Does Handwriting Matter in a Digital World?

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 23, 2012 2 min read

Guest post by Jackie Zubrzycki

Today’s National Handwriting Day, and researchers, educators, and administrators are gathering in Washington, D.C. to discuss the state of research on handwriting. The American Association of School Administrators and Zaner-Bloser, an educational company that makes handwriting materials, are co-sponsoring Handwriting in the 21st Century? An Educational Summit, where researchers Virginia Berninger, Steve Peverly, Steve Graham, Jane Case-Smith, Karin Harman-James, and Gerry Conti are presenting (or, at this point in the day, have presented) findings in areas ranging from occupational therapy to neuroscience that document the impact of handwriting on kids’ learning. My most recent article in Ed Week takes up this conversation about the role of handwriting in school. Check it out.

All of the research presented at the conference indicates that teaching handwriting is beneficial. That’s not surprising, as the conference is being sponsored by a handwriting curriculum company, but the presenters come from a broad range of fields and present a convincing case. One of the most striking findings comes from Karin Harman-James at Indiana University, who’s presenting on some research in which fMRI scans of children’s brains showed that writing by hand activated parts of the brain associated with language development, while keyboarding did not. I also talked to Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington in Seattle. She’s presenting research that indicates that keyboarding may not be an easy solution for kids who struggle with handwriting, as the problems that lead kids to struggle with writing seem to lead them to struggle at the computer.

There’s also a question of writerly authority: Steve Graham and Tanya Santangelo from Vanderbilt University are presenting a meta-analysis of research that shows that a paper written neatly scores significantly higher than the same paper written in sloppier handwriting. We can see evidence of this phenomenon out of school from folks like Indiana state Senator Jean Leising, whose new bill about cursive handwriting was prompted partly by the bad handwriting (and grammar) of thank-you notes she’s received from students in her office and partly by an outcry from her constituents when they found out cursive lessons were no longer going to be mandatory in Indiana.

You can see summaries of some of the other research on the agenda here.

Let us know what you think. Any other interesting handwriting research out there?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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