handwriting

Ink

Ink – Written by Hand (#INKdoc) from Ryan Couldrey | @RyTron on Vimeo.

INK follows Tanja Tiziana – a freelance photographer in Toronto, Canada – and her journey to rediscover the written word.

Brilliant.

I particularly like her take on the fact that handwriting is going away and she’s on a personal quest to save it, for herself.

As someone who’s severely dysgraphic, I enjoy watching other folks hand-letter things well. I’ve always wondered if I could end-run my poor handwriting with daily practice and truth be told, the typewriter and then the computer took care of the problem so well that I never worked on it. For more on this you might want to check out: Rooster Rock, Julia King, and a climbing trip that changed my life, One person’s path to literacy, and How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

Questions and Answers About Technology and Dyslexia

© 1994-1995 Richard Wanderman

Author’s Note These pieces first appeared in the Fall, 1994 and Fall 1995 issues of Perspectives, published by the International Dyslexia Association.

Overview
I am a successful dyslexic adult and part of the reason for my success is the fact that I use computers and other tools to organize my life and express my ideas. I am extremely opinionated. My strong feelings come from personal experience and the experience of thousands of people who I have helped get started with computers. The fact that I recommend certain computers, software, and other tools does not mean that they are endorsed by The International Dyslexia Society.

Question
We are interested in investing in computer equipment for our ten year old dyslexic child. We are looking at a scanner to enlarge print, and also to be able to have the material read back to him. We are also trying to make a decision on what choices of computer hardware and software would be available. It would be both user friendly and have software to aid dyslexic skill building and/or for regular academic reinforcement. Where can I get information on these specific concerns?

The Computer
When you’re making a decision about what kind of personal computer to buy these days there are really two choices: DOS or Windows machines (IBMs or compatibles) or Macintoshes. People who use Windows will disagree with this, but, in my opinion and in the opinion of thousands of other dyslexic computer users, the Macintosh is the easiest, most consistent, best integrated, and most enjoyable machine to use. In my experience, more dyslexic people (kids and adults) use the Macintosh than any other kind of machine. With a Macintosh, the machine falls into the background faster than with a Windows-based machine. This is important because you don’t want to spend your time learning about the computer; you want to spend your time using the computer as a tool for exploring content or making your own content.

Once you decide between Windows and Macintosh then you have to decide between desktop machine and portable/notebook. For doing the things a ten year old is going to do with computers, a desktop machine will be better. In the Macintosh world all desktop machines are now color machines and many models can be bought with CD ROM drives built in (CD ROMs are a medium for distributing software, usually with lots of images and sound).

For a high school or college student I might recommend a portable computer (in the Macintosh world these are called PowerBooks) so that he might carry the computer to the library to avoid having to transcribe from a notebook into the computer.

Follow School?
Another variable for parents is the question of buying the kind of computer a child uses at school. My simple answer is, it doesn’t matter whether you have the same machine the school uses or not because you probably won’t be running the same kind of software the school uses anyway. And, the kinds of things your child or you will do with a computer at school will be different from the kinds of things he or you will do with it at home. Why be stuck with whatever the school has decided is best? The bottom line is that kids, even dyslexic kids, can adapt to various kinds of computers much more easily than adults (so stop projecting your uneasiness about computers onto your kids!).

Large Print
Any Macintosh computer that has ever been, and probably ever will be, can display text in a variety of typefaces, sizes, and styles. The size of type is only one of many variables that can effect readability. The typeface used is also an important consideration. Macintoshes come with many built-in typefaces and you can purchase hundreds more. Any Macintosh typeface can be displayed on screen and on paper in a wide range of sizes to make reading easier.

Possibly a more important consideration in readability is not the physical medium, but the quality of the writing itself; the quality of the author’s thinking and his or her ability to illustrate that thinking with words. That’s another story (and column).

Getting Text Into The Machine
Before a computer can read text aloud the text has to be in the machine. Either the user has to write the text or have written the text, or somebody else has to write the text, or have written the text.

