I was moved to write today by three different things that got me thinking:  a CBS Sunday Morning segment on handwriting, a School Library Monthly blog entry about how students best comprehend readings, and a blog about "old school" computer tools.  Each, in its own way, made me think about what our goals for students should really be.

The CBS story (print version here and video version here) focused on the role of cursive handwriting in American culture, and how fewer and fewer students are mastering it.  I learned that up until the twentieth century, only cursive handwriting was taught.  Hand printing, it seems, is a more recent innovation.  I have sometimes, as a teacher, worried that students would see handwriting as irrelevant at best and time wasting at worst.  The CBS story contradicted this sense when the reporter interviewed students.  Most said something to the effect of "I can use a pencil and paper anywhere, even if there is no electricity."  Students generally do not think of the computer as a the best tool for their own writing.  This story reinforced my own impressions from observing students at my school.  When I watched 6th grade students last year choose to take notes while doing Internet research by hand instead of with computer tools.  When I queried them about their choices, the students unanimously replied that it was easier for them to understand what they were reading if they took their notes in this way.  [Since I first posted this, I found two more articles which were cited by Larry Ferlazzo: one in Lifehacker that explores why we learn more when we write than when we type and one in Science Daily that asserts that typing may impede the learning process in ways that writing facilitates.]

The School Library Blog cites an informal classroom study that a teacher did that tested how her students best comprehended readings.  It turned out, at least in her experiment, that students best retained and comprehended material that they read in print outs, with a highlighter or pencil in their hands, than they did in any variation on the computer.

Finally, in the Teach Paperless blog, John T. Spencer extols the virtues of the "old school" computer tools--word processing, spread sheets, concept maps, blogs, slide shows, and the Internet.  While he agrees that some of the newer bells and whistles can engage students, these tools are the ones that students will find most useful.  Students valued the collaboration and the opportunity for revision.

These three sources made me think about our goals for our students. Our global culture has come to value fastest over best, and we as educators need to work hard to counteract that trend.  Shallowly dipping in and out of what we read will not produce thoughtfully considered positions. We want students to think clearly and carefully, to learn how to acquire information and use it to make good decisions, and to be able to present what they have learned in ways that are cogent and coherent.  Each of these sources is about encouraging students to slow down, to master a skill, and to take the time to think. 

We educators must do the same.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com