INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. —
NEW RESEARCH EMERGING
Last September, the association issued a policy statement to provide state schools boards with unbiased research and analysis on the issue.
Titled “The Handwriting Debate,” it acknowledged the impact of digital technology on writing and reading: “(W)ith the proliferation of personal computers in the 1990s and smartphones and tablets in the 21st century, many educators and policymakers have been questioning the usefulness of spending ever-more-valuable class time teaching handwriting to students who have been born into — and will live and work in — a digital world.”
But the policy also acknowledged that “new research has been emerging that points to the educational value of handwriting in ways that go well beyond being able to read cursive or take notes without beneﬁt of a handheld device.”
That research suggests the practice and process of handwriting may improve students’ cognitive and motor skills development, enhance their literacy and help them retain what they’ve learned.
Indiana University neuroscientist Karin Harman James has studied the effect of printing and writing by hand as well as keyboarding in the development of children’s brains, using imaging technology to document how significant changes occur in the brain. The research led her to believe teaching young children how to write by hand is critical to how they eventually learn to read.
“These kinds of findings point to there being something really important about printing and potentially also about cursive,” James said. “They’re both fine motor skills, so they might be equally important in understanding cognitive development in children.”
Supporters of cursive skills argue there’s also a critical handwriting connection to the adult brain. Since a person’s handwriting becomes distinctive with age, they point out that a person’s penmanship is a symbol of their personality.
Theresa Ortega is a certified handwriting analyst who helped launch Campaign for Cursive, a social media movement that promotes cursive writing in schools. She maintains a person’s penmanship “can tell you a lot.”
Having analyzed hundreds of high school and college students’ handwriting, Ortega says she can see an impact from the fall off in cursive writing instruction. She fears a keyboarding-only generation of students will be more introverted and less able to express themselves creatively.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t use all those digital tools,” Ortega said. “I just think we need the connectivity of cursive writing to equalize the force of technology.”
MAUREEN HAYDEN is the Indiana state reporter for CNHI. You may contact her at Maureen.Hayden@indianamediagroup.com.