Chatting in Chattanooga

  • JD Harper

Handwriting: Why It's Still Important

Walnut Street Bridge Chattanooga, TN

As intuitive and artificial intelligence (AI) technology evolves and the emphasis of the Common Core curriculum standard of keyboard proficiency in education continues, the art of handwriting, specifically cursive handwriting which was removed from the Common Core curriculum standards in 2010, is shifting toward extinction. But, take a moment to listen to some well-respected psychologists and neuroscientists who have studied the link between handwriting and educational development/brain health. According to their research, we would be wise to keep handwriting at the forefront of our daily habits.

Writing by hand is an important tool for cognitive development especially when it comes to functional specialization (the brain’s capacity for optimal efficiency). The brain achieves this specialization by integrating sensation, movement control and thinking, all three of which are involved when you write by hand. Brain imaging shows writing by hand activates areas of the mind that are not activated when typing on a keyboard.

Stanislas Dehave, psychologist a The College de France, Paris, explains, “When we write by hand, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. That circuit is a recognition of sorts of the gesture of a written word that stimulates the brain and contributes to learning in a way previously unrecognized by the scientific world.”

Other research shows that children, who first learn to write by hand, learn to read quicker and are also better able to generate ideas and retain information. The key word here being hand as it’s not just what we write but how we write it: the handwriting versus typing debate.

The results from a study conducted by psychologist, Karin James, at Indiana University further illustrates the connection between handwriting and reading and learning. Children in this study who had yet to learn to read or write were presented with a letter or shape to reproduce in one of three ways: trace a dotted outline, draw it on a blank sheet of white paper or type it on a computer. After completing this task, each child was then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image of the letter or shape again. Scanner results showed that the children who had drawn the letter or shape free hand when shown the image, exhibited increased activity in areas of the brain that are activated in adults when reading and writing. In contrast, the other two groups showed no such increased activity, concluding that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. Writing by hand activates areas of the brain vital to cognitive development that are not gained through typing on a keyboard.

All of this to say, yes, technology has its place, but as a parent and a concerned citizen for future generations, it is frustrating to watch the American model of public education “teach to the standardized tests.” Simply “teaching to the test” results in testing knowledge only (i.e. how to take the test) and information collection. And, it often occurs at the end of some technological device thus severing the crucial link between handwriting and learning, at the expense of training students for knowledge acquisition.

While researching for this topic, I was reminded of a continuing education course that I attended many, many years ago on brain health. The lecturer, a neuroscientist, reported that one of the best things a person could do to enhance and maintain brain health is to write three (3) well-constructed sentences a day in long hand. My heart leapt for joy at this comment further solidifying my love affair with writing: the feel of a smoothly gliding pen across the paper’s surface, the smell of ink with each stroke, the beauty of each word being formed...ahh!

So what are you waiting for? Go, find a favorite pen, a pad of paper and start writing and don’t stop, ever! Oh, and mark your calendars for January 23, National Handwriting Day, a day dedicated to acknowledging the history and influence of penmanship!

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