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Is Print 'Dead'? Homeschool Moms, iPhones & Hardcovers - by Christina Patterson

Is Print ‘Dead’? Homeschool Moms, iPhones & Hardcovers


Christina Patterson, former public school teacher and now homeschool mom, doesn’t think that a digital age is ‘taking over’. It just gives us more options!

Technology never stops, does it? No sooner have we purchased a new form of technology than a newer model, or the next downloadable upgrade, is clamoring for our attention.

But does that mean our educational resources have to change just as often?

It’s obvious that the changeable nature of technology has found its way into education. Right now, some of the innovations taking place in schools involve the instructional use of “new literacies”—websites, emails, blogs—and other forms of digital text.

Some contend that print is dead. I’ve been out of high school for just 15 years, and I’m not sure I’d recognize my old classrooms if I went back for a visit.

This might leave homeschooling families wondering whether only digital instruction is necessary to equip students to be successful in modern society.

However, based on my own experiences, first as a public school student and teacher, and most recently, as a homeschooling mother, I argue that a combination of digital and print is necessary.

Writing Reinforces Concepts

Starting at the earliest stages of literacy learning, for example, print resources provide support for students. The act of writing, of holding the crayon or pencil and feeling that utensil move across paper, helps reinforce the concept of each letter’s shape.

Reflecting on my own experiences in the public school classroom, I remember teaching my students to write letters or vocabulary words through the use of repetition and multiple mediums.

For example, in vocabulary instruction, students would first write and illustrate the word; later, they might write the word on an index card with a highlighter.

Still later, students would create a sentence or question using the word. Ultimately, my goal was 5-7 repetitions of each word in meaningful contexts.

This strategy for learning involved the use of print rather than a computer screen, and I believe that it is the action of writing the word or letter that helps reinforce that new learning.

Digital Literacy

As an educator, I didn’t assign many computer projects other than an animal report for which the students enjoyed doing online research. I shied away from using the SmartBoard, a touch-sensitive whiteboard with internet connections.

I felt overwhelmed at its potential, I think; it could do so many things that I just wasn’t sure where to start learning, where to fit that into my busy day. But I sure did love my overhead projector and then later, my document camera. I think I finally know why: it’s because I was still holding the pencil, still tangibly connected to my words as they flowed from pen to paper.

Experiences with digital resources are important, too, of course. Online learning motivates many students. Many wonderful programs provide games or questions tailored to each student (often adjusting in difficulty based on the student’s answers to previous questions, a valuable diagnostic feature).

Students, and adults likewise, enjoy searches for topics that interest them, a fact I can attest to by the excitement with which my students raced to the computers to research an animal of their choice.

Clearly, digital literacy is crucial in our increasingly digital world, and research suggests that incorporating it into education is beneficial. It’s amazing how adept my young daughter is at scrolling, swiping and at times navigating smart phones and tablets.

We use the iPad often during our Seton lessons, in fact, and I quickly show her pictures in order to increase her understanding of animals or places, for example.

Digital literacy encompasses, among other things, the ability to

  • communicate with others effectively and efficiently across various technological mediums
  • locate information online
  • critically evaluate whether a source is legitimate
  • synthesize this information with data from other sources
  • generate new information for others to locate online.

The activities above require higher level thinking skills as well, and that is why I stress that digital literacy is important. However, digital instruction must be meaningful and intentional. I’ll never forget stumbling my way around Oregon Trail on the school’s computers—to this day, I still haven’t figured out our teacher’s instructional goal when she turned us loose in the computer lab in those days.

That is why I use the example to illustrate that digital instruction, like print instruction, is different than simply free time on an electronic device. Digital instruction should have a purpose and relevance.

Print Will Never Be ‘Dead’

A key difference between my own years as a student and my years as a teacher is that in the past, there weren’t as many options. At first, of course, learning materials were simply in print. That was the option. As time went on, teachers increasingly incorporated, or perhaps in some cases substituted, technology for print resources within their lessons.

Sooner, rather than later, I think, the line of frantic teachers that predictably forms in front of the copier on school mornings may become a thing of the past.

But… my daughter loves hardcover books. And so do I. I never feel quite the same sense of accomplishment when finishing an e-book as I do when closing a tangible book after turning the last page. Greeting cards are another example: e-cards just never seem to generate the same excitement as opening my mailbox and seeing a colorful envelope addressed to myself.

These are just some of the reasons that print resources will never be “dead.” I think there are quite a lot of people out there like me. Perhaps my daughter is even one of them.

Just because something new is available—just because the latest and greatest claims that it is the best idea out there—does that really mean that everything that has gone before no longer has any value or worth?

I don’t think it does.

It really comes down to keeping a balance between looking forward and remembering that it is OK to look back. So, while I love the convenience afforded by online schooling, and by instant communication or answers at my fingertips, I think that I’ll hang on to my bookshelves and bookmarks—paper ones, that is—just yet.

Don’t miss Christina’s Feature Family article!

A Public School Teacher’s Decision to Homeschool

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