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Ditch digital for chalk, says learning expert

Susie O’Brien, February 17, 2021 6:45PM Herald Sun

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Coco, 6 and Yumi, 4, write with chalk. Picture: Tim Carrafa media_cameraCoco, 6 and Yumi, 4, write with chalk. Picture: Tim Carrafa


Reading level: orange

Primary school kids should ditch digital and return to using chalk and slates*, a leading education expert says.

Central Queensland University researcher Dr Ragnar Purje said the old-school* approach was “profoundly* important” for developing the brain, fine and gross motor skills*, and the intellectual* ability to construct a story.

Dr Purje, who is also a primary school classroom teacher with 40 years’ experience, said writing on screens could not replace the complex skill of handwriting with chalk.

“Tapping, swiping a screen, or using the ‘pointing’ finger on a screen is not handwriting,” he said.

“The research dealing with handwriting and compositional narrative* writing development is unambiguous: handwriting and narrative writing is not only complex, it requires desire, discipline, dedication, determination, perseverance and resilience.”

media_cameraTapping, swiping a screen, or using the ‘pointing’ finger on a screen is not handwriting, according to education expert Ragnar Purje. Picture: iStock

Dr Purje said using chalk encouraged a “tripod grip” with thumb and pointer finger, which helped shape neurological*, neuromuscular*, gross and fine motor skill pathways.

“Research has also linked poor orthographic-motor integration, or hand-brain co-ordination, with an inability to compose a well-structured and creative written narrative,” he said.

“That’s because the student is only focusing on letter formation, they haven’t ­developed handwriting ­automaticity* so they can instead develop the narrative.”

Dr Purje also highlighted the environmental sustainability of chalk, and the frustration of using the popular alternative of whiteboards and markers.

“The water-based felt pens often dry out, and you need cloth and liquid to erase, so what should be an easy process becomes time consuming and unnecessarily convoluted*,” he said.

“Chalk never dries out, you can write with it even as it breaks, and producing chalk does not use tonnes of plastics or megalitres of chemical liquids.

“Schools worldwide are spending billions on plastic whiteboard markers destined for landfill, and on technology like tablets that is obsolete* in a few years. The financial and environmental savings of chalk are self-evident*.”

While chalk and slate boards were not available in most Australian primary schools, Dr Purje said parents should encourage their children to practise writing with chalk in their preschool years.


  • slates: piece of thin, smooth stone used like a chalkboard or blackboard
  • old-school: old fashioned
  • profoundly: extremely
  • motor skills: movements and actions of muscles
  • compositional narrative: writing that tells a story
  • neurological: to do with the brain and nervous system
  • neuromuscular: relating to nerves and muscles working together
  • automaticity: ability to do things without having to think too much about it
  • convoluted: complex and hard to follow
  • obsolete: out of date so its no longer useful
  • self-evident: obvious


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  1. Who wrote this story?
  2. What is the main idea of this story?
  3. List some negatives of whiteboards.
  4. List some positives of chalk.
  5. What is meant by a tripod grip?


1. What Do You Think?
Imagine you own a company that makes and sells whiteboard markers. Write a letter to Kids News explaining what you think about this story.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
This story is about things that help kids to learn. Think about how you learn. Write a list of things that teachers and other people do that really helps you to learn things. Then write a list of the things that teachers and adults sometimes do that gets in the way of your learning.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability

Punctuation Thief
Pick a paragraph from the article, or about 3 sentences together if that’s easier, and rewrite it without the punctuation. At the bottom of the page write a list of all the punctuation you stole and in the order you stole it. For example; C , . C .

Then swap your book with another person and see if they can work out where the punctuation needs to go back to.

Make it easier: Underline where you stole the punctuation from but don’t put the list at the bottom in order.

Make it harder: Don’t put the punctuation in order at the bottom.

Underline where you took the punctuation from, but don’t tell them what pieces you took.

Just tell them how many pieces you took, but not what they are.

Don’t give them any clues!

HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you feel about ditching technology for chalk?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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