Keyboarding
Even considering what will eventually happen with speech (see below), learning the keyboard is an important part of the writing process. It is not, however, an important part of using a computer, just the writing process. For this reason, there is little reason to learn to touch type until one wants to write faster. Yes, I know how to touch type and I’m glad I know. But, I learned only after being motivated by wanting to write faster, not because I was told that it was an essential ingredient for computer literacy, which it is not.

The positive part of keyboarding as many dyslexics already know is that it does not tap our weaknesses; it is purely the memory of kinesthetic sequences which have little to do with auditory or visual memory. For that reason and the fact that I can look at the screen while I type, learning to keyboard has improved my spelling and my writing as well.

In the end, my advice is to let the need to learn to keyboard invent itself and when it does, be ready with one of the many excellent electronic keyboarding programs.

Speech
There is another option and that is speech. The original question didn’t mention speech and I’m not going to go into it now except to say that there is technology available, both on the Macintosh and in the Windows world for doing speech-to-text (you talk into a microphone and the computer displays your speech as text). The Windows product is called Dragon Dictate and the Macintosh product is called Power Secretary. There are limitations to both products and they are both extremely expensive. But what was expensive in the past is inexpensive now so it’s important to track this technology because eventually it will compete with, if not replace, the standard keyboard.

Optical Character Recognition
One way to get text into a computer is to take a page of written text, say a textbook page, lay it on a scanner, and make a digital picture of the page in the computer. This is referred to as scanning. The problem with scanning alone is that the image the computer has is just a picture of text, it isn’t the real text that can be edited and read aloud. In order to turn the picture of text into text that can be read aloud, a special piece of software called optical character recognition software (OCR) must be used. This software looks at a scanned image of text and translates the image into text characters. Just to be clear, OCR software does the scanning too. All a user does is place a book on a scanner and run the software, it does the rest.

There are a number of ways of doing OCR. One way is with a hand-held scanner that the user drags over a page. Another way is with a flatbed scanner (looks like a photocopy machine) that the user places a book on face down.

Also note that many OCR packages have certain scanner and computer requirements. If you know that OCR is going to be an important use of your machine, make your shopping list accordingly.

A final note: I do not own OCR software, although I have a scanner which I use to scan artwork rather than text. I can read. I read slowly, but fast enough so that this technology would get in my way. I’m assuming that most dyslexics might have limited use for this kind of technology in the early parts of their reading careers, but after a while their reading will improve to the point that going through this process will seem more cumbersome than just sitting down and reading the material.

Electronic Books
There are also other options for getting text into your computer. Books that are out of copyright can be legally scanned or keyboarded into computers. This includes much of the literature that is studied in many high school curriculums. For instance, the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe are available on many online services for users to take, for free. And, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of other electronic texts available, as well as electronic versions of Barron’s Book Notes and other study aids. Of course, once you have the electronic text on your machine, you can enlarge its type or have the machine read it to you.

Online Services
The easiest way to have access to this wealth of electronic information is to join a commercial online service. And, the easiest-to-use and cheapest online service is America Online (AOL). AOL is available on both Windows machines and Macintoshes and provides numerous resources for both kids and adults with dyslexia: electronic mail, a learning disabilities forum for questions, answers, talk with other people with learning problems, access to hundreds of electronic books and other useful software, and more.

A modem is required for access to any online services.

The Ability to Read Text Aloud
There are two ways of storing and retrieving audible text on a computer. You can read some text into a microphone and record it such that the computer will play it back like a tape recorder. This is called digitized sound. Just like an audio compact disc (CD), the content sounds very good. Most multi-media products that have fixed content use digitized sound.

The problem with digitized sound is that it is not interactive: it can’t read (play) what you type on the screen because that content wasn’t fixed ahead of time. Theoretically, I could digitize every word I might type, but what would happen when I made a spelling mistake? Would the computer read back the word spelled correctly? How could it?

