NOTEBOOKS punctuate our learning more than we expect.

When a school year begins, we weigh down our shopping basket with this classroom staple: 90 or 100 leaves, sewn or spiral, iconic white-as-a-blank-tablet or politically correct recycled sepia.

At the end of the year, I see the notebooks again to weed out the used from the unused pages. When the boys were in the lower years, I recycled the remaining clean sheets to jot down grocery lists or mathematical exercises.

But as they grew older, the boys seemed to use fewer pages until it seemed, at the end of the school year, the notebooks looked as mint as they were when the year was about to start.

It’s not a surprise. Homework, readings, news, chitchat, photos, research, music, videos—from the Web unwinds the spool of their wired lives.

Computers, PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones: the young will sooner be parted from the womb than from the electronic extensions of their identity.

Will the digital age banish the notebooks of old to the trash-crammed pockets of last year’s knapsack?

I hope not. Notebooks, with their leaves of paper, are the spaces where we learn how to write. Recent research has psychiatrists and neuroscientists asserting that writing by hand lets children read more quickly and communicate more expressively.

In a June 2, 2014 article, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” Maria Konnikova of The New York Times reported that a University of Washington study of children in grades two through five showed that those who composed text by hand produced more words and ideas than those typing on a keyboard.

In brain imaging, those with better handwriting showed greater activation of neural activity in areas associated with reading, writing and memory.

Other studies showed that, over tracing and printing letters, cursive writing has an edge, such as training self-control. This is food for thought for parents whose five- or six-year-olds are quicker than their elders to swipe and activate their personal tablets as soon as they are seated.

At the very least, it’s an argument favoring eateries with paper placemats that challenge adults to unscramble letters and their children to doodle while waiting for pizza.

The scientific link between penmanship and communication is even more significant for public school students. Reportage about the first day of classes this week has generally been dismal and frustrating: cramped classrooms, “alternative” classes where learning is dubious, even chairless classrooms.

In one TV report, primary students were sprawled on their sides or tummies, writing in notebooks. Chairs had yet to be delivered.

While the situation sorely tests the students’ endurance, not to mention legibility, the exercise with paper and pencil prepares them for a principle proven in laboratories and classrooms: writing by hand helps a person process a lecture and reframe it in his or her words.

According to The New York Times article, perfecting the art of penmanship in childhood benefits the adult’s skills in comprehension, encoding, reflection and memory. A Yale psychologist who is unconvinced by the link between handwriting and learning did admit that “(handwriting) maybe… helps you think better”.

I remember comparing research skills then and now with a college librarian. She said the Internet may have helped students come up with more pages in their theses. Yet, she observed that teachers have to work harder to review manuscripts for plagiarism.

I said the copy-and-paste garden variety of plagiarism must save a lot of library books from losing their pages. She retorted: still doesn’t mean there’s a lot of reading going on. Aye, that’s the rub.

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