Teachers ask this question of me a great deal, What is more memorable to the brain– typing on a computer or writing in long hand? Guess which one! If you said writing, you would be correct. Research appears to indicate that the things we write down tend to stick to the brain better than the things we type on a computer. Have you ever written a list of groceries that you wanted to purchase at the store and then forgotten to take the list with you? Isn’t it ironic that you can still recall the majority of items on the list? Therefore, there are times when we may prefer that our students write and other times when we want them typing. It simply depends on the purpose of the assignment and which is more appropriate for accomplishing that purpose.
A word of caution about writing: Many middle and high school teachers have students taking copious notes while they are lecturing. What’s wrong with this picture? Since the brain can only pay conscious attention to one thing at a time, students are either attempting to write the notes and missing part of the lecture or attempting to listen to the lecture and missing many of the notes. Don’t expect them to do both. I am not saying that you cannot multitask. I am saying that only one of those tasks is conscious.
What The Research Says
Students stand a better chance of recognizing letters and characters, a skill necessary for reading, if they write the letters while they are being learned rather than typing them on the computer (Longcamp et al., 2008).
Students should write the definition of words they are attempting to remember in their own words since the brain tends to recall best those things that are personally relevant (Tileston, 2011).
When the kinesthetic activity of writing is used to communicate math concepts, more neurons are engaged and students are made to organize their thoughts (Sousa, 2007).
Make It Happen
- As you present a lecturette (a mini-lecture of five to seven minutes), have students write key concepts and phrases that will help them remember your content. Be sure to give them time to write so that their brains will not have to engage in two behaviors simultaneously — listening to your continued talk and trying to remember what to write.
- Give students a variety of media that provide them with opportunities to express their ideas in writing. These could include, but not be limited to, posters, brochures, scripts for plays, book jackets, commercials, and graphic organizers. Consult my blog on “Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs” for examples of various mind maps.
- Have students keep math journals in which they could write the steps when solving computational or word problems. Not only will the written steps assist the student in remembering the sequence of the solution, but it will also provide insight to the teacher into the thinking of the student during problem solving.
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students using writing and journals, consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.