To have text read aloud interactively: what you type is what you hear, a speech synthesizer is used. This technology is sometimes called “text-to-speech.” Text-to-speech technology is software that you install on your computer. The quality of the sound this technology makes is inferior to the quality of digitized sound, but the fact that it is completely interactive makes up for the drop in sound quality. With this technology you can have any text read back to you, text that you write or text that someone else has written.

You should note that for teaching basic vowel sounds to dyslexics with weak auditory discrimination, text-to-speech technology leave much to be desired, but you probably would use a program with digitized speech for this purpose anyway and leave the synthesized speech for use when kids are doing more writing and need more interaction.

Any current Macintosh computer is capable of doing text to speech synthesis and this capability is built into many products.

Question
How do computers change the writing process and what effect might this have on a dyslexic writer?

Answer
Using a computer and various pieces of software for writing makes the writing process easier, and so allows more writing to take place. Word processing software doesn’t necessarily teach people how to write; it simply allows more writing to take place (by making the process easier) and so, allows people to learn from their own writing experience. Here it is again: the way to learn how to write is to do a lot of writing, and using a computer and software for writing can make the process of doing a lot of writing easier.

Why Write?
How do you get someone who hates writing to use a tool – even one as potentially interesting as a computer – to do something that is hard, unpleasant, or may have no personal meaning beyond getting through school? Just having access to a computer doesn’t automatically solve a writing problem; the computer has to be used regularly as a writing tool to produce a variety of writing.

One solution is to find a motivating force to get a person started with writing and keep them writing long enough to get hooked on the process. An external motivating force (an assignment or a reward) may work in the short term, but it’s not portable and may not work with every writing task a person has to do in life. What happens when the external motivation isn’t there? Better to learn how to produce an internal motivating force, for instance, sharing a piece of knowledge, an idea, an opinion, anger, or joy.

Separating the Tool from the Writing
It’s also important to help dyslexic writers keep certain ideas clear in their minds: the difference between their disability and their intelligence, and the difference between the tools they are using for writing and the content that they want to produce with those tools. The end goal is to use the tool to share the depth and complexity of one’s thinking in a form that others can understand, not to prove mastery of the tool.

With this in mind choose simple, easy-to-use writing software that will fall into the background quickly, letting the writer get to the writing without wading through layers of user interface that may confuse and undermine self-confidence.

How Computers Change the Writing Process
When you write with a pen and paper, the composition process (forming, organizing, and encoding ideas) and the printing process (getting ink on paper) are wed. Unless one has an incredible memory and can hold complex trains of thought in sequence long enough to get them written by hand, the pen and paper method isn’t very useful for anything more than short pieces of writing. When you fold dysgraphia into the mix, the pen and paper method isn’t very useful for anything more than writing checks. A typewriter solves the dysgraphia problem, but it does not solve the memory problem or the problem of needing to edit the writing later.

Computers change the writing process by holding all of the writing in memory (instead of on paper), freeing the memory of the person doing the writing, and because all of the writing is being stored electronically, it can be changed at any time with all sorts of electronic editing tools. Even the simplest computer printer will produce easier-to-read print than a dysgraphic person can produce by hand, making the print easier to proof-read, edit, and eventually share.

Electronic editing allows:

* Expanded vocabulary: The person doing the writing is freer to take chances with words that they use but don’t know how to spell because they can fix the spellings later
* De-emphasis of spelling: Dealing with spelling can be left until the content is set; then a spelling checker can be used
* Easy cut and paste organization: Easy reorganization frees a person from having to hold the entire organization of the piece of writing in their heads before starting to write
* Easier proofreading: Allows a person to finally get a sense of their own writing style and makes revision possible and bearable
* No more rewrites: Takes a huge weight off the dysgraphic person’s back.

