Is handwriting still important?

In the age of computers, many ask why handwriting is still important. It is true that more students are completing assignments and tasks using keyboards and tablets, however the majority of classroom time is still spent on pencil and paper. This includes taking notes, completing worksheets and writing exams. In fact, according to recent studies, the amount of written work increases with students’ age.

The culture of handwriting, so important for centuries, always begins with reading and writing. For a small child it is a long way away from preparing to learn writing, learning the visual structure of letters, controlling palms and fingers, linking letters into word, improving writing technique, the speed and the aesthetics aspect of handwriting on one hand and understanding the meaning of what is written.

Teachers and parents play an important role because it is necessary to have emotional connection, empathy, encouragement, understanding, security, persistence and immediate communication. Through the years handwriting becomes an important part of individual identity.

There are major benefits to handwriting. It affects students’ reading, writing, language use and critical thinking. Handwriting is important for all subjects. Children’s competence in writing essays, texts and notes depends on the mastery of handwriting. The ability to write legibly and in a timely fashion is necessary for children to adequately document their knowledge and learning. Handwriting also helps some aspects of learning in ways in which typing doesn’t. Writing letters by hand helps young learners to develop their phonological awareness and phonics skills. For older children, the act of writing notes by hand helps fix ideas in their minds, with studies showing better recall of information when it’s been handwritten, rather than typed. As we write by hand, we select the key information and process that information. Typing makes it easier just to record a “script” – without processing the information.

According to the academic research the consequences of the domination of IT literacy are already visible; less attention and teaching time is paid to neatness and accuracy in writing. Handwriting is becoming illegible and spelling errors are increasing.

In the recent years we have seen an increase in introducing tablets in schools and almost every household owns an iPad. Writing on paper or on a tablet with a plastic-tipped pen is different. Research shows that younger children have more pauses, when writing on the tablet, while older children have different pen movements, suggesting a disturbance in the flow of writing.

Teachers we talk to as a part of our research are not keen of using iPads with younger children in a classroom. One of the reasons is the lack of educational technologies that support the curriculum at that early stage. With older children, word processor can be very useful to improve grammar, but with smaller children the challenge is to improve the strength and control of small muscles movement, hand-eye coordination and the general ability to hold pencils.

One really interesting solution is Ymagina, a Pedagogical Pencil and apps for iPad and Andriod, which teaches children to hold the pencil correctly. When teachers as well as parents will see more such products and solutions which will address the needs of teachers with curriculum based activities, then the general discussion would move away from “should keyboards replace pens”.

Mitja Kostomaj, PhD, MSc, BEd, Founder of PAKABO