It’s no secret that the writing centers in this network are not generally tech-heavy. These are writing centers, and writing of course can be done with pencils, pens, markers, sticks, or crayons. These centers all use computers extensively in various ways, of course, but most writing centers in this network think of technology as a part of the learning process, and not as the fulcrum around which all learning is done.

When you think about how and where to use technology in your own space, think about how it impacts your learning atmosphere. You want a calm environment free of distractions where kids can learn, can finish homework, and can write creatively. Does a room full of screens connected to the internet help or hamper those goals? It depends. It’s certainly something to think hard about. Before you jump headlong into buying 20 connected laptops, think hard about whether this is absolutely necessary.

If you see photos of most of our centers when they’re full of students, usually you’ll see about 40 students and 20 adults and very few screens. Why? Well, first of all, in most public schools, homework is still done with paper and pencil — at least it is for younger kids. So we’re meeting the kids and teachers where they are, with traditional methods. It doesn’t hurt that paper and pencil obviates the need to police the students who are using the machines about playing games and using social media. Pencil and paper is simple and controllable.

But even when we have our own writing assignments, or host workshops at night or on weekends, screens can offer as many disadvantages as advantages. There will be countless workshops that require and benefit enormously from technology, but there are plenty of programs that simply don’t need it. For a workshop leader teaching a haiku class, for example, they have two options. They can set up computers for their 18 students, and make sure every one of the 18 students is connected, knows the program, etc. Or that workshop leader could simply hand out paper. The startup costs of paper and pencil are very low.

That said, our centers offer innumerable workshops that use technology. We do podcasting, blogging, web design, and so many other tech-utilizing programs. But the point we’re making here is that some classes need tech, and many others don’t. And when you don’t use tech, the work generally gets simpler.

Most kids now are swimming in digital waters, surrounded by screens, most of every day. If we’re hoping to set up alternative spaces for real learning, critical thinking and creative writing, we should think of how to create a different atmosphere. Something exotically low-fi where kids can concentrate and think deeply.

A few other thoughts:

- It goes without saying that when it comes to after-school tutoring, kids are asked to surrender their phones at the door. This is the case at the vast majority of their schools, too, so it’s not a hard ask. When the kids enter the space, they drop their phones in a secure bin, and retrieve them on their way out. Allowing kids to keep their phones on the worktables, desks or in their pockets is a recipe for disaster. It absolutely doesn’t work.

- Obviously when you undertake a book project with young authors, their writing will have to be typed into a computer by either them or a volunteer. So for high school projects, some or all of the writing will be done on a computer. This makes the work of revision, and design, far easier.

- Many of our centers report that a large portion of their students don’t have computers at home, don’t have WiFi at home, or have limited daily access to tech tools besides phones. Designing programs that don’t require these expensive tools is key so that we don’t create economic barriers to learning. Paper is cheap and pencils are cheap.