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Why students should write on paper more

Why students should write on paper more

5 min read
  • Study skills & exam prep
  • The science of learning

Recent results from Ofsted inspections have highlighted the detrimental impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on students’ proficiency and stamina to write. Many teachers reported that students had fallen back on spelling, grammar, handwriting, punctuation, and presentation.

But why is writing so important? In this new digital age where students are completing the majority of their work online, is the old-fashioned skill of pen to paper still necessary?

The short answer is a big yes. Effective writing skills are essential for a student’s overall cognitive development. And even nowadays, students should actually be writing more. So, let’s take a look at why and how…

Why is writing proficiency so important?

Many in education no longer consider students developing their written proficiency as a skill they need to learn, but rather a skill they need for learning. This is because the power of proficient writing skills is not only evident in English classes, but are linked to better academic performance in a variety of different subject areas such as Maths and Science.

Writing is also important because it allows students to:

  • Improve their understanding of class material and seek clarification
  • Develop their critical thinking skills and make connections
  • Communicate ideas, opinions, persuade others, and express feelings
  • Effectively record, manipulate and analyse information
  • Develop their reading skills by providing insight

If a student has weak writing skills, the negative implications can be long-lasting. This is because writing is also a necessary skill for future success as applications for university and jobs all have written components: personal statements or cover letters are essential to the recruitment process.

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How to get students to write more

For students to maximise their full academic potential, we can encourage them to write more. Research shows that in order to effectively teach students good writing skills, teachers can:

  • Support students as they write.
  • Provide students with opportunities to write frequently using different writing styles.
  • Ensure their classroom is a motivational and supporting environment for writing.
  • Teach the necessary writing processes, knowledge, and skills.
  • Combine writing with other skills such as learning and reading.

Based on this information, here are five effective strategies that you can use to get your students to write more:

Set regular homework assignments that require writing

Consider setting your students regular homework assignments that include tasks such as essays, making flashcards to summarise their learning for the week, completing past papers, writing summaries and self-reflections, or making information posters by hand.

By regularly setting homework tasks that require them to use different writing skills, your students will be able to enhance their writing proficiency and stamina by the time exam season rolls around.

However, as a teacher, it is also important that you provide your students with timely feedback when addressing fundamental writing skills such as handwriting, spelling or sentence structure to support their learning.

Set creative writing assignments

Although writing instruction should focus on realistic tasks such as analysing source material, engaging in critical thinking or identifying information, the benefit of creative writing should not be overlooked.

Research shows that creative writing can improve students’ focus, dedication to learning, and keeps them motivated. By allowing students to be creative, they also develop their problem-solving skills, creative thinking ability, logical skills, and a personal voice. Not only are these skills beneficial for overall written comprehension, but other areas of learning such as Maths and science too.

Favour handwritten notes

When typing on a laptop or tablet, students tend to take verbatim notes – resulting in shallow processing of the material, due to less engagement with the content they’re trying to learn.

Concurrently, taking notes by hand can lead to more in-depth understanding and better memory recall as students give more thought to what information they should be writing down, and what information is irrelevant. By successfully summarising this lesson material, students’ cognitive load doesn’t become overwhelmed.

One useful note-taking strategy is the Cornell Note Taking Method: students divide their sheet into sections dedicated to notes, key terms, and summary on the topic. Students can refer back to their note sheet throughout the semester and ask themselves specific questions about the course content or attempt to learn each key word through retrieval (i.e. recall the definition of the key word from memory).

Encourage journaling

Research shows that keeping a diary can improve well-being and metacognition, but for many, it is too time-consuming. A quicker solution for students is to grab a pen and paper to jot down their feelings whenever their thoughts and emotions become overwhelming. Through writing, mind mapping, or even doodling – whatever suits them.

As student life can be quite stressful can be quite stressful, encouraging your students to jot down their emotions can help to:

  • Alleviate their stress
  • Improve their concentration and memory
  • Process their emotion
  • Prevent overreaction

But it also allows students to further develop their writing skills in a way that is beneficial to their mental well-being.

Dedicate enough time to writing

Writing is an extremely complex skill for students to develop effectively and therefore requires good instructional teaching and time. It isn’t a skill that should be rushed. A report by the National Commission on Writing (NCOW) found that “in today’s schools, writing is a prisoner of time”. Although published in 2003, the findings have been consistently replicated.

Research shows that teachers who are confident in their ability to teach writing effectively are more likely to devote more time to teaching it and apply written work tasks in their classroom. As a result, it is important that teachers also improve their knowledge of what good writing, vocabulary, evaluation, and sentence structure is to maximise students’ written development.

Final thoughts

The importance of writing should not be ignored. Not only can it benefit your students’ academic approach, but the way they engage with class content. Teachers play a vital role in developing writing proficiency in students, so it is important that the tasks you set reflect this. However, make sure to not overdo it to keep students engaged in the task.

If you feel your class or an individual student isn’t displaying adequate writing skills, then make sure you take the time to teach the skill and support them with their development. Reiterate the importance of knowing how to write and practise what you teach.

For more tips on how to improve student learning, consider why students should ask why and how you can keep them focused on the lesson at hand.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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