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Is Handwriting Important Anymore?

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

We seem to have a natural fear of our future becoming some H.G. Wells dystopian society where our social progress and legacies will have died along with core skills and values of reading, writing, and storytelling. Since the adoption of Common Core (2012), which added importance for teaching keyboarding skills but neglected handwriting skills, many people have wondered seriously if this nightmare will actually come true. Will students slip into some semi-catatonic state, completely dependent on all tech to read, write, and think?

Having taught high school English for several years, I've seen every level of skill in handwriting from what looked like chicken-pecks and -prints to students who virtually created their own beautiful font. Penmanship definitely took a backseat to typing skills in the 21st century education and society. So how important is handwriting anymore in a world of thumb-texting and scrolling Tik-Tok videos?

Research shows that handwriting is crucial in early education with learning the alphabet. "Functional brain imaging studies indicate the visual recognition of letters and the physical motion of producing letters both activate the same region of the brain" (James & Engelhardt, 2012; Li & James, 2016). Only learning on a keyboard can often lead to confusing letters with the mirror image, too (Longchamp, Boucard, Gilhodes, & Velay, 2006).

Education with hand strength starts as young as three months old (Karl & Whishaw, 2014), so parents share the burden with teachers in cultivating good handwriting. Handwriting is a neglected corner of literacy for all, but especially left-handed and dyslexic students who need more focused instruction on letter formation (Sheffield, 1996). Practicing cursive handwriting is good for memory and learning according to EEG-based study by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Beyond the functional and educational reasons, there are also social and practical applications. One study shows that schoolteachers do judge female authors (but oddly not their male counterparts) on their essays based on the factors of penmanship (and even attractiveness). Another study demonstrated that in a classroom setting, good handwriting can take a generic test score from the 50th to the 84th percentile. Your vote can even be tossed out in our elections based on a perceived disconnect between signatures (Mancino).

Research, and my personal experience, indicates that handwriting, whether print or cursive, is still an invaluable skill to learn and practice even in today's high-tech world. Finding the time in school and at home to develop handwriting skills is the main issue. Adding another form of literacy to our plates is a must, but we shouldn't diminish the longstanding benefits of pen-in-hand communication. Maybe instead of throwing another task and standard onto English teachers' desks and parents' kitchen counters, we can find a way to replace something other than handwriting with keyboarding skills... like balancing a checkbook or learning badminton. #Englishteacher4LIFE #Englishteachersunite #Giveittosomeoneelsethanks

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