The pencil is mightier than the keyboard for learning

Nov 2016
Children make substantially more progress in literacy if they follow a pencil and paper course.

Children make substantially more progress in literacy if they follow a pencil and paper course than if they follow a similar course on a computer, according to research commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation, and published in the Times Education Supplement.

The research study looked at two groups of children: one who followed a pencil and paper literacy programme and a second group who followed an identical, computer based programme.

The findings from the study demonstrated that, although both groups did show improvements in their learning, those who followed a pencil and paper literacy programme made 50% more progress than those completing the identical, computer based course.

Academics believe that the act of producing work independently from memory, without the prompts provided by a keyboard, forced pupils to engage with their work more closely. As a result, this helps them to commit their learning to their long-term memory.

Jonathan Solity, an honorary research fellow at University College London, was unsurprised with the results. He said: "If you are writing the word 'hat' on paper, you have to generate the letters from your memory, whereas if you are doing the same activity on a keyboard you have obviously got some prompts: you can find the letter 'H' in front of you. It's about recognition, rather than recall."

Importantly the research also showed that, unlike online learning, pupils of all abilities benefitted from a pencil and paper approach to learning. Dr Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela, a researcher who carried out the study, believes the results highlight the limitations of current structured ICT learning. She said: "The pencil and paper approach is more flexible [sic] as it allows teaching assistants to more easily tailor what they are doing for the learning style and ability of each child."

We understand the importance of following a pencil and paper based programme at Kumon, which is why our maths and English programmes have remained paper based for over 60 years. The Kumon Method reinforces deep learning for children of all ages and abilities, by giving them all the practice they need before moving on to the next piece of work. Our fluency and mastery approach ensures Kumon students produce sufficient work to support the connection between their daily study and long-term memory.

Tim Corns, Kumon's Schools Project Manager, said: "During a recent observation of a primary school class I was struck by how little work students were being asked to generate. The interactive whiteboard at the front of the class was doing so much of the heavy lifting that, within a 90-minute lesson, the students only put pen to paper for a rather noisy final 20 minutes.

On this occasion the technology had created an unnecessary layer between the student and the learning, resulting in a lack of practice and development of long-term memory. If technology is able to create a barrier with students, in contrast Kumon removes that barrier. Quite simply, with just a worksheet and pencil Kumon students are producing work almost from the moment they enter the centre to when they leave, making the absolute best use of their time."