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Margaret Evans
"Information in the brain is not being accessed using a pen"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 07:15 GMT
Computers 'boost boys' spelling'
school computer room
Many schools now have excellent computer facilities
Using computers rather than writing by hand is said to make a huge difference to boys' spelling ability.

A study of secondary school boys found a 65% improvement in their spelling of words they had previously got wrong when they used a computer to correct their work.

margaret evans
Margaret Evans: Sees wider uses for schools' computers
This compared with a 5% improvement among a similar group whose work had been corrected by a teacher.

Researcher Margaret Evans, who is reporting her findings to a British Psychological Society conference, said they suggested that schools could use computers to drive up boys' writing standards.

Ms Evans, an information and communication technology teacher, devised a test for a whole year group of 13 to 14 year old boys.

They were asked to spell 68 words within blocks of text - some writing them by hand, others using computers whose spellcheckers were turned off.

The boys using pen and paper were then given corrected versions of the words they had got wrong and had to write them out five times each.

The computer users had to work out the correct spellings for themselves, using a computer spellchecker.

Active process

They were then tested again a week later on the words they had got wrong, which is when the 5% to 65% performance gap showed up.

"My explanation for this is ... the boys on the computer obviously actually did it - they were given those words back and they had to find them themselves using the spellchecker," Ms Evans said.

She stresses that this is an active process - the computer offered a choice but the boys had to do the choosing, and often the spellchecker would be wildly wrong or offer nothing at all if the original spelling was completely awry.

They had to work out the correct spellings for themselves but were engaged by the computer in a way they would not have been by a dictionary.

Visual cues

Ms Evans teaches at John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, which she says has "a beautiful computer suite" thanks to the government's funding for information technology.

Her work suggests a way of using it to advantage.

She says it appears that some information is stored in the brain in a way that is not accessed through handwriting but can be released through visual cues in the process of using a word processor.

"Particularly for boys, because like iron filings to a magnet they are attracted to them, they enjoy using a computer, there is motivation."

Inspection reports and exam results show that it is boys who are the weak link in the drive to improve literacy standards.

  • The boys studied were not at John Warner School. Their school is not named in the study, to protect their identities.
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    See also:

    09 Nov 00 | Education
    Official backing for pupil laptops
    02 Nov 00 | Education
    Lessons from computer use at home
    14 Dec 99 | Education
    Poor writing worries inspectors
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