Back-to-School Report: Why Paper Belongs in the Classroom

Paper plays an incredibly important role in learning. Study after study has shown that students learn better and are more engaged when they use printed textbooks, take tests on paper and take notes by hand. These findings were once again validated by this year’s Paper and Packaging Board back-to-school report.

The Paper and Productive Learning report shares findings from the Paper and Packaging Board’s 2016 survey of parents, students and educators; it reveals growth in the use of paper for learning in and out of the classroom. What’s more, the trend seems to be growing fastest among millennial teachers and their students who have grown up with access to technology.

Here are some of the most interesting statistics from this year’s back-to-school report, which shows that the use of paper in education fosters engagement in the classroom and academic preparation.

  • Eighty-two percent of college students always or often use paper tools such as notebooks, flashcards and textbooks, to prepare for exams. In fact, the percentage of students who say they always use paper products to prepare rose from 41 percent in 2015 to 48 percent in 2016.

Infographic Handwritten Notes Matter Back-to-school report

  • Seventy-four percent of students in grades seven through 12 also use paper to study for tests, despite the fact that the majority of students in this same demographic have access to smartphones and laptops.

Infographic Students Use Paper to Prepare for Tests Back-to-School Report


  • Fifty-seven percent of parents agree that their child remembers assignments better when he or she writes them down on paper, compared to 54 percent a year ago.
  • Eighty-two percent of college educators surveyed believe banning the use of laptops in class would encourage students to stay focused and engaged. Interestingly, the rate was highest (91 percent) among millennial-aged faculty.
  • Seventy-five percent of K–12 teachers use paper books every day while teaching. Nearly two-thirds of them also believe their students comprehend information better when they read on paper, and that students respond better to lessons based on paper textbooks.

Infographic K-12 Teachers Classroom Involve Paper Based Learning Back-to-School Report


  • Among college professors, the preferred method of providing feedback to students is by marking edits on a paper copy of the assignment. That’s because it’s more personalized, it’s efficient, it’s clear, and it facilitates authentic interactions with students.

Infographic College Educators Prefer Paper Edits back-to-school report


  • Ninety-seven percent of parents save paper copies of their children’s schoolwork. They do so to commemorate achievement (65 percent), remind their child of their accomplishments (54 percent) and share those accomplishments with others (58 percent).

Infographic Parents Save Childs Paper based work Back-to-School Report


  • Parents are more likely (71 percent) to help their children with homework when they are working with paper textbooks, written assignments or hands-on crafts than with technology. The number is higher (74 percent) among millennial-aged parents.


Infographic Parents Homework Help When Paper Based Back-to-School-Report

The back-to-school report clearly demonstrates the benefits of using paper in the classroom and at home for learning. But the results come as no surprise to leading educators and experts who have followed the research over the past several years.

Experts Weigh In on Back-to-School Report

Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, responded to this year’s back-to-school report. “It’s comforting to see the data from the 2016 Paper and Packaging Board Productive Learning Survey support what we instinctively feel about the role paper plays in our lives,” she wrote in a related essay. “Paper is part of how we are productive and learn.”

That’s not to say there isn’t room for technology in education. Daniel M. Oppenheimer, professor of marketing and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, has researched the advantages of longhand note-taking versus digital note-taking.

“While there are advantages to electronic media” he said, “a growing number of studies show that some educational goals are better achieved using traditional pen-and-paper methods.”

Oppenheimer has found that lessons that require focused attention are better served by paper materials, which eliminate the distractions of online connectivity. He also found that students have a deeper understanding of the material when they take notes by hand and use paper learning materials.

“Rather than rushing to digitize learning,” he said, “teachers and administrators should take a step back, consider their desired educational outcomes, and assess the extent to which digital media or paper supports the goals of a particular learning experience.”

The Power of Paper

We at Domtar have always believed in the power of paper, and research has backed up that belief time and time again. Despite the digital explosion of the past two generations, mounting evidence proves that paper will always have a place in education. In fact, it’s an essential tool that virtually guarantees a better outcome than technology alone.

To learn more, read the full back-to-school report as well as some of our other articles on benefits of paper and handwriting in education.

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