Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children with and without Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Fourth graders with learning disabilities in transcription (handwriting and spelling), LD-TD, and without LD-TD (nonLD), were compared on three writing tasks (letters, sentences, and essays), which differed by level of language, when writing by pen and by keyboard. The two groups did not differ significantly in Verbal IQ but did in handwriting, spelling, and composing achievement. Although LD-TD and non-LD groups did not differ in total time for producing letters by pen or keyboard, both groups took longer to compose sentences and essays by keyboard than by pen. Students in both groups tended to show the same pattern of results for amount written as a larger sample of typically developing fourth graders who composed longer essays by pen. Results for that sample, which also included typically developing second and sixth graders, showed that effects of transcription mode vary with level of language and within level of language by grade level for letters and sentences. However, consistently from second to fourth to sixth grade, children wrote longer essays with faster word production rate by pen than by keyboard. In addition, fourth and sixth graders wrote more complete sentences when writing by pen than by keyboard, and this relative advantage for sentence composing in text was not affected by spelling ability. Implications of the results for using computers for accommodations or specialized instruction for students with LD-TD are discussed.


In a seminal, influential paper, Hayes and Flower (1980) proposed that three cognitive processes guide skilled writing: Planning (generating ideas and setting goals), translating (turning ideas into written text), and revising (recreating the text to improve clarity of idea expression). Further, based on cross-sectional studies with children in first through sixth grades, Berninger and Swanson (1994) claimed that children's translating involves two component processes: text generation, which occurs at different levels of language; and transcription, which includes handwriting (letter production) and spelling (word production).

Berninger and Swanson (1994) concluded that transcription may be especially important in beginning and developing writing in the elementary school years. However, researchers who study adult writers have subsequently documented that transcription is also an important cognitive process in skilled writing (e.g., Alagamarot & Chanquoy, 2001; Alamargot, Dansac, Chesnet, & Fayol, 2007; Hayes & Chenoweth, 2006).

Transcription is a basic cognitive process in writing that enables the writer to translate internal language into external written symbols to express ideas in written language (Berninger et al., 2009; Hayes & Berninger, in press; Richards, Berninger, & Fayol, 2009). Transcription ability, which draws on handwriting and spelling, has been found to uniquely predict composing length and quality in developing writers (Berninger, Cartwright, Yates, Swanson, & Abbott, 1994; Berninger et al., 1992; Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997), and is thus not a mere mechanical skill (Richards, Berninger, & Fayol, 2009).

Subsequent instructional studies have shown that early handwriting and spelling problems can be treated effectively in first, second, and third graders and that such early specialized instruction in transcription transferred to improved composition; for a review of this research and the related conclusion that treating transcription problems early in schooling prevents more severe writing problems later, see Berninger and Amtmann (2003). More recently, assessment studies (Berninger, Nielsen, Abbott, Wijsman, & Raskind, 2008a, 2008b; Berninger, Raskind, Richards, Abbott, & Stock, 2008) and instructional studies (Berninger, Rutberg et al., 2006; Berninger, Winn et al., 2008) have supported the conclusion that specific learning disabilities exist in transcription skills--handwriting and/or spelling (Berninger, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008c)--that interfere with typical writing development but are treatable with specialized instruction. …

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