Predictive text – a giant leap or a false dawn? by @hengehall

As with many of the best ideas, this one came about entirely by accident.

After a brief lull (caused by reasons beyond my control) I have been introducing blogging to KS2 children. All the KS2 children I teach now have their own logins, so subject to moderation they can post and comment on their class blogs. I have been doing this for the last five years and during that time I have noticed there are some barriers to children blogging, particularly in an environment with a high proportion of EAL children.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Ben Hall and published with kind permission.

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The first is poor keyboard skills, particularly in KS1 and lower KS2. Most children never use a conventional keyboard outside of school, such is the popularity of phones and tablets as communication tools. This can make children’s early experiences of blogging slow and sometimes frustrating – they know they can handwrite faster than they can type and they can find punctuation difficult. The answer to this is simple: Typing is a skill which needs to be taught, but that’s not something that can be done overnight.

The second issue is a lack of confidence in their own spelling, punctuation and grammar. I have found that when offered the opportunity to blog independently, higher attaining children will often take up the challenge without hesitation, relishing the opportunity to share their writing with a wider audience. For lower attainers, this can be daunting, knowing that your mistakes and vulnerabilities will be there for all to see. This is also a difficult balancing act for schools – you want children to blog independently, but equally your blogs are a window to the world, and not necessarily the place to display error-strewn writing.

I was with a year 5 class earlier in the week. They were using iPads to log onto their class blog for the first time. I gave them the opportunity to blog about a subject of their choosing, as long as there was some connection with school. After a few minutes, one of the boys who could best be described as a reluctant writer put his hand up – he wanted to share with the rest of the class how quickly he could type using the predictive text feature. I air-played his iPad to the big screen, and within seconds the output of the whole class shot up. Not only that, but the standards of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary also showed a marked improvement. You can see some of their posts here – most done in less than 15 minutes.

At first, I was delighted. I’d never seen such a step change in standards and such an increase in output in one lesson. It was like predictive text freed them from their inhibitions and allowed them to express themselves like never before. But then the more I thought about it, the more I began to worry. Lots of questions began to form… Does this constitute independent writing? Does it help improve spelling when not on the iPad? What happens when they have to write in their books? Will they have to draft everything using predictive text and then copy it out? If it improves their writing, Is that good or bad? Regardless of all these questions, it’s something which now out there and will not be taken away, and it’s likely that it will spread to other technologies too.

A couple of days down the line and I’m still torn on the issue. There has been some work done to see what impact technology such as predictive text can have supporting dyslexic learners, such as this paper by the British Dyslexia Association. There was also a study done in 2009 into changes in the cognitive function of adolescents associated with the use of mobile phones, however technology has moved on considerably since then.

This is an area which needs further, more contemporary research. We maybe opening digital communication up to a much wider range of children, but at what cost?

Featured image source: By Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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