Education and Handwriting.

Education and Handwriting.

Just in case you can’t read it, these are the words of one the Arrowsmith students in Simon’s class, writing on education. “We are not doing ourselves any favours by continuing as we have always been. It is a tremendous waste of human potential. Imagine how much more advanced we would be if students were able to really learn. I fear that change is happening to slowly and millions of people will continue to suffer”.
It is so true. Imagine if every school had cognitive testing for every child at the age of 8 and that if any child was found to have any learning difficulties, those learning difficulties would be addressed immediately. What enormous benefit there would be and how much less mental anguish for those students and their families. Barbara’s dream come true. I hope that one I can write that it has come true but, like Payton, I fear that change will only come slowly.
In the meantime I can see the benefits that the Arrowsmith programme is bringing to Simon, for which I am so grateful. Having mastered two levels of tracing his writing is much improved, but not only is it improved, it is much easier and less uncomfortable for him to write.
For all those students who struggle with learning to write at school, or who never master cursive writing, there are many developments which they miss out on, most of which you would not necessarily associate with simply learning to write (well, simply if it comes simply to you!). The educational benefits from learning cursive writing, briefly, include cognitive and motor skills development, literacy development, memory and brain development. All these developments are now going on in Simon’s brain because of his tracing masteries and will continue further as he masters increasingly difficult levels of tracing.
Expanding on the above, the following is definitely worth reading – it is quoted from “The Handwriting Debate” – A Policy Update (www.hw21summit.com) and I leave the final word to Dr Norman Doidge, he makes a moot point.
Research has shown that handwriting is a foundational skill that can influence students’ reading, writing, language use, and critical thinking. Students without consistent exposure to handwriting are more likely to have problems retrieving letters from memory;
spelling accurately; extracting meaning from text or lecture; and interpreting the context of words and phrases.
Brain Development: The sequential hand movements used in handwriting activate the regions of the brain associated with thinking, short-term memory, and language. In addition, according to Virginia Berninger Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at
the University of Washington, cursive in particular is linked with brain functions around self-regulation and mental organization. “Cursive helps you connect
things,”
Memory: The act of handwriting helps students (and adults) retain information more effectively than when keyboarding, mostly likely because handwriting
involves more complex motor functions and takes a bit longer.One study comparing students who took notes by hand versus classmates who took notes by
computer found that the handwriters exhibited better comprehension of the content and were more attentive and involved during the class discussions.
Written Expression: Elementary-age students who wrote compositions by hand rather than by keyboarding, one researcher found, wrote faster, wrote longer
pieces, and expressed more ideas.
Learning Disabilities: Handwriting instruction can be especially valuable to many students with disabilities. As one professor of occupational therapy has written, “One of the first things educators can do to ensure that students with special needs develop good writing skills, besides teaching them spelling and basic writing processes, is to provide them with formal
handwriting instruction.”
Students with learning disabilities are more likely to need extra support to improve their handwriting, but improved handwriting can both help improve academic outcomes and help in fine motor skill development.
Handwriting advocates make another argument that is related to research—namely, the lack of research around what happens to brain development in the absence of
handwriting. Psychiatrist and neuroplasticity researcher Norman Doidge makes this point:
Some neuroscientists say if cursive disappears, those cognitive skills will simply be replaced by new ones, just as they always have since humans began leaving their marks on cave walls. No doubt the lost cognitive skills will be replaced by new ones. But, isn’t it irresponsible
to promote such changes without understanding if these changes are beneficial or harmful to the learner?…It is quite possible that by relaxing…handwriting standards
and also by reducing practice time for penmanship, we may have hampered and in some cases damaged the learning process.

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