In today's digital age, pen and paper may seem old-fashioned to some but research shows it may be better for learning than typing.
Students these days have a lot to learn. By which I'm talking about the amount of information they need to memorise, understand and demonstrate. Reforms to the English curriculum in particular have emphasised fact-learning as a means to improve 'cultural literacy'. Fortunately, teachers also have more ways to access content than ever before, with resources like our Education Licence allowing them to utilise a wealth of third-party published material, including magazines, textbooks, and online articles for their teaching. The trick is getting that material into students' brains.
As a tool for learning and memorisation, typing makes a compelling case. It's much quicker, for one, and anyone who's had a three-hour written exam can attest that it doesn't result in as many sore hands. Word processors offer students shortcuts with spelling, grammar and punctuation, letting them focus on learning the content in question. Plus, in the end the teacher wil get a nice, legible document, letting them focus on marking the work the student has produced, rather than deciphering messy scribbles (I offer sincerest apologies to my teachers for having to go through that). For adults, the average typing speed is about 40 words per minute, versus 5-20 wpm for copying letters by hand. That's a lot of time saved, leaving more opportunity for going over the material.
Interestingly, though, there's evidence to suggest that the act of writing something out by hand is better for memory than typing. One of the proposed reactions why is that those that write by hand think more deeply about the material as they write. Another suggestion is that typing out content verbatim (a luxury not available to the slower hand-writers) means students don't take in the material as well. So, when you're presenting content to a class, evidence suggests they will write out the content in their own words and remember it better than having had typed it out.
But support for typing doesn't just involve students not wanting to learn grammar the old-fashioned way. Some have suggested that younger children may benefit from typing over hand writing, as the former frees up cognitive space for focusing on the material. It also means children who struggle to write by hand can have more accessibility in class. This study reports that students have a better experience when a class uses laptops - calling it interactive and enjoyable - though the use of laptops didn't yield better results. However, typing on devices in class does mean online distractions might be too tempting for some students, affecting their performance. At least you can't go on Facebook or Instagram with pen and paper.
The handwriting versus typing debate doesn't have a clear answer. Handwriting appears to be better for promoting memory and understanding, while students find typing (or the devices they're typing on) more enjoyable and engaging. Typing can allow for more accessibility, but also more distracted students. Ultimately, the choice should be yours based on what the purpose of the lesson is (for example, handwriting for memorising the material, typing for engaging with the material in a fun way) and your knowledge of the class in question.
Do you prefer to teach with the latest technology or pen and paper? Let us know in the comments, along with your tips on how to deal with the potential pitfalls of both!
About the Author
Tess Pilgrim holds a MSc in Marketing and joined CLA earlier this year as Digital Marketing Executive.