Let’s Use EdTech AND Pencil and Paper

A big part of what I do involves meeting with teachers, formally and informally, to discuss the use of tech in their classrooms. As a Technology Integration Specialist, I am obviously a fan of the use of tech in education, however that use needs to be judicious.

You might be surprised to know that I am also a Bullet Journal fan. Yes, good old paper and pen! The process of writing things down makes a tremendous difference for me when it comes to my ability to organize my thoughts and recall things.  I need to spend time with the content of my life to be able to wrangle it into some order, nevermind have any hope of remembering my to do’s.

It turns out my experience is backed up by research. I recently read a 2014 piece from Forbes Magazine called, Persuade The Old-Fashioned Way: With Pens, Pencils, and Paper that advocates the use of pencil and paper for taking notes as it increases cognitive function. The article references a 2014 study out of Princeton University that found, “In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.” Technology is helpful in many, many ways, but it turns out that it actually can reduce our time spent mentally processing information.

Technology can also isolate students which keeps them from from listening and responding to the ideas of others.  As teachers, when we see a class full of students looking at individual screens, we know something is off in our classrooms.  It is completely appropriate at certain times but cannot be the primary and daily way our students interact with content.

We are all being asked to use the technology our districts are providing, however these findings can inform our use of tech in the classroom and make us more effective as work with our students.   As students work to build knowledge, encourage them to physically sketch out ideas on paper, physically move, exchange and discuss their thinking with others. We all know that cutting and pasting content into a document does not help you “own’ that information. Synthesizing information requires that you have a deep level of understanding of the pieces of information you are trying to build relationships between in your brain. Using paper and pen and incorporating discussion naturally causes students to spend more time thinking about content and its meaning.

Presenting the new ideas built throught this practice of synthesizing is a perfect task for the use of tech. This is where technology in education shines! Helping students show their new understandings using audio, video, graphics, etc. exponetially increases engagement and allows them to develop real-world skills they can carry into their future.

As the old saying goes, let’s not “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Think about the ways you ask your students to use technology and see if you can find places where paper and pen might be more effective.  We are not dealing with an all or nothing situation and, as professionals, we can all help our students by creating a healthy balance between the use of tech vs. paper and pen in our classrooms.