Try Putting Low-Skilled Students on Computers


This little success story is pure accident. I can't tell you what made me do it or why it worked. I am just going to share the story and you can draw from it any educational conclusions that work for you. I had a ninth grade student in my class that simply could not write. He was a great kid, worked hard, attempted every assignment. He told me he belonged in a special education class. I told him to hang in for awhile and we would see. Paper after paper, written longhand, were barely legible. His word choice and sentences were horrible. He could barely write a complete sentence and paragraphs were beyond any possibility. I worked with him one-on-one almost every day with little in the way of progress. Then one day I decided I was tired of trying to read the words on his papers. I told him from that day on, he would sit at the computer on my desk during class. He would do every assignment using my computer. I did not give him any additional instruction. He said he could not type, and I told him that was fine. He should simply peck out letter by letter until he was done. I told him to take as much time as he needed, which turned out to be not much different than writing longhand. I watched him very carefully because I was curious to see what he would do. What he did was write. I watched it happen on the screen, or I would not have believed it. He did not use any grammar, spelling or other trick functionality of the word processing program. The first paper he completed had complete sentences. After a little help, he started writing in paragraphs. His word choice was good and his writing was good. I watched as he went from failing work to grade B work after switching to the computer. I can't say if there was a small motor control problem, an information processing problem, or what exactly. I do know that the student's writing improved instantly and dramatically.

Steve Simpson is the editor of Ed.Net Briefs (, a weekly online education newsletter with more than 60,000 readers. He earned his Ph.D. in communications at the University of Washington. He can be reached by e-mail at .


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