FAQ Friday: Does Handwriting Matter?

sample of Palmer Method 1935 showing the importance of handwritingIn our recent post about the use of technology, including keyboarding, Beth Sinteff and I touched on the subject of handwriting.




In our every-day-more-digital world, is handwriting losing ground?

Do we even need to teach kids to write by hand?

These are questions we often hear from parents, who are trying to figure out what is essential and what can be sacrificed in their child’s already-packed schedule of school, sports, community and family activities, homework, and other commitments.

If the mastery of Spencerian script or the Palmer Method was once a source of pride and an essential part of proper education, today most schools simply don’t teach handwriting as a subject area. Children struggle for legibility and transition to the keyboard as soon as they’re able—or allowed. Even tests, formerly a pencil-and-paper classroom essential, are now increasingly an exercise in digital literacy.

Little kids (pre-K, K, maybe 1st grade) learn to form letters, of course. But after that, they just develop their handwriting by writing without an imposed structure or disciplined practice. There is no guideline describing handwriting as a core subject. Universal Publishing comments, “Since the launch of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010, there has been plenty of talk about a noticeable exclusion: handwriting. The CCSS include standards for legible manuscript writing in kindergarten and grade 1, but that’s where their attention to this essential skill ends. What does this mean for the future of handwriting instruction?”

The connection (and the growing disconnect) between handwriting and writing is a subject of scrutiny among educators. In January of this year, researchers and educators concerned about the diminishing role of handwriting met to discuss the issues in “Handwriting in the 21st Century? An Educational Summit.” A report by Hanover Research, “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting in the 21st Century,” states, “Research has shown that improved handwriting skills has benefits for cognitive development and motor skills and can lead to improved writing skills and reading comprehension.”

An article in the Huffington Post, “Schools Debate Cursive Handwriting Instruction Nationwide,” reports on the cursive vs. technology challenge and highlights, “Camperdown Academy in Greenville, S.C., a private school that teaches dyslexic children how to cope with their learning disabilities…Camperdown teachers use cursive handwriting extensively, as the built-in mechanics of the craft teach students how to group words in the proper order and make it more difficult to swap letters.”

There is a lot of research that makes it clear that the quality of the content of students’ written language is constrained by spelling accuracy, as well as by transcription (handwriting or typing) accuracy and speed. Children who struggle to read, write and spell—children with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders—often struggle with dysgraphia as well. As we pointed out in the article about Emerson, assistive technology can be enormously beneficial to such children, but it must also be balanced with a specific and orderly practice of handwriting skills. As Steve Graham states unequivocally in “Want to Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting,” “If children cannot form letters—or cannot form them with reasonable legibility and speed—they cannot translate the language in their minds into written text.”

In our online and in-person clinical treatment of children with dyslexia and dysgraphia, Lexercise clinicians follow the handwriting recommendations of Melvyn Ramsden’s book, Putting Pen to Paper: A New Approach to Handwriting. Our goal is that handwriting be 1) legible and 2) fluent. As Graham points out, handwriting is very important for mastering spelling. Later, after a child has mastered the basics of spelling, we may suggest the child learn to keyboard, which offers the advantages of speed and being check-able by a spelling/grammar-checking software.

In recognition of the challenge and importance of this issue, Lexercise has scheduled a free Live Broadcast in December 2012: In Appreciation of Handwriting, which will feature a Real Spelling video about the history of script. You are invited to register and participate in what is certain to be an engaging and timely 45 minutes.

If your child has difficulty with words, Lexercise can help. Our online services for struggling readers, writers, and spellers are a motivating blend of high-touch and high-tech. Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or contact me directly at Info@Lexercise.com or 1-919-747-4557.

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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.