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How to Boost Literacy Using a Combination of Print and Digital Features

February 9, 2023

by: Krysten Maddocks

4 mins


If there’s one thing educators and administrators have learned since the pandemic, it’s that education delivery must be flexible. These two lessons learned remain constant: 

   - Teachers and students must be comfortable accessing and using technology for instruction and learning. 

   - Students need effective ways, in both print and digital, to express their knowledge, thoughts, and ideas. 

Technology is Here to Stay 

You know it; we know it: technology isn’t going away. Digital instruction, in one form or another, will continue to be a part of education for the indefinite future. Many subjects and programs can be taught digitally, which has increased accessibility and opened opportunities for homeschool students, or simply extending learning at home. Technology has allowed education to be more accessible, efficient, and in some cases, more fun! However, when utilizing technology in the classroom, it must be done mindfully to truly boost student performance.  

Technology as a Literacy Tool 

While it’s important not to over-rely on technology, we know that digital tools can make a big difference in literacy instruction. For example, reading to students helps them develop behaviors and skills that can deepen their desire to learn to read and choose books independently. Reading books out loud also sparks joy, nurtures children’s imaginations, and helps them create pictures of a story in their minds. Digital tools that read books aloud to children provide similar benefits. Understanding where students are in their literacy journey helps teachers save time and provide targeted, differentiated instruction exactly when students need it. Having the right technology can help teachers quickly assess oral fluency and put students on the right learning path. 

Our Phonics, Reading, and Me™ program recognizes the power of technology as a reading support and uses several digital features to help readers in Grades K-3 become proficient readers. The program includes built-in digital assessments that use speech technology to save teachers time and access rich data to inform personalized student pathing. This oral reading screener, powered by SoapBox Labs, records each child reading a short decodable text and scores the reading based on the child’s ability to read skill words. Based on student performance, teachers get the data they need to identify students who need more support, ensuring the class continues along the same path to reading fluency.  

The Role of Technology in Read Aloud 

Learning Without Tears also recognizes that children who are learning to read benefit from listening to modeled, fluent reading. When children are learning grapheme-phoneme correspondence, it’s important that they are presented with engaging stories from which they can gain knowledge. That’s why we also include digital read-aloud resources and activities in our Phonics, Reading, and Me  program.  Additionally, Pre-K and K−1 students benefit from a read-aloud feature both teachers and students can use to read student letter books in our A−Z for Mat Man® and Me program. Teachers can project books from their Interactive Teaching Tool in their teacher dashboard to their classroom whiteboards by selecting the read-aloud feature. They can also assign books to students, and using the student app, children can follow the words in the story as it is read aloud to them on a computer or tablet. 

Children Have the Right to Write 

Handwriting still plays a significant role in brain development and in helping children produce higher quality compositions. Writing by hand has been shown to boost brainpower, aid in memory, improve motor skills, and provide a gateway to reading (McFarland 2015). That research might help you understand the importance of handwriting instruction and hand-written assignments in the early grades; however, handwriting instruction and practice isn’t only important for young students.  

Older students who took notes by hand versus on a computer were shown to have better comprehension of what was being said and had more sustained attention during discussion of text and concepts (Mueller 2014, Peverly 2012). In other words, being able to write quickly by hand to take lecture notes = less time spent studying. What student doesn’t want that? Other studies showed that handwriting contributes directly to compositional fluency and quality for beginning and developing writers, and automatic letter writing is the single best predictor of length and quality of written composition (Graham et al., 1997; Graham et al., 2000). 

If we don’t provide students with good handwriting instruction and give them frequent opportunity to practice and develop these skills, they’ll have a poor chance of moving beyond the mechanics of writing. When we give students the opportunity to develop fluent handwriting skills, it unlocks their potential in all academic content areas. They can put their thoughts on paper with automaticity in any setting at any time, no matter whether an electronic device is handy or not. It is truly a gift that lasts the rest of their life!  

At the same time, you can use digital tools to make handwriting instruction easier. Some curricula make this easy. Learning Without Tears is an industry leader in providing effective handwriting instruction with lessons that take no more than 10 minutes per day. The Handwriting Without Tears Digital Teaching Tool allows you to show fun animations, letter formation demonstrations, music, instructive teaching videos, and so much more. A physical workbook, however, is essential for learning handwriting skills. While students are writing in their personal workbook, you can use the workbook feature of the Digital Teaching Tool to display that same workbook page on their device screen or on your classroom whiteboard. This makes teaching and demonstrating the lesson simple for you and helps your students know what to do! 

Preparing for a Digital Future 

As we look to prepare our students for their future, technology will undoubtedly play a large role; however, we must make sure they have the foundations to be successful. That is why we created Keyboarding Without Tears. This program provides a developmental approach to teaching grade-appropriate keyboarding and digital citizenship skills for students in a fun way. At the same time, our new module in Keyboarding Without Tears, Assessment Accelerator, helps students in Grades 3–5 practice responding to test questions they’re likely to see on state standardized assessments. By reinforcing essential testing skills, students learn, adopt, and practice proper keyboarding techniques that are key to online assessment success. 

We know students need to develop correct, quick, efficient keyboarding skills and confidence with navigating technology. However, we can’t brush aside the skill of handwriting just for convenience and under the half-truth that keyboarding is what will best prepare children for their future. Why not? Well, it has to do with their brain. 

Striking an Ideal Balance Between Digital and Print Instruction 

When evaluating a curriculum to use with students, or when planning how to use the programs you are already using, consider the points raised by this post. How can you provide a balance of digital instruction and participation while also engaging students with thoughtful writing practice through a print component? Whether you’re teaching with a digital curriculum or a textbook, you can help your students develop the skills they need by teaching foundational handwriting, keyboarding, and literacy skills and then requiring them to use those skills in their daily lessons. While digital lessons are not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s our responsibility as educators to ensure students have the skills they need for future academic and employment success. 



HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®) Efficacy Research 

Berninger, V. W., Vaughan, K. B., Abbott, R. D., Abbott, S. P., Rogan, L. W., Brooks, A., Reed, E., & Graham, S. (1997). Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(4), 652–666. 

Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Fink, B. (2000). Is handwriting causally related to learning to write? Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(4), 620–633. 

Saperstein Associates. 2012. “Handwriting in the 21st Century? Research Shows Why Handwriting Belongs in Today’s Classroom: A Summary of Research Presented at Handwriting in the 21st Century? An Educational Summit.” 

Mueller, Pam A., Daniel Oppenheimer. 2014. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” Psychological Science Vol. 25 (6). 

Peverly, Stephen. 2012. “The Relationship of Transcription Speed and Other Cognitive Variables to Note-Taking and Test Performance.” Presented at Handwriting in the 21st Century? An Educational Summit, Washington, DC, January 23. 

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