Ditch Handwriting at Your Peril!

learning to write

After recently coming across this article, I feel urged to share with you my thoughts on why handwriting is still so important in this digital age.

Titled ‘Handwritten school exams to be ‘phased out’,  this warning comes as concerns mount that teenagers brought up using technology have lost the ability to work with a pen and paper.

As pointed out in the Herald Scotland, handwriting has not only been shown to support literacy skills such as reading, writing and speaking but research shows it develops areas of the brain that improve other skills.

We have previously discussed the relationship between handwriting and brain activity in our blog ‘Do you believe there is a relationship between learning to write and brain activity?’ . In a study conducted by universities in the US, scientists found that the area of the brain used when reading is the same area activated by the fine motor processes, proving that the myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is wrong.  

Dr Berninger, lead author of the study said “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” This study has helped to prove that there is a relationship between handwriting and brain activity, and that handwriting is much more than just putting a pen to paper.

Technology such as tablets and mobile phones can have a detrimental impact on a child’s mental development. Real play and hands-on activities in early childhood is what helps children to develop the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses. If a child is spending a large percentage of their time using technology, these responses will not be developed in early childhood. These responses are extremely hard to revive in later life which is why we are facing the real possibility of a whole generation growing up without the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships – all because of endless screen-time.

Recent research has found 10% of children under four are put to bed with a tablet computer to play with as they fall asleep. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no screen-time for children under two and a maximum two hours a day thereafter, and it is important that parents try to stick to these recommendations for their child’s development.

In another of blog, titled ‘Taking notes on a laptop does not improve a student’s learning’, we have also compared writing by hand vs writing with technology. We quoted a study shared on NextShark; “Being able to type down every word a professor says does not require any critical thinking. The results are what researchers call “shallow processing,” as the brain does not actively engage with the lesson while the fingers are automatically transcribing the words. If the brain doesn’t put work into learning the material, it will not process and store the lesson from short to long term memory. On the other hand, traditional handwriting forces the student to analyze the material and summarize concepts. Since notetakers are unable to write down every word uttered, they must think critically and ask questions to write down the most important takeaways from class.” This proves just how important it is that we do not involve technology into all areas of learning.

Handwriting is not just a skill for a school. It is a skill that they will take use throughout their life, the skills and muscles that a child develops whilst learning to write are ones that are needed across a wide range of careers.

We do not want to end up with a generation of children who will be unable to use their pincer grip for engineering, plumbing, etc nor able to communicate on anything but technology.

With all of this in mind, we believe that exams are essential to have a purpose for writing. Despite the increased use of digital technology within the classroom, it is vital that schools and teachers continue to teach handwriting and do not replace with the teaching of keyboard skills. Equally, it is vital that the Department for Education and exam boards do not scrap handwritten exams and replace with electronic exams.

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