Keep Old School in Children’s Learning
Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Education has gone high tech. When I started my first teaching job, the ditto machine was my friend. The messy, purple inked contraption made it possible to spew out handouts, tests and homework assignments for my students. Technology moved from there to the mimeograph machine to the photo copier to the power point presentation. White boards have replaced black boards and technology in education has changed the way teachers prepare and teach and the way students interact and receive what is being taught. Students take notes on their laptops and tablets and in 2013, cursive writing was dropped from the Common Core Curriculum Standards that is shared by all states. Children and now required to learn to use a keyboard and print rather than the loopier cursive.
The debate has erupted about whether this is a good thing.
At first glance, the battle between keyboards and pens might seem to be a battle of resistance to change and technology is merely another tool that we’ll get used to. But researchers have studied both sides of the issue and found advantages to each.
Pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. As a result, it helps to know what you get when you choose one or the other.
Those who support the keyboard suggest that typing is faster and students can have more information for their disposal. According to Anne Throwback, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio “What we want from writing is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, with whatever technology we use to record our thoughts. This is what typing does for millions.” In addition, proponents of the keyboard argue “what really matters is not how we produce a text but its quality. When we are reading, few of us wonder whether a text was written by hand or word-processed.”
In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject. They hypothesize that handwriting requires different types of cognitive processing than typing on a laptop, and both have different consequences for learning. You can only write so fast, so your brain is forced to do more as your hand writes the crucial data. They believed writing longhand is a workout for the brain. And, because writing is slower it’s more useful in the long run. Writing involves the whole body and results in a greater amount of conceptual learning.
Using college students as guinea pigs, Mueller and Oppenheimer put their theory to the test. They divided groups of students into keyboarders and hand writers for taking notes in class. They gave them a week to study their notes before a test. Those who wrote their notes outperformed laptop users. This suggests longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions," Mueller and Oppenheimer write.
According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills. Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: You need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.” The body remembers-making the learning long lasting. There is an element of dancing when we write by hand, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text.
Another study from 2010 found that the brain areas associated with learning "lit up" much more when kids were asked to write words like "spaceship" by hand versus just studying the word closely.
But does all this really change our relationship to learning?
Studies show there are additional advantages to writing some things by hand that include:
1. Handwriting stimulates more effective memory cues because you’re forming the context and content in your own words.
3. Handwriting reveals aspects of our personalities. How do you want to be seen by your grandchildren?
4. One of the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to rewrite your types notes by hand. That helps to increase performance on material on which you’ll be tested.
For me, there are many reasons to use both.
What’s A Person To Do?
1. Use pen and paper to make your brain sharper.
2. Use the keyboard to get more written material, faster.
3. Use pen and paper to become a better writers.
4. Use pen and paper to learn a new skills.
5. Use both for acquiring and reproducing materials on which to be remembered or tested.
© Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. June 3, 2016
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.