Conversational Writing
I learned how to write by writing hundreds of letters. I was motivated by loneliness and anger. I had just moved to a new city and didn’t know many people and had left a lot of good friends behind, and I was in the process of coming out as a dyslexic adult. I had a lot to share and didn’t have close friends to talk things over with, so I turned to my manual typewriter. I started conversations through letters with many of my friends who then lived too far away to talk with regularly. It wasn’t an appropriate form for all of them, but a few of them kept up the conversation through correspondence. I was not a very experienced letter writer, but I tried to write the way I spoke. I thought about conversation, at times even speaking whole trains of ideas aloud before I typed them. I photocopied all of my letters and kept them though I didn’t know why at the time. What I started to see as I read through old letters was the complexity of my thinking. Seeing this hooked me, and I wrote more.

The lesson I learned here was simple: had you assigned me a paper on any one of the ideas I was writing about, I’d have been blocked, but in conversation, through correspondence, I was able to give form to the ideas.

What’s so special about conversational writing?

* The motivation of conversation with another person
* Shared language and ideas
* Informality (spelling and mechanics de-emphasized)
* Purpose
* Relatively fast feedback.

Conversational writing can take many forms: writing and sending letters through the mail; sharing a keyboard on a single computer and conversing through writing, writing and sending electronic mail or taking part in an online chat with a modem. The important part is the conversation – experiencing a less formal form of writing as a vehicle for sharing ideas.

To this day I spend a considerable amount of time on mail. Some of my best ideas germinate and develop in this kind of conversation. It’s also nice to stay in touch with people; they appreciate it and they usually write back.

List Making
Another simple but powerful technique to help a person get started with writing is list making. Rather than struggle with making complete sentences, punctuating them correctly, worrying about grammar and other technical language patterns, why not start by making a simple list of everything you know (or can remember at the moment) about the subject at hand?

For example, below I’ll list some of the things I know about rock climbing (I used to do quite a bit of rock climbing):

* Rock Climbing
* places
* equipment
* weather
* clothing
* Yosemite
* rope
* carabiner
* piton
* nut
* instruction
* falling
* yelling
* wind
* big walls
* El Capitan
* shoes
* signals
* ratings
* kind of rock
* technique
* schools

The object here is to list everything that comes to mind, in no particular order, without regard to spelling or even if its appropriate for this list. You can always prune and edit later. Many people have a hard time separating the editing process from the idea-generation process and as a result of this, they get in a bind each time a new item is added to the list. Computers allow easy editing later, so why worry? That kind of worry is a vestige of an old process, using pen and paper, where change was hard. Just making the list and exhausting the things you know about a particular subject is actually a self-contained exercise and stands alone nicely as a great way to build confidence. Many times before I write an article (like this one) I’ll make a list of all of the important points I can think of on the subject at hand, just to get them in writing before I struggle to make them make sense.

It can also be very impressive and confidence-building for a student who has never done much writing to see a long list of words and short phrases that represent his knowledge on a particular subject.

Logistically, this list generation can be something a student does on his own, with a teacher, with a partner, or something a teacher does with the whole class using a computer with a projection device so everyone can see and participate. The latter is a wonderful class activity and the teacher can act as talk-show host, asking questions to generate more items in the list. These questions are the kinds of questions a student needs to learn how to ask him or herself when writing independently.

Categorizing Lists
After a list is generated, but before any of the items in the list are eliminated, items should be categorized. This is where a specialized program like an electronic outliner comes in handy. Any word processor can facilitate list making, but moving the items of a list around by dragging (rather than cutting and pasting) requires an outlining program. With an outliner, one can literally grab an item and drag it next to another item until there are groups of like items close together.

If you’re using a color computer and a program like ClarisWorks, you can color-code the items in a list so that items of a particular category are all a single color. This makes it easier to visually group items by color matching.

Outliners also make it possible to take groups of like items in a list and make them sub-headings of another item. This kind of hierarchy building is the final step in categorizing a list. Once items have been grouped in a hierarchy the outline can be collapsed so that only the major category headings are showing; all the detail is hidden (temporarily). Being able to collapse and expand an outline is another technique that makes this kind of writing tool far superior to anything possible with pen and paper. Writers can work with one general idea at a time without the distractions of unrelated ideas showing on the screen or the need to scroll through many lines of text looking for things. What they are seeing is just the major categories with the detail hidden.

