Old News Flash: Old-Fashioned Learning Methods Work. Amazing!

February 9, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Humans are tactile, visual learners with varying attention span lengths. Unfortunately attention spans are getting shorter due to kids’ addiction to small screens. Their small screen addiction is affecting how they learn and retain information. The Guardian shares news about an educational study that didn’t need to be researched because anecdotal evidence is enough: “A Groundbreaking Study Shows Kids Learn Better On Paper, Not Screens.” American student reading scores are at an all time low. Educators, parents, bureaucrats, and everyone are concerned and running around like decapitated chickens.

Thirteen-year-olds’ text comprehension skills have lowered by four points since the 2019-2020 pandemic school year and the average rate has fallen seven points compared to 2012. These are the worst results since reading levels were first recorded in 1971.

Biden’s administration is blaming remote learning and the pandemic. Conservative politicians are blaming teacher unions because they encouraged remote learning. Remote learning is the common denominator. Remote learning is the scapegoat but the claim is true. Kids will avoid school at all costs and the pandemic was the ultimate extended vacation.

There’s an even bigger culprit because COVID can’t be blamed in the coming years. The villains are computers and mobile devices. Unfortunately anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to satisfy bigwigs (which is good in most cases) so Columbia University’s Teachers College tested paper vs. screens for “deeper reading” and “shallow reading.” Here’s what they found:

“Using a sample of 59 children aged 10 to 12, a team led by Dr Karen Froud asked its subjects to read original texts in both formats while wearing hair nets filled with electrodes that permitted the researchers to analyze variations in the children’s brain responses. Performed in a laboratory at Teachers College with strict controls, the study – which has not yet been peer reviewed – used an entirely new method of word association in which the children “performed single-word semantic judgment tasks” after reading the passages. Vital to the usefulness of the study was the age of the participants – a three-year period that is “critical in reading development” – since fourth grade is when a crucial shift occurs from what another researcher describes as “learning to read” to “reading to learn”.”

Don’t chuck printed books in the recycling bin yet! Printed tools are still the best way to learn and retain information. Technology is being thrust into classrooms from the most remote to inner cities. Technology is wonderful in spreading access to education but it’s not increasing literacy and other test scores. Technology is being promoted instead of actually teaching kids to learn.

As a trained librarian, the utility of reading books, taking notes in a notebook, and chasing information in reference materials seems obvious. But obvious to me is not obvious to others.

Whitney Grace, February 9, 2024


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