Why Teaching Handwriting In Schools Is So Valuable

Two pens laid over a lined notebookWhen I lost my sight in the 1980s, authorities set me up at a residential facility to learn how to use a white cane, read Braille, that sort of thing. All the students there were adults, and all of us had lost our sight fairly recently.

Well, almost all of us. Two of the students there were 18-year-olds who had been blind their entire lives. They already knew Braille, they had some experience with computers and assistive technology, and they were well trained in orientation and mobility. One thing they’d never learned in school? How to write with a pen. These two young women wanted to go to college, and in order to live independently, sign their names and dates on forms, write out rent checks and so on, they needed to learn penmanship.

But now, some 30 years later, the value of handwriting has diminished. In most of America, Common Core State Standards for public schools don’t even mention handwriting anymore. Most of us swipe or type on a keyboard rather than write.

A story in the New York Times reports psychologists and neuroscientists who are suggesting the links between handwriting and broader educational development should not be ignored, and that, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.” From the article:

“Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.”

The article refers to studies that show how cursive writing can train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, which may help children diagnosed with ADHD or autism. Some researchers quoted in the article say that learning to write print helps students understand the reversal and inversion of letters (the difference between lower case “b” and Lower case “d,” for example) and may be a path to treating dyslexia. Learning cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia (motor-control difficulties in forming letters) as well.

It all makes me wonder. School is back in session now. Are any kids taught to write by hand anymore? Does it matter? Those 18-year-olds I met at the facility for the blind decades ago struggled so much to learn handwriting — today, they are likely using their talking computers or SmartPhones to pay their bills online!


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

Please read our community guidelines when posting comments.

Leave a Reply