In the End
The way to learn how to write is to do a lot of writing, and using a computer and software for writing can make the process of doing a lot of writing easier. Correspondence and list-making are two techniques that have worked for me and are a natural for anyone who has access to a computer.

Research on the Macintosh, Learning Disabilities, and Writing

© 1987 Laurie Fais, Ph.D.

Author’s Note This article was written in 1987 for the Macintosh Lab Monitor (a newsletter, now defunct) while Laurie Fais and Richard Wanderman were working at The Forman School (a private school in Connecticut serving students with learning disabilities). The research and its results are still useful and relevant today. Please be aware that there were very few schools, if any, doing what we were doing in those years. Many of the ideas that we had about the significance of computers, and the Macintosh specifically, only became wide-spread five or more years later. Also note that some of the software mentioned doesn’t exist anymore, the companies have since gone out of business.

John sat across from me at the table in front of a Macintosh computer. As Head of the Department, I was lucky enough to have one in my office, though I didn’t know very much about using it. John was very dysgraphic so I figured using a computer might make it easier for him to write what he wanted to write.

We were working on possessives that day. “Give me a sentence using ‘boy’ in the possessive.””The boy’s bat broke” was his reply. Typical. Even orally, John was in the habit of giving the bare minimum verbal response. “OK, now type it with the computer.” John slouched back, one hand in his pocket and began to peck. With the patience born of working with LD adolescents, this one in particular, I waited. And waited. Finally, my curiosity piqued, I stood up and strolled around behind John to see what was taking so long. He had typed “The boy’s bat broke when he hit the ninety mile an hour fast ball.”

Intrigued but afraid to be hopeful, I gave him another word: “witch.””The witch’s brew boiled.””OK, now type that.” Another wait. Then on the screen appeared “The witch’s brew boiled over and drowned the black cat sitting next to the fire.”

Those who work with LD students, or, in fact, any students, with computers often make intuitive claims about the advantageous effects this work has on their abilities to express themselves in writing. Unfortunately, there is currently a lack of “real” research validating these claims. The work that makes up The Forman School Computer-aided Writing Project has been designed to serve as the basis for some educational research that should validate and explain the effects of using the Macintosh on the growth of the writing skills of these students.

The Computer-aided Writing Project encompasses all of the various contexts in which learning disabled students at The Forman School learn to use the Macintosh computer as a writing tool: the small group classes, computer-aided composition, and the one-to-one language skills remediation course, Language Training (LT). In September of 1986, all of the 185 students in the LT program were screened and 48 were selected to go to the Macintosh lab one day a week during their LT class time, accompanied by their teachers. There they would be taught how to use the Macintosh as a writing tool by the director of the lab, Richard Wanderman, or his assistant, Emmy Pellico. Of these students, 27 were selected as participants in the Computer-aided Writing Project research program, to be pre- and post-tested in a number of writing and language skills.

The students did informal writing samples and were tested on their abilities to judge the relevance of specifics to a given topic, to categorize specifics and topics into coherent groupings/outlines, to order specifics in a logical paragraph order, and to proofread a paragraph with not only grammatical, punctuation and spelling mistakes, but also mistakes of organization and clarity. In addition, the students also took four sections of the Test of Adolescent Language (TOAL), which tested their grammar abilities in the areas of reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

After the pre-testing, the students spent one day a week with their LT teachers and Richard or Emmy working on a variety of tasks. Most learned to use Acta, an outlining program, and became proficient at the process of generating ideas, formulating an outline and producing a written piece of work, either in Acta or in MacWrite. Students learned all the basics of word processing and printing. Some engaged in “conversations” from computer to computer with their teachers. Much of the learning was directed toward the accomplishment of a specific piece of work, often work for another class, such as a senior English critical essay, a history research paper or a science fair project write-up. Some exercises were just that – generated by the LT teacher for the sake of teaching a student how to use the Macintosh as a writing tool. The teachers kept notes on their observations of how certain approaches seemed to work, what students’ reactions were, and what the more subtle effects of using the Macintosh seemed to be.

