Is Handwriting Still Important?

Does handwriting even matter anymore?

Not much, according to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which have been adopted in most U.S. states; they call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, they focus on proficiency at the keyboard, leading to all CCSS testing taking place at the computer.

But many educators and psychologists believe that it is a mistake to consider handwriting an old-fashioned skill that has no relevance in the 21st century.

Writing by Hand Helps Children Learn More Quickly

Several studies have revealed that the brain is especially stimulated by the act of writing.

In 2012, Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, carried out a study where children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card. They were then asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. The youngsters were then placed in a brain scanner and were shown the image again.

As the New York Times explains:

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

So it’s bad news for kids’ brains that handwriting is being largely ignored in U.S. public schools.

Writing by Hand Stimulates Creativity

Ten years ago, I had the privilege of hearing the Scottish writer Muriel Spark speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Spark was well known for her shunning of technology when it came to creative writing; true to form, she described her habit of always using the same pen and her favorite yellow pads from Thins, an Edinburgh bookseller.

“Inspiration is a blank page,” Spark declared. “Concentration is the key with no noise, no distractions.”

Yes, the act of grasping a pen between your fingers and placing it on a sheet of paper is quite different from the act of typing. As a writer, I carry a notebook with me always, to jot down ideas, overheard phrases, sudden inspirations. I also treasure my volumes of handwritten journals, not of any great literary value, but a vehicle for me to process my thoughts.

What About Graphology?

If there’s no handwriting, there’s no graphology, the process of analyzing handwriting.

According to research from the National Pen Company, your handwriting can give away clues about 5,000 different personality traits based on the way you space your letters, how you sign your name, and even how you connect the letter ‘o’ and ‘s’ to other letters in a word.

Graphologists say that they can determine from the way you write whether you are an outgoing, skeptical people pleaser, or an arrogant, practical person who has a tendency to lie. Or someone else entirely.

Students Today Need to Be Tech-Smart

Still, the reality is that Common Core with its Smarter Balanced assessments, and whatever other testing is down the road, involves typing, not handwriting because kids do need to understand and manipulate technology in the 21st century.

Parents and teachers alike complain about the negative effects of text messages, chats and e-mails in kids’ language. However, the texts and emails are simply a new vehicle for literacy. There are times when texting is appropriate, and times when more conventional and formal writing is appropriate.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that kids who text the most are generally better spellers in English even though they use “textisms.” LOL! Isn’t that GR8!

We Should Not Ditch Handwriting in Favor of Technology

The well-rounded student (and adult, too) needs to be proficient in both writing by hand and typing on a keyboard.

The former is more personal. There’s something special about a handwritten thank you note, a recipe passed down from grandmother, or a love letter that was written by hand. It’s special to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s own handwriting. Would it be the same if Lincoln had used the voice activation device on his cell phone?

On the other hand, for my dyslexic son, the computer became a “seeing-eye dog,” helping him to organize and process his thoughts. It was invaluable to him, as it is to many of my students.

What do you think? How often do you write a letter by hand?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

Why can't the teachers teach Handwriting half the year, and Keyboarding the other half?
My step son is 29 and when he texts me, half the time I have no clue what he is saying!

Norma Villarreal
Norma Villarrealabout a year ago

Handwriting teaches dexterity and coordinates fine motor skills.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.about a year ago

I don't understand how they figure we can give up handwriting totally. I think handwriting will always be a necessity. Like Evelyn M said, we'd be back to signing X's!

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.about a year ago

As a person presently marking public exams I think it's very important to be able to write legibly.

Carole C.
Carole Cherneabout a year ago

Art G , you've given me something to think about.

Alondra Pacheco
Alondra Pachecoabout a year ago

Writing needs to be taught as some subjects will not allow you to do your work in a computers such as math and foreign languages. The worst a student writes the most likely he is to be deducted points for sloppy work. If schools are only promoting typing then parents need to be serious about making their children practice writing at home.

Susan T.
Susan T.about a year ago

What happens when the power goes out and no one knows to write anything anymore. Our reliance on technology will be the undoing of this society.

Tammy I.
Tammy I.about a year ago

For any of you who are might be interested, check out what these wonderful educators are doing:

Tammy I.
Tammy I.about a year ago

The deletion of teaching kids to write in cursive gets all of my goats out running rampant!!! Core curriculum indeed???????? BAH!

The excuse that our kids need keyboarding skills instead stinks. TEACH THEM BOTH! Scholarship reveals how writing effects learning on levels we are only just beginning to understand. I hope we change this trend quickly.

My eleven year old son was exposed to cursive writing for about two weeks in the fourth grade and that was it. I was forced to pick up the dropped ball.

We currently have a folder with pages and pages of his cursive writing---and now that summer is here, I have told him he will be fluent before the next school year begins.

He's not too happy with my efforts, but one day he will be very glad I was insistent on his learning.


ScoTT S.
ScoTT S.about a year ago

So, since we "switched lefties" have nearly identical handwriting, graphologists hate us, because we give them virtually nothing to lock on to, except that we were "switched lefties".