Don’t Ditch Your Pens and Pencils Just Yet
How many times have you had to ask a student to decipher what they have written during class? How often are you showing your students how to hold a pencil correctly? Handwriting is a critical step in the learning process, yet it is left out of most curriculums. Children are shown how to form letters when they are in kindergarten, but beyond the early elementary grade levels, little emphasis is placed on handwriting development. It takes a great deal of time to teach handwriting to students at a higher level and many educators need that extra time to teach other aspects of their core curriculum.
Why is handwriting so important when access to computers is at an all-time high and speech-to-text software is so readily available? Research shows that better handwriting is linked to higher reading and spelling achievements. According to Virginia Wise Berninger, author and professor of learning sciences and human development, handwriting addresses a number of life skills, including fine motor skills, working memory and the temporary memory system, naming letters and writing letter forms retrieved from long-term memory, forming letters, visual and touch sensory information driven by finger and hand movements, and orthographic loop, which ties handwriting skills together.
It is important for students to be able to form letters swiftly and fluently from memory to lessen cognitive load. When students can write quickly and effortlessly, they can better focus on generating complex ideas, choosing correct words, and forming proper sentence structure. Switching from writing to typing too early in the learning process can have a negative impact on the overall reading and writing progress of a student, mainly because children are storing important information into their long-term memory while learning basic writing processes.
A study by John Hopkins University revealed that people learn material faster and retain new information better by writing it down, rather than if they were typing on a keyboard. Forming letters by hand activates reading circuits in the brain that promote literacy, while writing helps create the letter form in the mind’s eye better than selecting which button to press on a keyboard. The skills needed when learning to spell and read rely on the same basic knowledge, much like the connection between letters and sounds. According to educational psychologist and applied linguist, Catherine Snow, “Spelling and reading build, and rely, on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.”
While important, writing is often difficult for children because they rely heavily on computers, iPads, and cell phones early on in their educational journeys. Oftentimes, young students display an adversity to writing because they find it increasingly challenging due to technology, but are missing a vital part of their educational growth by not developing fundamental writing skills early on. While it may be tough for students to focus on learning handwriting skills, there are tips that can aid you in teaching them along the way, including:
· Demonstrating letter formation, as showcased in Handwriting Without Tears’ online
· Using golf pencils or crayons for children in preschool through 2nd grade to teach a
proper comfortable grip
· Practicing writing on vertical paper positioned at the student’s midline with the bottom
angle placed about 1” from the lower edge of the desk toward the writing hand
· Using your non-dominant hand to anchor paper down so it does not move while writing
· Keeping your back straight and feet flat on the floor, which might mean that desks and
chairs need to be adjusted, or a crate can be placed under a student’s feet
· Incorporating 10 – 15 minutes of handwriting practice a day
Reading and writing achievements have been proven to be significantly correlated to handwriting development at a young age. Handwriting is a fundamental skill that should be prioritized when teaching students early on. Children need handwriting instruction in school to help them become successful in not only their writing and spelling skills, but also in their reading abilities later in life.
Snow, C. E., Griffin, P., and Burns, M. S. (Eds.) (2005). Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading: Preparing Teachers for a Changing World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Feng, L., Lindner, A. Ji, X. R., and M., Joshi. 2017. The Roles of Handwriting and Keyboarding in Writing: A Meta-Analytic Review. Springer.
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