Students were post-tested in May, covering the same areas as their pre-testing the previous September. In the course of evaluating the results of each of the tests in the battery, certain trends became apparent. These are summarized below for each tested area.

Unrelated Specifics
Students were asked to eliminate from a list of words and sentences those items that did not fit the general category of the list. Students made no improvement in this area; in fact, there may have been a slight downward trend in the post-testing results.

Categorizing/Outlining
Students organized items in a jumbled list, out of the writing context. They showed no change, and in fact may have shown some loss.

Arranging Specifics
Students were asked to arrange lists of sentences into paragraphs. The paragraphs were of differing organizational types: temporal, comparison/contrast, spatial, logical, etc. Markedly more improvement was shown on this test than on the previous two.

Proofreading
Students were asked to proofread for spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph structure and relatedness of specifics. Over half of the students made noticeable improvements. Fourteen students omitted the unrelated specific on the post-test, while only three had done so on the pre-test. Fourteen correctly joined fragments on the post-test as compared to three on the pre-test. Of the four who corrected spelling mistakes on the pre-test, two did so correctly. On the post-test, nine out of the 15 making corrections made correct corrections.

TOAL: Listening/Grammar
Students were tested for sensitivity to similar (spoken) grammatical structures, a task involving their receptive grammatical knowledge. About one quarter of the students showed no change, one quarter of the students improved, and half of them got worse.

TOAL: Reading/Grammar
Students were tested for their ability to recognize syntactically different (written) sentence structures, again, a function of their receptive grammar. The results were similar; approximately one quarter of the students showed no change, one quarter of the students improved somewhat and half of them got worse.

TOAL: Writing/Grammar
The results were quite different in this test, where students’ ability to utilize English syntax in writing was tested. This tapped their active/expressive grammar. About half of the students lost a little ground, but half of the students improved by even wider margins.

TOAL: Speaking/Grammar
Students’ expressive spoken grammar was assessed on this test. Again, over half of the students made impressive gains, while one quarter of the students showed no change and one quarter of them showed minor loss.

The consideration that seems to be the most significant in making sense of the full array of these results is the distinction between active/expressive tests or tests that were couched in the context of a full paragraph, and passive/receptive tests or tests that were made up of tasks isolated from that context. All the improvements that students made were made in the active, paragraph-size tasks: organizing specifics into paragraph form, proofreading, Writing/Grammar and Speaking/Grammar. Students’ performance on tasks isolated from paragraph context (crossing out unrelated specifics in a list; categorizing/outlining items in lists) and the receptive tests of Reading/Grammar and Listening/Grammar showed no improvement and in some cases showed some loss. Students exhibited greater sentence sense in both the TOAL and proofreading tasks and a much greater tendency to make corrections (and a greater ability to make correct corrections) on the proofing task.

The improvements in active, expressive writing tasks seem to point to a positive experience in the interaction with the Macintosh. Writing with a non-judgmental interactor like the Macintosh which facilitates the writing process by eliminating the high cost of correction and experimentation seemed to give students the self-assurance to “take charge” of their writing, to make corrections, to write enough to learn more about how to go about the process of writing, and to function confidently within the context of the writing experience. The fact that the passive and task-specific tests went down is not alarming; it simply indicates that, since students’ writing abilities per se improved, knowledge of these isolated skills are not necessary to the writing process. The implications for teaching are obvious. Interaction with the Macintosh computer in the writing process and the use of the Macintosh as a writing tool can be effective, positive, and beneficial components in a writing program for LD adolescents. In addition, breaking down the teaching of the writing process into specific tasks is non-productive; those tasks do not seem to contribute to improvement in writing.

