Is handwriting still important and should it be taught in schools? Isn’t it better to teach keyboard skills instead?
As Chief Judge of the Schools’ Handwriting Competition, I am often asked these questions. Of course children should be taught keyboarding skills (as I type this I wish I had been!), but that should not be to the exclusion of handwriting being taught properly and well. We now have evidence for the importance of handwriting.
The Handwriting in the 21st Century summit was held four years ago in the US with very interesting findings
Research revealed that handwriting influences reading, creative writing, language and critical thinking, yet 25–33% of US students are struggling to achieve competence in handwriting.
Here are three quotations from the report:
When students do not adequately develop handwriting skills, the negative implications can be lifelong. Without consistent exposure to handwriting, research indicates that students can experience difficulty in certain processes required for success in reading and writing, including:
- retrieving letters from memory
- reproducing letters on paper
- spelling accurately
- extracting meaning from text or lecture
- interpreting the context of words and phrases
[Doubt about the value of handwriting instruction] is similar to what happened with math as calculators and computers came into vogue… people wondered whether students needed to learn how to do math. The answer in both cases is absolutely “yes.” Writing is not obsolete.
Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators
Illegible handwriting is a problem for a large number of children…it can affect [children] not only personally (their self-esteem), but also academically, and their careers in the future. So, it’s got a very long trajectory.
Dr. Gerry Conti, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Wayne State University
In the US many states do not teach handwriting beyond Grade 1 (age 7), yet in doing so, they are seriously affecting the future academic achievement of their young people as was underlined in this research.
As a craftsperson, I know how important using our hands is to memory and how repetition can lead to perfection. But it is the influence on our cognitive functions where handwriting also scores. Students who hand-wrote wrote more words, wrote words faster and expressed more ideas than those who used a keyboard.
Teaching good handwriting should not be an option, as it is in US states, Finland and a few other countries, as it has such an important effect on so much more than just committing words to paper. And it is worth helping and encouraging children who struggle with writing to make progress as handwriting has far reaching effects.
All the finalists in the Schools’ Handwriting Competition are to be commended for the excellence of their writing, and, with almost 10,000 entries, all those finalists have done extraordinarily well.
The judges look for good handwriting, not calligraphy, nor specially fancy styles with distorted forms and lots of curls on the letters, but the sort of writing that will stand you in good stead whether you are making a shopping list or writing a school project.
Letters should be well-formed, and with comfortable joins where appropriate.
There should be appropriate spacing between the words and the poem should be placed well on the page.
The number of very competent entries from 4 year-olds is increasing year-by-year, and this year, too, there were far better entries from the older age groups. It is encouraging, too, to see the number of boys in the finalists, particularly as Class Winners.
However, some finalists lost out because there were no school postcodes on the backs of the paper (with 10,000 entries it is impossible to check which school ‘Sarah Smith’ belongs to), and putting entries into the wrong age-groups also was a disadvantage for the judges.
Overall, though, the standard was very high this year and all who entered the competition have the advantage of knowing that their skill in handwriting will also aid their reading, spelling, understanding and creativity – all a bonus!