I did something yesterday that I’ve done less than a handful of times in my 22 years of teaching.  I came home early because I was sick.  Air was just not getting down into my lungs, and I felt about as bad as I ever have.  Many hours of sleep, a trip to Urgent Care, and some antibiotics later, I could tell I was starting to feel a tiny bit better because I could mentally focus to read.

It wasn’t just any light little piece of fluff that I tried to read, either!  Nope.  It’s a professional article called “Digitizing literacy: reflections on the haptics of writing” by Anne Mangen and Jena-Luc Velay.

As a teacher and a mom of two students who have struggled with aspects of framing thoughts on paper, I’ve always been a little perplexed by writing difficulties.  Why are some naturally good at spelling, while others aren’t? Why can someone with incredible oral expressive ability not hear the words in their mind and record them just as easily as they say them?

As both a professional  and a mom, I’ve felt a little shortchanged in this area.  How am I supposed to help students when I don’t really, truly know what’s wrong other than written expression disorder? I know a variety of modifications I can make, but how can I address something that isn’t really explained?

As I read the study, I realized a few things:

  1. We as a field of educators and scientific investigators really struggle with brain stuff.  We’ve done a ton of research about reading difficulties, but in my opinion, what we measure is the expressed manifestation of comprehension– expressed in a variety of ways– rather than actual comprehension. (Think about it… I’ll wait.) We have yet to be able to peer into the brain closely enough to see where the wires cross or fail to meet.
  2. Even though reading research isn’t all I would love for it to be, there is exponentially more of it available than for the act of writing.  Why is that? Writing needs love too!
  3. Technology is a good thing.  A great thing.  But if we don’t really, truly, absolutely understand writing and the neuroscience involved, are we doing students a disservice by asking them to shift gears between writing/drawing utensils and typing? Would this especially be true for students at a formative level, like in the primary grades?  There are some GREAT tools to help students who have a lot to say but are hampered by the processes of writing or typing.  My family is a big fan of speech-to-text opportunities.  But, I really do wonder– in our quest to incorporate technology for everyone, are we disrupting flow? Are we being mindful and deliberate when we do?  If so, on what are we basing our decisions?


Reading the article brought me more questions than answers, and I’m sure I’m going to blog about them again.  No promises that I’ll have any brilliant revelations, though.