In round table discussions after the post-testing was done, teachers who had charted the progress of the students involved through the year of work in the Lab compared their impressions and observations. Some observations were unanimous: students working on the Macintosh were using much more sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure than they had been in the fall. They were generating much greater quantities of written material. They were even using the Macintosh to make an outline before they sat down to write paragraphs.

It seems clear that students produced more sophisticated writing and greater quantities of it for two reasons: first, because the computer is such a non-judgmental facilitator, and second, because it separates writing from hard copy, making a distinction between the process of creation and the tangible result. What is difficult for these students is the physical production of the piece of output. Since the writing process itself is divorced from that physical production, students did not have to limit themselves to the “easy” words, the “little” sentences that they had a tendency to use in order to avoid making mistakes, and therefore corrections, when writing by hand.

The outlining program Acta was a great enabler for some of them as well; freed from having to create the mechanics of an outline, they could concentrate on how to code the relationships between their ideas and, again, with the physical mechanics out of the way, they could realize the benefits of pre-planning. On the other hand, not all students found Acta to be helpful conceptually. Acta gives structure to thoughts, potentially both a help and a hindrance. For the students who were willing/able to think and write in parts and still in need of external structuring, the program was extremely useful. But for those students who thought holistically or who were not able to break down the conception of their ideas into component parts, the program was frustrating. They were not capable of working with their ideas in a piecemeal fashion, i.e., they could not break their thoughts into units from which they could use Acta to construct an outline. Another group of students for whom using Acta was frustrating were the students who were capable of breaking down ideas and structuring them. For them, the program was an unnecessary complication in their approach to the writing process.

Teachers also observed that students did not make as many reversals, transpositions or spelling errors in their first attempts, and definitely caught many more of them in their computer-aided writing than they had in their handwriting. It is not quite as easy to explain why this should be so. Certainly one major factor to increased accuracy in proofreading is the fact that, having typed their ideas onto a screen, the students were able, some of them for the very first time, to read their own writing. For dysgraphic students, the revelation of actually being able to decode easily something they had just written was a primary factor enabling them to improve their writing; for the first time, these students were able to benefit from self-generated feedback. Even students who still had problems with decoding the printed word had less trouble with the Macintosh representation of their work than they did with their own handwriting; the high resolution screen makes for a clear image and the black-on-white printing recalls the standard text representations they are used to. The greater ease of reading coupled with the confidence they gained as a function of working with the Macintosh enabled these students to read more of their errors physically and to recognize them cognitively, so that they could correct more of them. Further, these students were not only more able to revise their work, they were also more willing. Proofreading and revising on the Macintosh, divorced from the scratching out and messy erasures of editing hard copy, are no longer the overwhelming tasks they once were.

But the question of why spelling should be better and why reversals and transpositions should be made less often is not clear at this point. Is there something in the nature of the student/computer interaction that circumvents the processing problems that result in spelling errors for these students? Or is it something as simple as the fact that the effort of keyboarding forces the students to be more conscious of their work and thus to use the knowledge that they have been taught in their LT classes?

These questions will guide some of the work to be done in the coming year in the Computer-aided Writing Project research program. We will also do documentation that will allow us to put numbers to our initial assessment of greater writing quantity and sophistication of vocabulary use and sentence structure. Another interesting observation that we would like to pursue was suggested to us by Shirla Edwards who works (or worked) with learning disabled students in a Microcomputer Demonstration Lab at Montclair, High School, New Jersey. She observed in one of her own dysgraphic students an enormous improvement in handwriting after the student had had the opportunity to do much of his writing on the Macintosh. It will be interesting to follow up this observation with some investigation of the effects of using the Macintosh on the handwriting of dysgraphic students. It may be that some of the illegibility of students’ writing is due to their reluctance to have people read what they have written and to their masking of their mistakes with orthographic vagueness (haven’t most of us at one time or another, when not sure if it was ei or ie, made what could be construed by a sympathetic reader as a loop in each letter and positioned the dot squarely in between the two?). In this regard, it will also be useful to look at a personality index for each student before and after his/her year of work on the Macintosh to determine what sorts of gains in self-image and self-esteem have been made.

