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?
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