Teaching Writing: Low-Tech Teaching with High-End Results
by Andrew Pudewa
If you attend a large education conference these days, a quick circuit around the exhibit hall makes one fact immediately evident: everyone and everything is moving high-tech.
Teaching Writing for Buildable Basics
Apple® likely sports the largest exhibit with a dozen or more booth spaces, while all the major textbook publishers are showcasing their interactive e-texts. Reading and literacy specialists are being pressured to use the newest tablet-based apps designed to teach reading to young children in the primary grades. Grammarly™-style automated editing and writing assessment programs abound, while nary a word is breathed about teaching writing on paper, let alone the state-standards’ idea of cursive handwriting.
From the looks of the vendor hall, technology can and certainly will quickly ensure fool-proof teaching of basic skills while guaranteeing that all children will easily learn everything needed to meet the new standards. The paperless classroom seems to be our inevitable future.
Conference presentations reinforce this. Roughly estimated, at least a third of the talks address some sort of technology in the classroom, with the rest evenly distributed between topics ranging from classroom management to fundraising to differentiated instruction. An interested teacher would be hard-pressed to find much in the way of methods or pedagogy for teaching basic skills. In fact, there is little at teacher conferences about the art of teaching.
“There are numerous examples of an inverse relationship between technology in the classroom and teaching writing, reading, and math skills. ”
Technology Is Not the Answer to Teach Writing
Technology has been the main topic of conversation in education for over a decade now, with ever-improving devices and a greater variety of software. However, nowhere can we find any actual correlation between technology in the classroom and an increase in test scores. In fact, the reverse seems to be true, and it has been for well over a decade.
In 2003, Todd Oppenheimer’s exhaustive study “The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology” cites numerous examples of an inverse relationship between technology in the classroom and basic reading, writing, and math skills. He found some of the highest levels of competency in schools with zero technology (Montessori and Waldorf), and the lowest levels of ability in technology magnet schools.
It seems that neither schools nor the marketplace heeded that warning, and the push for more and better “edtechnology” thrust tablets into the hands of first graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District, even while study after study and expert after expert testified to the inefficacy of such expenditures. In fact, one recent report from Clemson University confirms this, showing that improved Internet access has zero benefit to students’ test scores1, and a Time.com article by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (“Screens in Schools Are a Sixty Billion Dollar Hoax”) lists dozens of studies showing negative correlations between increased technology use and student performance and well-being.2 Dr. Kardaras claims that the huge push for technology in schools is driven mainly by commercial interests, not by academic research or education professionals.
The Importance of Just Using Pen and Paper
At IEW®, we are often asked about the effect of technology on teaching writing, whether e-books will replace real books, and how our materials can be adapted for a high-tech classroom environment. While we appreciate and utilize a variety of apps and programs to improve our materials and our services, even offering webinars and online classes, we also realize the importance of children developing basic skills with pen and paper. An abundance of peer-reviewed, journal-published research exists that strongly supports the following claims:
- Reading on paper rather than screens provides better comprehension for both young children and older students.
- Teaching writing on paper versus typing stimulates the brain in different and beneficial ways.
- Students have better recall of content when taking notes on paper as opposed to typing.
- Cursive writing offers significant neurological benefits overprinting on paper.
Therefore, we coach teachers to use a low-tech approach to teaching writing in the classroom, especially in the primary, elementary, and middle grades. Not only does the research indicate that it’s good for the students’ brains, we believe it promotes better thinking as well.
Consider, for example, some of the great writers who pre-existed (or refused to use) modern technology. C.S. Lewis hand wrote every one of his books on paper—with a fountain pen! All of the nineteenth-century greats—Dickens, Twain, Bronte, Melville, and others—wrote on paper. Your child should, too.
Andrew Pudewa’s work with parents, students, and teachers around the world has transformed reluctant student writers and equipped educators with powerful tools to teaching writing. Andrew is the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He and his wife, Robin, homeschooled their seven children and live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
This article was originally published in the Virginia Home Educator.
1 Hazlett, Thomas W. and Schwall, Benjamin and Wallsten, Scott, “The Educational Impact of Broadband Subsidies for Schools Under E-Rate” (May 17, 2016).