Some further observations have clear implications for the mode and content of student/teacher interaction with the Macintosh in the writing process. Whether keyboarding skills are an essential prerequisite to using the computer as a writing tool is sometimes considered controversial. In our Lab, students who did not have handwriting problems and who tended to be impulsive, holistic thinkers, were frustrated by the fact that their slow keyboarding kept their fingers from keeping up with their thoughts. This frustration prevented them from writing enough to learn better keyboarding skills solely as a by-product of their writing experience. For them, keyboarding instruction per se was necessary. For the great majority of our students, however, we found keyboarding to be a non-issue. As long as they didn’t have to do the writing by hand, most dysgraphic students weren’t at all bothered by how long it took them to peck out their thoughts. The benefits of not having to write and, again, of seeing their thoughts in legible form far outweighed any initial frustration, or perhaps more accurately put, dispelled it altogether. The motivation level for these students was high enough that they continued to write, and wrote often enough so that keyboarding, albeit their own brand of it, came easier and easier.

Another issue of less concern to general computer-aided writing circles, but of great concern where LD adolescents are involved is the use of a spelling checker program. Like Acta, a spelling checker has features that make it an advantage for some students and a disadvantage for others. It would seem obvious that, for students for whom spelling is difficult at best, a spelling checker program would be an essential tool. However, in the course of using such programs with our students (primarily WriteNow and Spellswell), several things became apparent. First of all, the program had to be fairly good at coming up with “guesses” for alternatives to misspelled words.

Dyslexic students far more often than non-dyslexic poor spellers make mistakes on the first letter(s) of words; if a spelling checker “guesses” on the basis of first letters alone, the student will be frustrated by the inability of the program to give him/her any alternatives to the word it has flagged as wrong. Thus, a fairly sophisticated program is required in order for it to be useful at all. Second, for very poor spellers, having a spelling checker flag a large number of words in a piece of writing can generate a sense of failure as debilitating as the learning disability itself, especially coming on the heels of the excitement and hope created by working on the computer. Third, spelling checkers are not omniscient. Even where the program is capable of coming up with alternatives for the misspelled word, it is still the student who must determine which, if any, of the alternatives is correct. Thus, spelling checkers cannot be a simple replacement for the remediation of basic spelling skills; the student needs to have those skills in place in at least a receptive sense to be able to utilize the power of a spelling checker.

For all these reasons, then, it is important that care be taken with how a spelling checker program is presented by the teacher and what guidelines are set up for its use by the student.

The Computer-aided Writing Project research program will continue to look at the questions outlined above and continue to examine the ways in which we use the Macintosh as a writing tool for LD adolescents. A necessary step in preparation for further research, however, is the use of our preliminary findings to generate a curriculum and teaching guide that documents what we have found thus far to be the most effective sequence and content for a computer-aided writing program for these students. The guide will be based on the results of our research and on the observations made by our teachers and by the directors of the Lab throughout this past year. It will serve as the framework for the teaching of our students in the program next year and will be expanded and refined as our experience teaches us more and more about how to help unlock the writing potential of these students using the Macintosh as a writing tool.

It is a year and a half after the possessives episode. By now John and I are quite spoiled by having a Macintosh at our daily disposal. And I am spoiled by constant exposure to the tremendously positive effects it has on John’s ability to express himself. But even at that I am taken aback one day. We are both settling into the beginning of the class, me with my usual banter about homework and seniors, but John strangely silent. I look up to see him bent over the keyboard, now with two hands in the semblance of touch typing that he has taught himself. I start to chide him (his favorite way to waste time in class is to rearrange his disks or change the pattern on my desktop) but get no response. I find myself strolling over to his side of the table again. This time what I see written begins “You are going to be mad at me. I started to do the homework last night but there was a play that all the seniors had to see and after that…” John, a “typical” dyslexic, for whom written expression has been an anathema for his entire school career, is choosing to communicate with me in written form.