The Value of a Pencil in this Technology Rich World.

The Value of a Pencil in this Technology Rich World.

May 31, 2017
Wendy Macken, Assistant Director, Junior School

As educators, we recognize the need to continuously review and revise our practices as priorities shift in the world around us. The New BC Curriculum reflects this need for change as it highlights two main features essential for today’s learners - “a concept-based approach to learning, and a focus on the development of competencies, to foster deeper, more transferable learning” (BC’s Redesigned Curriculum).

As the future takes shape, one cannot ignore the disruptive role of technology, transforming the way we live, learn and interact with others. Access to technology is becoming commonplace in elementary classrooms across the globe. The benefits of this tool are extensive, allowing access to information and tools that enrich and enhance student learning. However, one may wonder about the place of long standing tools such as the pencil? Is there a place for such tools in today’s modernized classroom?

Clive Thompson weighs in on the place of the pencil in this technology rich world, in his talk “How the way you write changes the way you think’. Thompson, responding to an article in the New York Times “Cursive Writing Dying” wonders if handwriting is somehow more natural and suited to the brain. He sets out to find the answer to his question Typing or Writing - Which one is better? He discovered it is not a matter of one being superior, but rather depends on what type of thinking and task you want to engage in.  

Research suggests that when taking notes, handwriting is the better medium, allowing us to understand and retain more. Why is this? It is suggested that because we have to synthesize more when we handwrite notes, higher level thinking is required. We understand more, retain more and remember more as we are focus to actively engage in thinking related to the content being delivered. This is in contrast to what happens when taking notes using a device and keyboard. Within this setting, transcription tends to be the primary focus, resulting in a more complete version of the content. However, as synthesis of information is not required, we think less about the actual content and therefore come away with less thinking and understanding.

Interestingly, when the task changes, so should the tool. When creating a piece of writing, research suggests that typing is now the superior medium. Thompson refers to something called ‘transcription fluency bottleneck’,  when you are unable to get your ideas down in actual time, ideas are lost and your ability to create suffers. To avoid this, we should put down the pencil and pick up a keyboard. Using a device, combined with the ability to type with relative speed, eliminates this evaporation of ideas, that one can often experience when using a pencil.

Thompson concludes that no one tool is best, but rather dependent on the task. As we work to develop educated citizens ready for success in life beyond school, it is important students know how to think critically and deeply about what it is they are trying to achieve.  Our hope is that they will be able to draw from a complete toolkit of strategies, to determine how best to achieve the intended outcome. And this could very possibly be a pencil!