Is handwriting here to stay? With our increased use of technology and day-to-day texting, typing, and tweeting, it’s no surprise that handwriting is suffering and may seem like a “lost art.” I see it in my own deteriorating handwriting and my children’s hybrid mix of print and cursive writing.
However, the scientific and psychological research supporting handwriting provides evidence that handwriting should be an integral part of the curriculum from preschool through high school.
Of the many reasons to keep handwriting instruction, here are two that I find most interesting:
1. Learning to write by hand is connected to reading acquisition–while typing and even tracing are not.
Research shows that teaching young children to write letters activates part of the brain that becomes crucial to reading. The act of shaping and forming letters develops successful phonological processing in early emergent readers and writers:
“The emerging consensus is that the motor experience of manually creating letterforms helps children discriminate the essential properties of each letter, which leads to more accurate representations, bolstering both skilled letter recognition and later reading fluency.” For more information see this article: “Neuroimaging correlates of handwriting quality as children learn to read and write.”
Another study, “The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children,” compared the differences between handwriting and typing for children 3 to 5 years old. The results showed that handwriting training contributed to the visual recognition of letters more effectively than typing training, among the older children in the test group.
2. Handwriting helps the brain process information.
Taking notes by hand has proven to help students better absorb and retain information in comparison to typing on a keyboard. In a white paper from the educational summit, Handwriting in the 21st Century?, Dr. Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington reported that “after studying students in Grades 2, 4, and 6, those who used handwriting wrote more words, wrote words faster, and expressed more ideas than those who used keyboarding.”
In recent studies by two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA, college students who took notes by hand performed better than those who took notes on a laptop:
“In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
How to Keep Handwriting Alive
In her commentary entitled “Educating Students in the Computer Age to Be Multilingual By Hand,” Dr. Virginia Berninger offers this strategy to incorporate handwriting in the busy school day: “One effective, research-supported strategy is to teach handwriting at the beginning of lessons as “warm-up,” just as athletes do warm-up exercises before a game and musicians do warm-up exercises before a concert. The warm-up is then followed by spelling and composing instructional activities. Handwriting instruction does not have to take up valuable time for meeting other Common Core standards.”
If you’re looking to improve your own handwriting (like I am!) or add handwriting instruction to your lesson plan, Evan-Moor’s Daily Handwriting Practice is a solution. Daily exercises in small doses help to practice and improve handwriting skills.
Handwriting, printing, and keyboarding all have their place in school and in preparing students for college and careers in the 21st Century. After all, Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs was a talented calligrapher!
Theresa Wooler has more than 10 years’ experience in K–6 classrooms as a parent volunteer, has taught high school English, and is currently involved in education through Evan-Moor’s marketing communications team.