How to help your screen obsessed child become a better writer.
Writing is a known difficulty for dyslexic students everywhere. They often struggle with the physical act of forming letters, trying to spell correctly, use finger spacing, punctuation and correct grammar, and that’s all before we even talk about structure, editing and planning.
Fortunately assistive tech has removed many of these obstacles - speech to text on Google docs, Grammarly and Google Read and Write are three of my favourites. But unfortunately none of these assistive technologies address the core components of writing: planning, structure and editing.
Another roadblock to writing for many dyslexic students is the complete lack of desire to practice it. It’s hard, frustrating, and doesn’t come out how they want it to. Even with the best of imaginations, many students struggle to find their voice.
On the other hand, many dyslexic kids are pretty fascinated by screens, gaming and programming. As parents, we often limit the time our kids spend on these pursuits as we don’t see the value in them. But what if they could actually help those writing skills, without our kids even realising it?
Yes, I’m taking the leap and suggesting that if your child learned to code, they would also learn to write more effectively. Here’s why.
Consider what it takes to be a good writer. You need to think logically, construct arguments well, express them concisely and in a readily understood manner. You need to pay attention to details, and have a clear goal for your writing. Then you need to construct your writing in a way that will lead effectively and efficiently towards that goal.
Kids can also use coding to create stories. While coding isn’t often thought of as a creative pursuit, it certainly can be. Some of the best video games tell stories. The best part? These stories are interactive. Just like an old “choose your own adventure” book, the reader (or player) can decide what the character will do next and change the outcome of the story.
It should not be too hard to see then, that the process for both writing and designing and developing a good piece of software is very similar. The skills from one carry over into the other - in both directions.
Good coding - Has a solid plan - it knows who the audience is, what it wants to achieve, and what is required to get there.
Good writing - Has a solid plan. Who is the audience and what do I want them to know? How am I going to give them this information?
Good coding - Has structure. It has a beginning, middle and end. Programmers need their code to flow in a logical order.
Good writing - Has structure. There is a clear beginning, middle and end. The ideas flow from one to another in a logical and concise way.
Good coding - Follows the rules of syntax, and is precise and concise.
Good writing - Follows the rules of spelling and grammar, so the reader can easily read and understand the message.
Good coding - Is checked and rechecked, making sure it is error free. Code with errors is a program that doesn’t work.
Good writing - Goes through the process of editing - did the ideas flow meaningfully, was the grammar and punctuation correct, did the writing achieve what it set out to do?
In fact, learning to code can help a student with the following skills.
1. Organising their thoughts. Programming takes strong organisational skills. The quality of code is as much about how its components fit together as it is about any one line. When writing code, students have to know where they’re going. Otherwise, their code will end up a garbled mess that’s hard to make sense of. Programming allows students to practice planning ahead and thinking about the big picture, a skill they’ll definitely need in writing.
2. Writing precisely. There’s little room for ambiguity when programming. Computers need instructions, and aren’t good at interpreting context or interpreting our underlying meaning. Vague, indirect, approximate code isn’t going to work. Programming successfully means expressing exactly what we want to do.
3. Writing concisely. Programmers like to write the least amount of code possible. There’s a good reason: More code means more potential points of failure. When it comes to software design, the best systems are the ones just complicated enough to fulfill their purpose, but no more. When kids practice coding, they get into the habit of eliminating excess. This will make them better communicators and writers. They’ll know how to say a lot in just a few words—an increasingly important skill in a world where attention spans are shrinking.
4. Becoming a better self-editor. Small errors in code can mean the difference between a happy website and a crashed server, with one misplaced comma potentially toppling a site. With stakes this high, it’s no surprise programmers are strong self-editors.
So now you’ve just about been convinced, there is just one tiny little roadblock in the way - how on earth do I teach my child coding when I have no clue myself? Fortunately there are some seriously good programs and websites available to start your journey:
Code.org - https://code.org/student/elementary This website has learning from how
to drag and drop for pre-readers, right through to more complex projects for older coders. Coding projects use familiar properties such as Star Wars and Minecraft to get kids enthused. Learning is free.
Want your kid to start, but don’t want a bar of coding yourself? If you are a Titirangi local, I can set you or your child up with a ‘getting started’ session or regular code clubs run by my 14 year old son (and supervised by me). Cost would be dependent on numbers. If you’re interested, contact me via email@example.com for further details.