Handwriting is Brain Writing

HAPPY NATIONAL HANDWRITING DAY!

This is something really special for a nerd like me. I have received many compliments over the years on my handwriting. As a student I took great pride in finding the prettiest way to write certain letters and even wrote my little g’s like this “g.” I remember re-writing an entire page of text because I wanted it to look nicer. I’m sure I had handwriting lessons as a young student, but the time I spent working and writing (and rewriting) in high school were self-motivated. I wanted it to look better because it was important to me, but it didn’t seem very important to anyone else (in particular my friends who laughed at me while praising my handwriting).

I was excited when I received my Holiday 2014 Instructor Magazine with an article called “The Case for Writing by Hand” by Jennifer W. Fink. She talks about many of the benefits of handwriting in great detail (I’ve summarized them below). I was really REALLY excited when my friend at work told me it was National Handwriting Day.

Fink starts her article talking about the shift to electronic writing, which I know a lot of schools are pushing. Our school is ramping up its keyboarding and computer literacy skills in preparation for the PARCC assessment this spring. I think keyboarding is important. I work with students in middle school who are still “hunting and pecking” for the right keys. I knew it was inefficient and though I didn’t have the science to back me up, I could tell it was putting up walls in their writing process. If you’re spending so much time looking for the next letter, your brilliant idea is getting pushed further and further back into the recesses of your mind.

Handwriting may not be explicitly assessed, however Fink cites a Florida International University professor who says it IS “influencing other skills.” I never thought about it like that, but when I read this quote, I was sprung back to my days in a Montessori school watching 3 year olds tweeze kernels from dried ears of corn. They weren’t doing that to practice the skill of tweezing – they did it to build the tiny little muscles in your fingers that hold a pencil! I think about children who aren’t developing their motor skills properly because mom and dad feed them instead of letting the child do it himself. That doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the child isn’t getting the chance to build up the skills that will lead him to holding and writing with a pencil in the future. Much the way these things (and many others) influence handwriting, handwriting has an influence on learning.

“HANDWRITING IS LINKED TO LITERACY”

Fink’s perfect example is that when you’re typing on a keyboard, an a feels the same as a b or a t. When you write by hand, there is a kinesthetic link to your brain that says that a certain shape denotes a certain letter. Your brain makes an image of that letter for later use and the more you make the shape, the more clear that image is.

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Teacher written example

The classroom example of incorporating this is something I think I will do soon. A first grade teacher will write sloppy on the board and have her students work on correcting it. In my own classroom we use Wilson Fundations TM for our phonics intervention which incorporates “Sky Writing.” The students stand and use their whole arm to write the letter in the air, which is using a similar motion, shape, remember concept.

“HANDWRITING PRACTICE ENHANCES LEARNING”

When you write information down it moves more easily from short term to long term memory. I remember sitting in a lecture hall in college trying my best to focus and pay attention even though I had very little motivation to do so. I would get my notebook and write down as much as I could and make connections on the paper. When I would study my notes later and recall information, it was like I could pull up that page of notes and remember the color I used, where I wrote it, and see the writing. It was the most effective study tool to write notes in class.

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Student sample

“BETTER HANDWRITING = BETTER WRITING”

This one reminds me of the issue with “hunt and peck” typing. If you’re spending time working on forming the letters, you’re missing time thinking about what you want to say. It’s like your brain gets clogged up and overwhelmed.

One teacher suggests modeling writing by hand on the board when writing essays for her class so they can see the process. I do this in my classroom, too. We do a lot of shared conceptualizing but the students all write down the work in their notebooks as I do on the board. I show students my writing process by thinking aloud and writing as we talk. They are always amazed by how quickly (and legibly) I can write, but what they’re doing is practicing to get there, too.

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Teacher written example

“HANDWRITING MAY BOOST ACADEMIC SUCCESS”

This goes back to the idea that whatever you write down goes into your brain through multiple avenues: motor control, memory, and kinesthetic links. All of these things are tied to learning and information retention.

One teacher has her students hand write letters during her letter writing unit. A friend of mine has students write thank you notes weekly (handwritten) as part of a social/emotional curriculum. His idea is that it’s teaching students about being thoughtful and appreciative, which it does, but it’s also a time to practice excellent handwriting. You aren’t going to send an illegible note to your grandmother!

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Student sample

Handwriting may not be the flashiest educational tool in your repertoire, but consider all of its benefits. It’s not that typing isn’t beneficial, but handwriting has its place in our schools and influences so many other aspects of education. It makes sense to incorporate it.

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