My paternal grandmother was a sharecropper in middle Tennessee.   She grew up in severe poverty and received only a basic elementary education.   She became an adult during the depression era.   Yet, despite spending most of her time farming and canning, she had beautiful handwriting.     With her hands she could dig potatoes, hand-wash laundry in scalding water, and yet peel an apple so thin you could almost see through the peelings.   And, she could write beautifully.   She corresponded with friends through handwritten letters that were excellent in both form and prose.    

If she were still alive today, I’m sure she would still be writing letters.   Unfortunately, I’m afraid some of her descendants would have a hard time reading her attractive cursive, and I know many of her great-grandchildren would be unable to pen a legible response.  

Most of us don’t write much by hand anymore.   We sign a few checks here and there, maybe take a few notes, but very rarely do most people write a long-form letter or document by hand in this day and age.   Most will agree, handwriting is in decline and because we write so little as adults, it will probably only get worse.   So, what does this mean for handwriting instruction in school?

First, let’s be clear: We are still teaching handwriting in the Copper River School District, both print and cursive.   We plan to continue teaching these skills.   Students start learning to write in kindergarten and are expected to write legibly through 12th grade.  

Nationally, there is a debate about the place of handwriting instruction in the curriculum.   Neuroscientists and educators are conducting research to pinpoint the specific benefits of handwriting and keyboarding in the learning process.   Though more research is needed, the early indications are that handwriting and keyboarding activate different parts of the brain.   Both have benefits, but in different ways.   So far, the research confirms what veteran educators have known for years: Writing by hand is helpful in the learning process.  

When a student writes, he/she has to slow down, focus and think more carefully about the subject.   A common complaint in math class is, “Why do I have to write out the problem?”   The answer? Because rushing through the problem will result in careless mistakes.   Taking the time to copy the problem is part of the mental process of getting from the problem to the solution. The same principle applies to other subjects.   Rushing through the learning process leads to careless thinking.   Writing by hand helps us think more carefully.

Among other things, handwriting also aides in memorization.     The articles linked below list some other benefits, including giving students the confidence necessary to keep learning.

The fact is, handwriting and keyboarding are both important skills for students in the 21st century. To neglect either will hinder students.   The next time your student has homework that requires a hand written response, check their handwriting.   If it is sloppy, ask them to rewrite it. It is good exercise!

Below are links to related articles: 

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-06-15/health/sc-health-0615-child-health-handwriti20110615_1_handwriting-virginia-berninger-brain-activation – The many health perks of good handwriting.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0 – What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news-archive/20977.html – Printing, cursive, keyboarding: What’s the difference when it comes to learning?

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Michael J.


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