Transform Your Child's Writing Using Dictation Software

I had the privilege of presenting a writing workshop last week to my local homeschool group and I loved every minute of it! I prepared for months for this workshop by gathering lots of samples of writing projects, such as this one, that I have completed with my kids as I wanted it to be a hands-on workshop unlike any other they had ever attended before.

For food, we ate hamburgers while learning how to write a paragraph like in this post, we talked about using lots of details in writing while eating ice cream sundaes, and we learned how to write persuasive essays while eating OREOS. (The OREO method mentioned in 101 Ways to Make Writing FUN completely rocks!)

When I was preparing for this workshop and researching the latest trends and innovations in teaching writing, I discovered something fascinating! Educators are using dictation devices in helping children with the writing process. I decided to give it a whirl and test drive these teaching tools.

First, I installed the Spell Checker Pro App and Evernote App on my Android phone. My middle child, Coen, is one of those kids that asks me every five minutes how to spell a word. He will completely stop writing and wait for me. I often walk into the room and catch him staring into space. He will say he was waiting on me to spell a word for him. Sounding the word out and using a spelling dictionary worked well for my other boys but did not with this little fellow. He wants to get the word spelled right the first time, taking no chances, even if it means adding on an extra hour to completing a writing assignment.

I told Coen to say a word into my phone if he gets stuck on spelling, and my phone would spell it correctly for him. He was hooked! But this is what changed his writing FOR.E.VER- he began to say entire sentences aloud that were the answers to his Bible study he was working on. The sentences would appear on my phone, and he would copy the sentences into his workbook. I witnessed the birth of a love of writing that I knew had been stuck inside for far too many years.

He was writing many sentences.
He was writing long sentences with lots of details.
He was learning correct spelling and capitalization rules.
He was writing independently.

I've taught for over two decades and never once saw a child excel forward in writing in just a matter of minutes like this. He was finally free from writing and stopping and writing and stopping, and most of all, free from depending on someone else. His confidence in writing took off like a rocket!

Watching my son's writing bloom instantly captivated my attention. I began to further investigate writing dictation. Several years ago, I learned that many best-selling authors are using dictation software to write their books. Have you ever wondered how they can write so many books per year? It is not by sitting at a computer but usually through dictating. Not too long ago, authors would using a recording device to get their thoughts or stories out and then send the recordings to a typist who would then send the typed copy to an editor. The author would work closely with the editor. Next, the book formatter would step in and produce a finished manuscript. With the new dictation software, authors can bypass the typists now.

For years, I had envisioned authors slaving away at their computers until I had learned of this not-so-talked-about reality. The fact that most authors dictate their books really shouldn't have surprised me much since dictation has taken place for centuries, which originally began as secretaries or transcribers. For example, Winston Churchill was notoriously known for dictating his speeches and writing to his secretary. It only makes sense that writers use the available technology today to assist them in writing. Months ago, I made a comment to my husband after my last book, Grace for the Homeschool Mom, was released that I would never sit in front of a computer typing a book again. Between the backaches and headaches, I was going to begin using technology to assist me in the future.

Next, I began to research which dictation software would be the best fit for my family. My mother-in-law, who works in the medical field, was quick to refer Dragon to me. She told me most doctors no longer use medical transcriptionists ever since the dictation software improved. Now doctors and lawyers record their notes using this software. I had no idea!

I later learned college students are using the software on their phones to record lectures, which simultaneously types up all their notes. All the students have to do is go back and edit the notes and then delete the parts they do not wish to save for the future. Say what? No more note-taking in school? I am in complete technology culture shock!

Next, I watched this video. 
After viewing the video, I decided it was time to dig deeper and attend a webinar. As I watched the presentation, along with representatives from several school districts, the benefits were astounding. The presenter explained why so many people used dictation devices for note-taking. The average person can speak 120 wpm but only type 40 wpm. Basically, you speak 3 times faster than you type. Therefore, dictation software enables you to have better notes, without ever worrying about keeping up with the professor or that you missed writing something important down. It also helps you get your thoughts down on paper much faster than typing them.

The presenter stated the act of speaking is a far more natural and efficient way of generating words than moving your fingers on a keyboard. I agree since I would consistently see the delay in typing and losing the thought in my former students and with my own children.

The presenter of the webinar also taught how dictation software jumpstarts the writing process by:
  • Increasing writing flow by helping to alleviate writer's block (a blank page creates pressure);
  • Resulting in more language production (longer and more detailed essays);
  • Assisting in the pre-writing phase by writing more freely without worries of mechanics and spelling errors;
  • Helping teach correct spelling and capitalization;
  • Improving sentence structure with a playback feature, which helps writers recognize sufficient verb usage and sentence structure;
  • Better leveraging their oral language skills by enhancing their writing fluency; and
  • Taking better notes since while note-taking, only 5-10% of words said are written.

The most jaw-dropping part of the webinar was when they showed a writing sample of a child who had a severe learning disability and had struggled for years with writing.

His parents and teacher began to cry when the child used the software for the first time. He was now free to express himself. I can only imagine how happy and relieved that child felt, and I wonder how many other children can benefit from this type of teaching tool as well.

My first concern about using this software were the SAT/ACT tests. But after pondering on that for a few minutes, I knew that students get many chances to practice written timed tests while taking SAT/ACT prep classes in high school. I was no longer concerned about writing essays by hand in high school and college since most assignments are now typed and stored on a thumb drive or emailed to the teacher. Boy, how times have changed.In addition, I knew a lot of editing skills would still be used since the technology is not foolproof. Students will still need to proof their sentences and edit their work just like they do with typing other assignments. 

My good friend, Nancy, was just as curious as I was on this dictation quest, and she decided to post the topic in the Institute for Excellence in Writing IEW Forum to see what other parents and educators had to say. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. My favorite comment was from a home educator-

How many people do you know with carpal tunnel syndrome? I think we are going to realize that a lifetime of typing isn't such a good idea and switching to dictation is a better option. I am deciding to help my daughter to go that way too. No worries for me about being "too early" or "messing up her ability to type." Last year I was a little worried, but after seeing how fast technology is changing, I worry no more. 

Great point! I had not even thought of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is rapidly rising due to the increased amount of time we spend typing.

After reading through the comments, Nancy and I concluded that our children will be expected to do the same amount of work as other students who are using technology. The reality is people will also be expected in the workforce to do more in a less amount of time. Dictation devices will definitely give our children an edge. Why spend 2 hours on an assignment when their peers are spending 30 min?

How much will I use dictation software with my children and at what age will I introduce the more intensive software? I haven't made those decisions yet, but I do know I will be integrating dictation into our writing assignments in the future. The results are too powerful for me to ignore. (By the way, this is not a sponsored review.)

For the MAC- Dragon Dictate

Enjoy helping your writer blossom,