a bit of a response to Brett’s article on Voice Typing in Google Docs. Brett’s a great speaker and I can see why voice typing would work for him. I’ve found it much less useful for constructing documents. It’s also a response to my own little epiphany about the way I and most of my students compose with their computers. I’ve been looking to improve our practice and I’ve come to understand and teach it as separating composing and reviewing.
There are two general modes of writing† (not including the thinking). These are composing and revising. You can call them writing and editing. Or constructing and styling. Or doing and reviewing (I like the rhyming of this one). It seems we work best if we only work in one mode and not both. Multitasking be damned.
I’ve been teaching my students to type. There are several aspects to this including learning the muscle memory and techniques of touch typing. This is only part of the battle.
The other big part of typing, and writing more generally, is getting the words out. I can type pretty fast but ask me to write a report or a blog post and watch me start to disintegrate. I was finding that writing by hand was working better for me because there’s less chance to stop and delete what you’ve done. I’m more likely to get into a flow and stay there. But then, I don’t handwrite very well and it means I have to type it up again after I write it. I know many classrooms still work this way; students write drafts by hand and publish them with a computer. In the past, I’ve compared students drafting stories by hand against them drafting with a word processor. Their handwriting has generally been much faster.
A class of year 3 students and I were discussing this separation of composition and revision. We made some rules for when we’re in compose mode.
- touching the word processor’s bells and whistles (styling and layout)
- asking about spelling, just spell it somehow
- judging what you type
- typing gibberish.
And, it was brilliant! I set a timer and it was like rain on a tin roof for 10 minutes. The students were so proud of their efforts and they had something that might not be their best work but it was something that could be proofread, edited and improved. We changed modes, pretending to push our pretend switches, and begun to read our work, use the spell checker, edit and improve.
Personally, this is something I’ve been thinking on for a long time but never applied to my own work until now. Applying it to writing this post, I have over 500 words that have taken me about 15 minutes to write and a whole lot less anguish than usual. It might not be my best work but I’ve hopefully been able to “hit the ball over the net,” as Michel Thomas used to say.
As for my students, my next step will be to continue their practise, record some simple data and check for evidence of improvement. I anecdotally think that this is one of the most challenging hurdles in school for a vast amount of students (to varying degrees). A small but deliberate approach of helping students to separate these two modes could have a strong effect on students’ writing output and overall learning.
† Because I said so.
This article was also posted at robmctaggart.com