This year my 7th grade daughter has e-textbooks, Google classrooms, and digital notebooks. This is the year that she learns to manage her schoolwork in the digital world. She’s thrilled, but I see a year fraught with learning peril.
You can’t blame me; it seems that every time I turn around I see yet another article warning me of the dangers of digital learning. Handwriting is better than typing for lecture notes, paper is better than a screen for reading comprehension, plus the giant question of how much screen time is healthy for our kids’ brains.
And yet, I see the benefits to her digital school year, too.
For one thing, her backpack is significantly lighter, and this is a big benefit. Also, she always knows where her homework is – it’s on her iPad in Notability. This digital school year there will be no last minute panics about worksheets that got torn, stepped on, or left behind in her locker. That is definitely a relief.
Her e-textbook has some nice features too. It has an audio feature that will read the text aloud while highlighting the word it is reading. It can also highlight the main ideas in the reading for the student. I love that feature because my daughter doesn’t yet show much discernment when a highlighter is in her hand.
Also, she is having a much easier time keeping her e-notebook organized than she had with the traditional notebooks of years past. I can already see that we won’t need the January reset of new clean notebooks.
But even with those definite positives, I worry. I know that for this digital school year, I will have to reconcile my daughter’s enthusiasm for all things digital with my knowledge about how she learns best.
Fortunately, I know the secret weapon. I know from my experience tutoring kids that the key to a successful digital school year is…a printer.
Heresy I know, but just because something starts on a screen doesn’t mean it has to stay on a screen. Print stuff out and relax a little about learning and screen time.
For example, I once tutored a student who transformed his grades in two weeks in part because I had him print out his reading assignments each day before he left school. That night he highlighted and annotated the printed pages. That way he had the tactile experience he needed, and the change was almost instantly reflected in his grades.
Printing out an assignment can also help the kids who struggle with managing the scrolling screen. I’ve seen kids scroll like maniacs through a digital reading/workbook assignment and claim they couldn’t find anything, or worse yet, simply claim they were finished. Printing forces them to slow down and find the assignment on the screen. It helps them clarify in their brains what it is that they have to complete. Some kids find it hard to differentiate one screen from another – especially when scrolling at the speed of light.
When a workbook-type of an assignment has to be turned in to the teacher in a digital format, students can still benefit from printing out the reading. In that case, the student can read and highlight the printed pages, and write his answers on the workbook screen with a stylus.
Naturally, my own 12 year old has no desire to print anything out. Even so, when she had quizzes to study for last week, I insisted that she print her notes so that she could touch them, and highlight them, and make handwritten notes on them. I felt like it was a solution that allowed her to benefit from the advantages of digital learning while also benefiting from what the research says about how kids learn best.
So enjoy the lack of late-night panics about assignments left at school. Exult in the feather-light backpack. Embrace the wonders of technology. But don’t be held hostage to a screen. When the situation calls for it, print away to your heart’s content and allow your kids to learn and study in a way that works best for them.