This year marks the second academic year for students continuing to attend virtual classes and submit digital assignments. Every year, at the start of April, students would rush to buy new school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks and school bags as they moved into a higher grade at school. With the pandemic making digital learning the norm, have students been cut off from the charm of pen and paper? Tablets have replaced notebooks and note-making, with a stylus on a screen becoming the norm, and yet one cannot ignore the benefits that the physical act of writing in longhand bring with it.
A pen to a writer is what a paintbrush is to a painter. Writing on a blank piece of paper allows a free flow of ideas without the distractions of the digital world, especially during creative writing. Today, speech-to-text software and apps have replaced the traditional scribbling of notes during a lecture. There’s no denying that it’s a time-saver but writing by hand has been proven important for the cognitive and creative development of a child.
Is the pen mightier than a stylus in a student’s life? Let’s find out.
Pen and Paper Foster Retention
Our brain responds better to tangible memories. The more we know that something is real and can be touched or seen, the harder it is to forget. Therefore, putting a pen to paper aids the building of a stronger memory among children. The kinetic feeling that is accompanied with writing things down causes our brain to process information into our memories faster.
As per an experiment conducted by Princeton University in 2014, students who wrote by hand had better long term retention of the information than those who noted verbatim during a Ted Talk. They also found that using a pen and paper visibly had a higher degree of understanding of the concepts discussed during the talk.
Long term retention of information as a result of writing can be attributed to the correlation of the brain to sensory organs involved in holding a pen to write. Over the years, many researchers have discovered that writing by hand creates unique neural pathways in the brain, which enable the writer to remember the content better than those who typed it using a keyboard.
Handwriting allows a free flow of ideas
Whenever we are writing with a pen and paper, we tend to think before we jot something down. Despite being at digitally native workplaces, even today we take a small notepad with us to write down our ideas during a brainstorming session. This is so because a blank sheet of paper, without any restrictions of software, allows us to be creative with how we are writing down important pieces of information. While many may argue that notetaking apps available on smartphones allow for a more systematic and faster approach to notetaking, writing with a pen provides flexibility to arrange your thoughts as written text. Many students, while typing, may just passively replicate the teacher’s style without figuring out the method that helps them in increased retention of the lesson.
Cognitive development in children
Since the last few years and more so since the pandemic, digital writing devices and education technology are being given more importance in schools. Cursive writing is perhaps being replaced by chat box messaging. In 2012, Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, conducted a study in which she asked preliterate children to use one of the three methods to reproduce the shape of a letter: tracing it from an image with a dotted outline, writing it or typing it on a computer. Following which, she conducted brain scans of these children and observed that only writing the letter by hand fully activated the three areas of the brain essential for writing and reading skills. Physical writing reinforces our reading and language processing skills.
Writing physically with a pen aids physical coordination, greater neural activity, creativity and attentiveness. Further, cognitive mapping has indicated that the art of writing and forming words engages the mind more than any digital device.
Writing sparks connections, ideas, collaboration and provides the much needed touch in midst of a digital revolution. Not only does it improve the retention power but also engages the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brain that filters information.
Laptops and tablets are slowly replacing textbooks as schools remain shut due to the pandemic. Kindergartners are learning to manoeuvre through a chatroom and remember the functions of each icon on their screens. Even though digital learning will dominate curriculums in the coming years, the old art of cursive writing, journaling, scribbling notes on paper, doodling with pen and writing letters are very much still a part of our lives.
The love affair of a writer with his pen and paper is hard to break.
Rajat Vohra is general manager, India and South Asia, at Reynolds Pens India Pvt Ltd. This article reflects his personal views and not necessarily those of his organisation. This is not a paid promotion.