Remember the value of writing

From John D. Williams, President and CEO of Domtar Paper Company in Fort Mill, in response to “Education must adapt to change” (Sept. 4, Viewpoint):

I read with great interest the op-ed from former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue. I congratulate her efforts to found DigiLEARN and start a nonprofit that accelerates digital learning opportunities. While I agree a “one size fits all” approach to education can no longer prepare workers for a knowledge and idea economy, I am concerned we’re losing focus on one part of traditional education policy that can help kids grow academically in a variety of ways.

It’s something researchers have found helps students learn, remember, express ideas and perform better.


A growing amount of research underscores the importance of handwriting and the brain development it stimulates, yet some classrooms have eliminated handwriting from the curriculum because of advancements in technology.

Here are some reasons why we might want to reconsider that approach:

• Researchers at Indiana University conducted brain scans on pre-literate children ages 4 to 6 to determine whether printing letters, tracing them or typing is the most effective method in the learning process. The results? If children wrote by hand, the experts saw neural activity in three areas of the brain that was far more enhanced. These areas get activated in adults when they read and write.

• Good handwriting can play a role in classroom performance. It can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th, said an education professor at Vanderbilt University in a Wall Street Journal article.

• Psychologists at Princeton and UCLA have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand. This does not necessarily stem from the distracting effects of computers. Rather, writing by hand allows students to process a lecture’s content and reframe it. This can lead to better understanding and memory encoding, according to the New York Times.

• An article in Psychology Today, titled “Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter,” highlights how a professor at the University of Washington studied children in grades two, four and six. She found they wrote more words and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand and not with a keyboard.

Since being named President and CEO of Domtar, I have worked hard to promote a reasonable balance of “pixels and print.” I strongly believe that paper textbooks and electronic devices, when used together, offer the very best chances for success in educating a student.

That’s why Domtar has created Project Learning Curve. It’s a campaign to remind people that handwriting is a critical part of education and development, and as part of the effort, we’ve developed a new tool.

Domtar has been working with software developers on an app that helps connect a digital pen to a computer, allowing teachers to measure students’ progress. The teachers can track how long students spend on handwriting or set classroom goals for students, such as writing enough characters to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a fun way to encourage students to spend more time handwriting, to engage both students and parents, and to help teachers monitor the progress being made at home.

Technology is a helpful learning tool, to be sure, but its purpose should not be to replace paper. Rather, as Project Learning Curve demonstrates, we believe a healthy balance can help a classroom be successful.