Does Handwriting Matter in a Digital World?

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 23, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP