As laptops and tablets become more commonly used as writing tools, many are ready to leave the skill of handwriting behind. Most students will do most of their writing on computers, the thinking goes, so educators should get them started on keyboarding skills early. But psychologist are uncovering some unexpected benefits of learning — not just to write, but to write by hand. In her New York Times article Maria Konnikova explains some of the newest research.

“New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep. 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. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how. ‘When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,’ said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. ‘There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.'”

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

Does handwriting matter? Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

Does Losing Handwriting In School Mean Losing Other Skills Too? 23 February,2016MindShift

  • Citation of said study, note ONE study. I have seen more than one child who could NOT handwrite but COULD critically think well.

    • wytzox1

      Until I learned cursive in school I was unable to read stuff written in cursive. Also if I hadn’t learned cursive I couldn’t sign a check or any other document so indeed, it should still be taught. ☺

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  • Matthew Miller

    A thought provoking study. One thought it provoked in me: the “evidence” that handwriting _may_ improve reading is based on comparing 5-year-olds with competent adult readers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there are any competent adult readers around who grew up being taught via keyboard vs. handwriting.

    So when comparing 5-year-olds–some who use handwriting and some who used computers–to adults, all of whom used handwriting, the researchers found more brain activity that matched the adults’ in the 5-year-olds who used handwriting than in the ones who used computers. Um…are we surprised by this? Are there any conclusions to draw other than similar activites result in more similar brain patterns than different activities?

    This is thought provoking, and may deserve study in greater depth. But journalists (and scientists) should avoid drawing conclusions until much later, when a reasonable body of data has been gathered. However, I think handwriting may be on the same path as oral storytelling and doing square roots by hand using tables, no matter what the data says. An interesting, if antiquated, skill, acquired by a few who are interested and ignored by the great majority who have many other things that they consider to be more worth their time and effort.

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  • When you write, you have to be more organized in your thoughts and precise in your spelling. Using a keyboard with spell-check will cause you to unconsciously ease up on your level of concentration. Its takes energy to concentrate. Creativity is stored in the depths of the unconscious. One way to tap into creativity is through consistent and focused effort.

    • manjulika

      I agree with your thoughts.

    • wytzox1

      CURSIVE should still be taught. Otherwise the kids will never be able to write a signature or read things others have written in cursive. However script font keyboard option is really neato! ☺

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  • EveryoneShouldHandwrite

    I was just thinking about this and thought that when you handwrite, you have to individually draw the shape of the letter. the design of each letter thus imprints on your brain differently than hitting a button (or keyboard key) does. also I’m sure that there must be some difference between how your brain interprets information that is written in physical form vs. intepreted in pixels from a screen. I’m also sure that this computer generation is probably able to focus way less because computers are extremely distracting. Also, I think that losing the art of handwriting would be a true loss for humanity — since humans first existed and before I’m sure, humans have scribbled communication by hand. I think handwriting is beautiful and important to know. It should be taught and utilized. Finally, as a writer and researcher, I frequently use both forms of writing — I handwrite to get my thoughts out and organized, and type to create written documents. Everyone should know how to handwrite.

    • HandsUp4Handwriters

      Totally agree on your point. Handwriting should not become a lost art in the digital age. We need to make the effort to bring it back into our lives and educate our future generations how to handwrite. If we don’t develop our skills now, who will teach our children how to write? It’s such an important issue but neglected in society today. Sometimes I just want to blame technology for everything. It’s definitely convenient but also makes us develop bad habits in the long term. Happy Handwriting 🙂 -Y.K-

  • courtney

    This really interests me because I am a big proponent of tangible learning–books (not ebooks), worksheets/note-taking (not handouts), handwriting (not keyboard type). From personal experience, I always feel more confident with the material if I have taken extensive notes on paper in my own handwriting, consisting of both words and arrows/drawings usually. The ability to understand material, for me at least, requires an empty page (or pages) and a pen. Innate in typing notes on a computer are limitations in places you can write and the orientation of the words on the page; you can only write in straight lines with a uniform amount of space in between the words and lines. It’s also a pain to insert an arrow or make your own shape or drawing. I think understanding and comprehension of complex material and ideas requires a space that is more flexible than that of the computer page because ideas don’t form in straight lines all the time.

    As far as comprehension in general, I feel that the tangible touch of your hand on a pen on paper can create a more intimate and urgent relationship with whatever the writer is writing. Computer typing is urgent too, but in a way that makes the effort of forming a letter, a word, an idea easier and immediate, though I would argue that the idea wouldn’t be as good or full because the connection with the writer is lesser.

    I also think there is a definite benefit when learning information written in your own handwriting. I understand that some people who handwrite messily or slowly might want typed notes to study with, but in my personal experience, memorizing a poem or writing out an essay plan has been easier and more intimate when I can see mine and other’s ideas written in my own handwriting.

    • Gail George Crissey-Kanaga

      Absolutely agree. I have taught students to do mapping or paradigm drawing to plan writing, or take notes, or solve problems. I’ve always drawn pictures in my own note-taking…I am a learning specialist with two grad. degrees in Special Ed. who taught in classrooms for 35 years, and almost every student I dealt with presented a different problem, or several, in learning how to learn.

  • I fully agree with the author. If students know how to write well, services such as writing help would be less in demand. And education is to be at the best level.

  • Linda Chave

    There has been tons of research on this, and no one – no one – in the so-called ‘higher echelons’ of education seems to pay attention. It’s like yelling into the wind – and I do mean WIND.

    • No one pays attention? Who are you yelling at by the way? I’ve been in education for 18 years and have participated in lengthy discussions on teaching handwriting in the primary grades. The larger problem is federal and state bureaucrats who refuse to listen to teachers. We are forced into more and more testing. There is no time or space in the curriculum for handwriting (or other essential, but hard to measure skills). If you truly want to affect change, petition (don’t yell at) your local school board and state/federal representatives. You know what they say: those who CAN – teach, those who can’t — pass laws about teaching…

  • Soupsong

    We are fighting a battle already -I teach 4 and 5 year olds. As they are so used to ‘swiping’ screens before formal education starts they are no longer developing the prerequisite gross and fine motor skills necessary to write- especially BOYS! This has connotations across all subjects as they are restricted in how they communicate their understanding as oral skills are underdeveloped as well!

    • lizzy

      …And then it’s easier to diagnose all sorts of treatable conditions.

    • Gail George Crissey-Kanaga

      And research shows more boys than girls with dyslexia.

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  • Gail George Crissey-Kanaga

    When one writes a word in cursive, such as “jungle” or “jingle”, a gestalt…or whole picture… is created which has integrated the physical with various parts of the brain. The word in cursive is one whole. On a keyboard, it is six separate motions with various fingers, on keys which have no physical relationship to each other. I have taught adolescent dyslexics to read and spell using cursive…even beginning large on a whiteboard, which engages large muscle memory in creating each gestalt, then moving to paper, which engages fine motor memory. This method worked particularly well with dyslexics who were athletes. These people had finally learned to read and write as teenagers. The tendency to reverse letters is also removed.

    • wytzox1

      When we were kids entering the 3rd grade, learning to write cursive in pen and ink instead of just printing in pencil AND beginning each school day singing Star Spangled Banner in stead My Country Tis Of Thee was our introduction into the world of “the big kids” which we were proud to be part of. Saly the death of cursive in schools today would have Ruth Kittle turning in her grave. ☺

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  • Bonita Hall S

    Yes, the ability to read and write cursive increases individual literacy. The ability to code is also considered a 21st Century literacy. What benefit does the art of calligraphy provide an individual? …what do we lose without this art/skill? Could it be that different writing tools creates different phenotypes among us? Who/What determines which skills we pursue versus what is dismissed at any given time? I have more questions than answers. 😐

  • Lynn Scruggs

    I have also read that when someone writes information down by hand (legibly), later he will remember the information better (without referring to the notes) than if he types the information himself or if the information is given to him already typed.

  • @emmaleechase

    The loss of cursive writing from the curriculum is profound, IMO.

  • Sandra

    This is a no-brainer (pun intended!). The coordination required between mind, eye and hand necessarily builds neural pathways which no doubt facilitate the development of other mental and physical skills. Let’s not “dumb down” in this way. Will take quite a while to assess impact, and longer to repair.

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