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The Importance of Paper in the Classroom


When the 2021-22 school year began this fall, more than 50 million kids headed back to full-time, in-person learning—many for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. According to MCH Strategic Data, 89% of schools are currently back to full in-person learning with less than one percent of schools remote and the balance in a hybrid model.

While there have been spotty short terms closures across the country (Burbio to date has captured 605 school districts affected by closures involving 2,319 schools through mid-October), the trend appears to be moving positively downward as the fall progresses.

In addition to conversations around mask and vaccine requirements, what’s changed in the classroom is the reliance on education technology more than ever before.  The onset of remote learning due to the pandemic forced a case study of sorts in the widespread use of technology in education. The Reach Capital ReimagineED Report on U.S. Education Trends found that 26 million devices were shipped into U.S. K-12 schools last year, the use of Google Classroom increased 375% YOY and Zoom education users made up 50% of subscribers by April 2020.

However, the same study found 84% of teachers struggled to keep students engaged and motivated and the average time spent online for kids doubled to over 6 hours per day during the pandemic.

The benefits of technology are undeniable, but as teachers navigate these curricular changes, it may be useful to keep in mind some of the advantages of the printed page in the classroom.

Paper can Enhance Learning and Education

Researchers from Princeton and UCLA found that subjects who wrote their notes on paper retained more of what they heard and were able to conceptualize the subject matter more effectively, as writing engages the memory and cognition centers of the brain in a different way than typing. Students are more likely to write down key points as information is processed rather than simply taking dictation since writing is slower than typing.

Children Read Differently on Paper

Naomi Baron, who is professor emerita of linguistics at American University, says that since we use screens for social purposes and entertainment, we get used to absorbing online material, much of which was designed to be read quickly and casually, skimming content without much effort. We then tend to use that same approach to on-screen reading with harder material that we need to learn from, to slow down with, to absorb more carefully. A result can be that we don’t give that material the right kind of attention.  In addition, it can be easy to get distracted by the infinite number of platforms available online.

PAPERbecause...There is no Replacing it.

BMI recently commissioned pollster Frank Luntz to gain insight into how parents viewed the efficacy of various learning materials.  69% of parents chose physical over online materials when given the option and 72% feel physical books will keep students more engaged and focused.  Over 80% of parents believe physical materials would have made their jobs easier helping their child learn from home, including many parents who favor online books.

Think of the artwork on Grandma’s fridge or that Student of the Week certificate on your child’s bulletin board…not quite the same effect online.

Bottom line - both print and digital have important roles in today’s classroom – and we can all use a break from the screen now and then. For more on the benefits of paper, explore the rest of our blog!

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