Corkett, J. K., & Benevides, T. (2016). iPad versus handwriting: Pilot study exploring the writing abilities of students with learning disabilities . Journal of International Special Needs Education , 19 (1), 15–24.

Journal Article
Corkett, J. K., & Benevides, T. (2016). iPad versus handwriting: Pilot study exploring the writing abilities of students with learning disabilities. Journal of International Special Needs Education, 19(1), 15–24.


Dictionary/glossary; International (non-U.S.); Learning disabilities; Middle school; Word processing (for writing); Writing




The use of electronic tablets with an onscreen keyboard was compared to writing by hand with pen and paper during writing composition tasks for middle school students with learning disabilities.


Nine (9) students with learning disabilities in grade 6 at a middle school in northern Ontario, Canada, participated. One participant identified as female, age 12, and the other eight participants were reportedly male, with an average age of 11.5. Participants all had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for literacy. Participants had completed the Test of Non-verbal Intelligence Third Edition (TONI-3; Brown et al., 1997) and the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test Fourth Edition online (SDRT-4 online; Karlsen & Gardner, 2003). The TONI-3 served as a norm-referenced assessment of "intelligence, aptitude, abstract reasoning, and problem solving and is beneficial for evaluating those with questionable language ability" (p. 18), with participants having equivalency scores below age level (n=4), at age level (n=2), and above age level (n=3); the SDRT-4 online measured reading skills, with participants scoring one or more grade levels below average.

Dependent Variable

Performance on a written composition task in response to a practice item consistent with the provincial writing assessment was measured, in an unaccommodated response format (pen and paper) condition, and when using a digital application called "Pages" on their electronic tablets. In both conditions, participants were provided access to a dictionary and thesaurus; the Pages app provided those features for the digital condition. The writing tasks were administered by the classroom teacher and the one-hour sessions were observed by the researchers. In order to permit standard comparison of composition products, participants' handwritten compositions were subsequently rendered into digital form by word-processing. Both sets of compositions from participants were scored using criteria including writing productivity, lexical density, spelling and grammatical accuracy, lexical diversity, and syntactical complexity. Writing productivity was measured from the number of words written, or word count. Lexical density meant the proportion of the number of content-specific words out of the total word count. Spelling accuracy meant the proportion of the number of words spelled correctly out of the total word count. Grammatical accuracy was measured at the sentence level, as the proportion of the number of correct sentences out of the total number of sentences. Lexical diversity was an indicator of the range and variety of words written. Syntactic complexity was the number of "T-units" (a linguistic measure of basic discourse segments), the average length of T-units, and their relation to clause density.


The participant group—grade 6 students with learning disabilities—scored significantly better on average in three of the six scoring criteria when using the electronic tablet's onscreen keyboard in comparison to writing their compositions by hand: spelling accuracy, syntactic complexity, and number of ideas expressed. Two of the three students with above-age nonverbal intelligence, and one student with below-age nonverbal intelligence, had no significant improvement in syntactic complexity; all other participants showed higher syntactic complexity when using the digital test version. There were small differences in writing productivity, number of sentences written, and grammatical accuracy, but these were not significantly higher scores on average across the participant group as a whole. Noting that the participant group was small, the researchers commented that nearly all participants—except for one student with nonverbal intelligence scores (on the TONI-3) higher than their chronological age—had higher overall word counts and numbers of sentences written when using the electronic tablet.