The Case For Paper Note-Taking

In this electronic age, paper note-taking for meetings and classes reigns supreme and Texas schools have taken a major step by making cursive writing mandatory for 2nd-grade students going into 3rd grade. Dr. W.R. (Bill) Klemm, Senior Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University explains why this fine motor skill is good for not just children but also you and me.

Printing letters with a pen or pencil, by itself, is a big boost in brain development because it illustrates what’s called the “production effect” Dr. Klemm explains. Because paper note-taking is more engaging for the brain vs tapping a single letter on a keyboard, it aids in brain development and growth. Cursive, however, boosts brain development even further.

Cursive is harder to train than simply printing a letterform. Therefore when you train a child not only in paper note-taking but in cursive, more areas of their brain “light up” simultaneously when looking at a brain scan of this activity. Practically speaking, when you activate more areas of the brain simultaneously, more neural circuits form. This means children’s brains are trained to think better, think harder and coordinate and synchronize with other areas of the brain. A more synchronized brain is able to make better connections and therefore is better at problem-solving. (This is also why adding the arts to STEM, or STEAM education is great for children’s brains.)

The mechanics of cursive are also a major brain-booster. Because cursive must be made better through deliberate practice, like a golfers swing, this hand-eye coordination enhances brain function and a child’s ability to train their brain.

What about paper note-taking for adults?

The benefit of cursive and paper note-taking isn’t limited to children and young brain development. Years ago, I bought my first Moleskine notebook because of how beautiful it was. Combined with my Uni-Ball Vision Elite pen, I loved the experience of paper note-taking, carving letterforms into the soft paper fibers. Unexpectedly, I began to notice when I took paper notes, I retained information in my meetings better, rarely having to refer my notes. There is data to support this idea.

Dr. Klemm explains there are mountains of research that show paper note-taking aids in memory. “If you take notes in longhand you will retain more information than if you would have typed those same notes” Dr. Klemm explained. This is true from a neurological aspect, but paper note-taking also works from a very practical standpoint.

Consider, if you are not an exceptional typist, taking notes on a laptop can actually be quite a distraction, slowing down the learner. Even if you’re a proficient typist, however, you still retain less. Typists that whip through 70 words a minute, which is considered fast, can do so in almost a brain-dead state Dr. Klemm explains. They can note-take so well, they do so without absorbing or retaining the data. Their brain barely lights up and they lose a vital learning opportunity.

Cursive writing is a great skill, but not just for kids. Paper note-taking is a vital skill even today, hopefully, Texas schools will set a trend, and in doing so improve learning, and help the next generation create new innovations and form better ideas.

Listen to the interview with Dr. W.R. (Bill) Klemm. Full Interview >

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