typing handwriting


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"A Learning Secret: Don't Take Notes with a Laptop"              ??????


"Why Using Pen And Paper, Not Laptops, Boosts Memory"   ?????????????


"Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing Than by Typing"   ???????


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You don't really have to go far to find articles, websites and other pieces of information that state that handwriting is better for learning. When compared to typing, where the brain interprets the different letters with the same finger motion, handwriting which is distinctly different for each letter, holds more sway on remembering and analysing. I get it. It makes sense.

What does that mean for secondary education? Does it mean that the more writing students do, the more they learn? Or that if they go a lesson without writing, then the learning is not optimal? What does it mean for computer science classes and ICT classes, or using computers (in whatever form) for your history class or mathematics lesson? Do we then have to somehow squeeze writing in there? I'm not quite sure it's as simple as that. 


To start with, most of the research that has been done (there are a list of links below), is aimed quite specifically at higher education. This is a different environment with different methods of teaching and learning. In my opinion (which is not backup up by research), the different methods of teaching and environments for learning are key to this discussion. The two issues that brought up mostly by the research in Higher Education are as follows:

1. The use of tech tools such as laptops and smart phones or tablets are not controlled by the instructor.

2. In higher education establishments, the student is more responsible for her/his own learning, and the practice of copying or creating notes as a method for learning (often the sole method) is a common occurance.


Let's start with number 1. In HE, technology tools that are often used to aid learning can also be used for recreation. E.g a laptop, smart phone or tablet can be used to write notes, research a specific topic within the lecture, but can also be used to play angry birds or send a whatsapp message. The latter can be distracting and hinder the learning process. Research has shown that it does this to the degree that those that go without the tools, thus forgoing the technological learning advantages, benefit in the long run, as the distractions have a higher negative effect.

In a secondary school environment, those negative effects do not exist in most cases, and if they do, they would not be to the same degree. This is because the use of technology in secondary school environments is more strictly controlled. None of my students would be caught sending an email to another student unless it was a specific part of the curriculum or related to the learning objective. On top of that, mobile phones are banned in most secondary schools I am aware of, so potential distraction is eliminated.


Now coming to the second more pedagogical issue, of learning methods and note taking. Whereas, in higher education establishments, the responsibility of learning falls on the students, in secondary education the responsibility is much more on the teacher (too much in my opinion, but that's another post). Long gone are the chalk and talk days which are still prevelent in higher education, where you could write down notes on the board, or on an OHP and wait for the students to copy it down into their books, before moving to the next piece of writing or OHP slide. In the 'old days' if you didn't copy it down fast enough, tough! You would go without, or copy it from a friend. In secondary, the methods of teaching are more vast, more differentiated and more indepth. Core understanding of the learning objective could be reached using various methods and would not solely rely on understanding what you had previously written. To be able to teach in this way is the core to secondary teacher training. There would be activities that would test comprehension, vocabulary and problem solving skills all within the lesson not just in the assessment at the end of term or end of year. Of course the specific methods employed would also be subject specific.

In my opinion, handwriting for the purpose of knowledge retention or understanding of concepts is a weak method to employ, probably the lowest form of learning method. In secondary education, knowledge acquisition is and should be more about engaging directly with that knowledge wherever possible, in all its different forms. If there are any notes, they could be given to the students, and activities based around those notes should be employed, which stimulate more senses than can be possible with writing something down by hand alone. They can play games, or manipulate that information in their own way for example. And this is exactly what studious higher education students should be doing anyway, not just relying on their, quite often, incomplete notes to ensure understanding.

So will the reduction of handwriting in secondary schools lead to a reduction in learning quality? Will the introduction and mass use of technology in secondary schools lead to a higher degree of distraction in class and hinder knowledge acquisition
? I believe the answer is no on both counts, in theory anyway. Now onto some proper secondary research to back this up. Who's in?



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