Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Are Kids Tuning Out By Plugging In

I have two children and live in a state that has embraced the common core full force.  The complaint many have had about the common core is that there is no experience using this curriculum.  They were even writing some of the lesson plans as they were teaching them this year.  They have no idea what the long term impact these changes could have on their students. 

One of the biggest changes I see in the name of “advancement” is getting rid of handwriting, and the addition of technology. Specifically, they are no longer teaching children to write in script, and they are embracing technology via iPads and computers.  I guess the rational is that if students are primarily typing, and no longer writing, note taking will be obsolete, and so will their need to know script. 

My local school has adopted both of these ideas.  They only teach children to print, script is no longer taught in the school.  They are also implementing a pilot program in the elementary school to give the children each a tablet-like device in kindergarten through 5th grade to “facilitate learning.”  I have been skeptical of both cutting handwriting, and giving small kids tablets, it has just been a “gut instinct.”  My concern was validated when I read two recent articles about both.

I was surprised to read the recent article in the New Yorker titled “The Case For Banning Laptops In The Classroom.” which discusses information retention by students who take notes on computers.  Ironically, at Dartmouth, the computer science professor was the first one to ban lap tops in his class.  Students were just too distracted. The temptation was too great for many students to surf the net during class. But what about the kids who aren’t surfing the web, and are actually just taking notes? Studies show that students who take handwritten notes have better recall of a lecture than those taking notes on a computer.

Personally, I am a note taker.  I remember things better when I write them down by hand.  I actually have to write a note, as typing the same note does not allow me to retain the information as well.  Why are the studies showing that others have the same experience?  What is it about handwriting?  Is there a connection made between our hand and brain? Dyslexic kids are often taught to tap out words on their arm to imprint the spelling. What are our kids losing if they are no longer writing by hand?

The New York Times recently published a great article entitled “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” which debunks the notion of the common core, that learning handwriting is no longer necessary.  According to the article, new data is showing evidence that there is a connection between handwriting and educational development. They link handwriting to the generation of ideas and information retention.

The biggest frustration I have is that the direction the government is taking to educate our children is the wrong one.  Numerous studies are showing that plugging children into technology, and pulling back from handwriting is actually detrimental to their retention of information, and their critical thinking development.  Even liberal publications that have traditionally supported the common core curriculum, such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, are recognizing the flaws in moving in this direction.  If the school systems don’t make changes now, and abandon their plans for technology implementation, it seems instead of plugging into learning, kids will just be tuning out.



  1. I am a high school teacher in a district that has fully embraced IPads for kids from Kinder through Senior year. Being an experienced teacher, I have plenty of observations on how this negatively impacts education.

    First of all, administrations everywhere are operating under the fallacy that these children come out of the womb Internet ready. Most students, even at the high school level, know how to do little beyond downloading games and taking photos. Even though the Apple tablets issued by the school come loaded with educational software, the students lose no time in downloading movies, games, distractions.

    We are being told by the administration that teachers control the technology. Yet, when a PE teacher put up a sign telling students that the gym was a no technology (no tablets, no cell phones) area, she was written up and forced to take the sign down. What purpose does it serve to have open ended access to a variety of temptations if you have never be taught or expected to adhere to limits? I am having to water down content and my classes-which are performance based-are moving much slower than students in classes as recently as two years ago. The cause can only be the distracting presence of tablets and cell phones.

    The most disturbing aspect of this is that many older children lead lives quite separate and secret from their parents. Finding abandoned cell phones, teachers often try to get to the home page to find the owner. It is appalling what passes for common photos these days. And too many parents avoid searching or limiting their children's phones under the mistaken need for privacy. This became quite clear to me when a teacher was dismissed for having a relationship with a parent and the parents refused to press charges because the contents of the student's cell phone beyond the relationship might demonstrate drug and alcohol use that would lose him a scholarship. This is what we have come to.

  2. Children's minds become closed to new things and stimulus when focused strictly on a computer screen. My adult children experienced old fashion and new technology growing up. They can all see the dangers in their own children's development, now, while they work on the IPad in school. They are vocalizing this in the school and work at home with their children in developing their Art skills, drawing, painting etc.