Pupils learn more quickly using pen and paper than on a computer, study shows

Pencil-and-paper assignments beat online projects in raising primary pupils’ progress, because staff can be more flexible and respond to students' needs more easily

Adi Bloom

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Pupils make substantially more progress in literacy if they follow a pen-and-paper course than if they take a similar programme online, new research has found.

Researchers working with pupils in 51 primary schools found that those following a paper-based literacy programme made 50 per cent more progress than those doing an identical course on a computer.

The academics believe that the offline course made it easier for the teaching assistant supporting the pupils to be more adaptable and flexible to the children’s needs.

The study involved 2,241 pupils taking part in either an online or a pencil-and-paper literacy programme. Some of the pupils were assigned as a control group, and continued to receive their usual literacy lessons.

More progress

The content of the online and offline programmes was identical. Pupils on both courses were guided by a teaching assistant, who worked with them through a range of writing texts. The pupils then played a series of games, designed to improve phonics fluency and reading comprehension.

The study found that all pupils who took part in the programme made more progress than the control group.

Dr Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela, an education researcher at the London School of Economics, who carried out the study for the Education Endowment Foundation, believes that it is not the medium of instruction that makes the difference. Instead, it is the teaching that goes along with it.

'More flexible'

“In general, research finds very mixed results about the use of technology in school,” she said. “There are studies that haven’t found very big effects from the use of ICT in learning.

“Computer programs are structured – teachers have to follow what a program tells them to do. The pencil-and-paper approach is more flexible. Teaching assistants could adapt what they were doing a bit more, to the individual children. If a certain group was more able, they could tailor it better to the ability level of the children in that group.”

This is an [edited] article from the 28 October edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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