Written Language Production: Handwriting & Keyboarding

Like many teachers, a part of my summertime has been devoted to standards and curriculum work, as I am serving on a state committee given the task of creating the first set of handwriting standards for Kansas. This project is right up my alley, as each semester I have the students in my language arts methods course debate the merits of handwriting versus keyboarding. I was hoping that this committee work might bring to light some new persuasive points for our class debates, while also helping me to clarify my own opinion on the handwriting versus keyboarding debate.

The committee work increased my awareness about three key concepts.

  1. The physical act of handwriting helps young children learn letter name, shape, and sound, thus building a foundation for reading.
  2. Knowledge of both manuscript and cursive styles facilitates children’s creation of their own handwriting style, whether it be manuscript, cursive, or a manuscript-cursive hybrid.
  3. Fluent handwriting and keyboarding facilitate the flow of ideas during the writing process, thus giving a writer a positive feeling about writing.

My realization of these concepts grew from discussions during our committee work, but also from my reading of the Written Language Production Standards for Handwriting and Keyboarding (Grades K-8). These standards were created by a group of researchers and educators in 2012, seeking to better define the expectations for writing production, specifically focusing those skills not included in the Common Core State Standards. Based on handwriting and keyboarding research, these national standards map out the manuscript, cursive, and keyboarding skills to be taught across the grade levels. This detailed and sequential collection of skills provides guidance for teachers where little previously existed.

The Standards also provided guidance for me. Previously I had some knowledge about handwriting, but very little knowledge about keyboarding, viewing this as the purview of the technology facilitator, not the language arts teacher. I can see now that any tool that impacts the production of writing plays a role in the language arts class. The goal for both handwriting and keyboarding encompasses these three words:  quick, smooth, and effortless. It’s all about getting your ideas on paper or screen in the most effective and efficient way.

This realization for me, essentially nullifies the handwriting versus keyboarding debate.  To be successful, our students must be adept at both. Their decision of when to use handwriting or keyboarding hinges on the context and purpose of their message – just like we choose between using texting, email, Facebook, or telephone when communicating with a friend or family member. If children are not proficient at both keyboarding and handwriting, we have essentially removed their option to choose, thus limiting their communication skills. Instead of deciding between one or the other, let’s figure out how we can make time for instruction in both forms of written language production.

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Adapting KWL for Learning through a Disciplinary Lens

One of the most widely recognized instructional routines is KWL (know, want to know, learn; Ogle, 1986); more than a dozen variations have been published of the elegant theme captured in this approach. A challenge teachers face with KWL is that what students want to know is somewhat uninformed because they simply lack sophisticated knowledge of the topic. Adapting the approach to feature disciplinary texts may help lead students toward increasingly deep connections to the content at hand.


One adaptation of KWL is intended to support students as they propose questions about problems they encounter in mathematics. In K-W-C (Hyde, 2006), students identify in the first column “What do you know for sure?” In the second column, they identify “What are you trying to find out?” In the third column, they decide, “Are there special conditions [the C] or precise definitions of words to watch for?” A space below asks students to show how they solve the problem using pictures, numbers, and words.

Social Studies

Critical to understanding history is the capacity to handle dissonance or noise (VanSledright, 2012) between and among accounts of the events that constitute the historical record. Who the actors are and what are their purposes for creating an account are important to historians. KWL can be easily modified to increase understanding of history (or social studies) as a discipline. Source documents, readily available via the Internet, provide differing views and accounts of social phenomena. By dividing the columns into rows for each document (which could include a textbook), the familiar pattern of know – want/need to know – learned becomes a scaffold to assist students as they begin their thinking work with multiple documents. See Figure 1.

Modifying KWL_Wolsey_fig1_Page_1

Figure 1: KWL adapted for analysis of multiple historical accounts.


Scientists often work back and forth between alphabetic texts and the graphs, charts, and other images that accompany and expand on alphabetic texts (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  KWL is, once again, easily modified to help struggling readers and those for whom English is a second language (ESL) make sense of discipline-specific texts in science.  In the example shown in Figure 2, students work with a single text; a column is added to the KWL chart to highlight the role of graphics within the text.

Modifying KWL_Wolsey_fig2

Figure 2: KWL for science texts with graphics.


  1. Decide what the features of the text might be that are particular to the discipline (for example, science, social studies, and so on).
  2. Adapt the KWL chart to emphasize those disciplinary features from step one.
  3. Choose texts that challenge readers but don’t overwhelm them. Often, more than one text might be helpful at several levels of difficulty.
  4. Make copies of the KWL chart or help students construct their own.
  5. Ask students to read the text and use the adapted KWL chart to guide their thinking.
  6. In small groups, or with the whole class, use the students’ individually created and modified KWL charts to discuss the standards-based concept that is characterized in the text.


Brozo, W. G., Moorman, G., Meyer, C., & Stewart, T. (2013). Content area reading and disciplinary literacy: A case for the radical center. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56(5), 353-357. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.153

Common Core State Standards Initiative [CCSS].(2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Heller, R. (2010). In praise of amateurism: A friendly critique of Moje’s “Call for Change” in secondary literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(4), 267–273. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.54.4.4

Hyde, A. (2006). Comprehending math: Adapting reading strategies to teach mathematics, K-6. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ogle, D.  (1986).  K-W-L:  teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.

Shanahan, T. & Shanahan C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.

VanSledright, B. (2012). Learning with texts in history. In T. L., Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the academic disciplines: General principals and practical strategies (pp. 199-226). New York: Guilford.

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