This week, I submitted a guest column to the Orlando Sentinel regarding the benefits of traditional pencil-to-paper learning. The ‘My Word’ column below was published on November 20.
A recent Washington Post article looked at the scramble by American educators to teach typing skills to children as young as 7. Under new national Common Core academic standards, third-grade students will be tested on computers starting next school year.
What does that mean for traditional pencil-and-paper learning? There’s a strong case to be made for keeping it around. Clearly, my company, Dixon Ticonderoga Company, benefits from the continued use of pencils in schools, but independent research shows pencil-and-paper learning is superior to keyboards in certain circumstances.
A 2009 study at the University of Washington led by Virginia Berninger found children write longer essays, faster and with more complete sentences, if they write them by hand.
In 2010, researchers at Indiana University published findings in a study on handwriting that used magnetic resonance imaging to chart brain function. The study found that children who wrote letters by hand improved their composition and expression skills, and the practice aided fine motor-skill development.
But there is an even more fundamental benefit to pencil-and-paper learning: affordable access to learning tools.
Children from all socioeconomic levels deserve not only the chance to learn but also to express what they’ve learned. Focusing early education on typing detracts from teaching writing skills, and that can put some children at a disadvantage.
Even as the price of technology drops, many children in poorer communities still do not have computers, laptops or tablets at home. Pencil and paper can provide the affordable magic that opens a child’s world to learning.
That is one of the reasons Dixon Ticonderoga Co. has enjoyed a 15-year relationship with the Kids In Need Foundation. In the past four years, Dixon has donated more than $4.6 million in products to KINF, which makes them available to students in need.
Even the most hard-core traditionalist must concede that those in the next generation won’t be able to function without knowing their way around a keyboard. Indeed, keyboards enhance the learning experience as another enabling tool.
That being said, keyboards should never replace pencil and paper. Too much — literature, art, music, math and science — depends on keeping them around.