WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Teaching good handwriting: Lost cause or hidden benefits?

It may seem teaching good penmanship is a lost cause.

With keyboards invading earlier and earlier grades; Common Core standards; social media and all the rest, the handwriting era appears to be coming to a close.

Kids get some printing & then cursive in the very early grades, and that's about it. (No matter that if they absolutely NEED to communicate in the more primitive way, some have great difficulty.)

I struggle with this because I came from a family where penmanship was prized. My grandfather's ordinary cursive writing was something to behold; he could write in the kind of beautiful, elegant script you'd find at the start of a book of one of those deluxe BIBLES. (No shock that he also did oil painting.) People would ask my grandfather to do the script for a certificate, award, or diploma-type document on parchment.

My father sold printing (catalogues, brochures, rate cards, etc.) but also often did the artwork. His printing and cursive handwriting were both exceptional.

Me? I got tired of getting B's instead of A's in penmanship; emulated the beautiful script of the girl sitting in front of me in second or third grade; and elevated my penmanship -- both printing and cursive. Later, I helped my father a few times with his artwork, particularly in the case of radio station ratecards and brochures.

By 4th or 5th grade, I could print in several styles - both all upper case and upper/lower case, cursive, and even italics. I remember when my 5th or 6th-grade English teacher said we always underline book titles, because, of course, we can't or don't write in italics, and I proceeded to show her it was possible.

As an adult, I hardly use cursive at all, with the notable exception of my signature, which I have refined over the years. Today, I would find it difficult to write an entire page in cursive. However, I handprint notes nearly every day, and often receive compliments for my printing. Indeed, in this day and age, a neatly handprinted note is so unusual - and so personal - I swear it gets more attention. I handprint individual notes on all Yuletide cards; I confess I don't quite understand folks who send out cards where everything is pre-printed; what's the point?

So, given this history, I've found it a little painful to concede the end of handwriting as we know it... although screw-ups on restaurant orders to doctors' prescriptions, owing to illegible handwriting, might demonstrate the utility of good penmanship.

That's why I found a NEW YORK TIMES article this week so intriguing: The notion that at least for some kids, handwriting makes learning easier. Put in another way, handwriting wires the brain in a more beneficial way.


Check out this piece from the NYT: "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades"...


Posted at 6:33pm on June 5, 2014 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Jun 5, 2014 9:05pm
Allan: Thanks for sharing the article. I believe handwriting needs to be taught. That article shows one real benefit that should be considered.

Thu, Jun 5, 2014 10:17pm
Sorry. I've grown accustomed to typing everything. You wouldn't like my first-grader printing anyway.

Thu, Jun 5, 2014 11:51pm
Typing is fine for adults... as long as there is power... because their brains have grown... for kids going neurons, handwriting needs to be kept...

I can see a profound difference between 22-year-olds and 17-year-olds... in how they think, using logic. In the time between those ages, the practice away from handwriting shifted.

Fri, Jun 6, 2014 10:12am
In Catholic schools, they still emphasize cursive. However, I feel that is a detriment because they DON'T emphasize typing enough. It's fine to do some work in cursive, but for reports, certain take-home assignments, etc., they should be typewritten. In 50 years, cursive will be a dead language, especially with the refinement of speech-writing technology. Hell, I don' even use paper in my business much anymore as signatures can be done right on the i-pad.

Allan Loudell
Fri, Jun 6, 2014 3:07pm

But three questions:

(1). What if it could be further demonstrated that teaching students handwriting enhances learning?

(2). What about the notion that we all should master penmanship for the times when all that modern technology crashes? (Just like the retail businesses or restaurants which can come to a standstill when all the computers/cash registers crash, and the clerks are unable to do basic math?)

(3). Have you ever thought about those instances when a handwritten note can have a much greater impact than any similar message done on a keyboard precisely because it's so unusual (and personal)?

By the way, I'm no enemy of keyboards, per se. I taught myself to type on an old Royal typewriter in 4th---5th grade, and was one of the few students to submit term papers that were typewritten. I still type with only two fingers!

Fri, Jun 6, 2014 10:16pm

1 - does it enhance learning? Or do good teachers and persistent parents with goals for their kids enhance learning? My son struggles with cursive (my daughter finds it pretty and nice) and his struggles HURT his scores till we talked to teachers and they allowed his reports and notes to be typed. He went from high 70s scores to 90s. Did handwriting do that or confidence?

2. Seriously? Technology crashing ? Is this 1999? Even if it does crash, most people can write (print). We are way beyond that fear of suddenly reverting back to the 19th century.

3. I agree a handwritten note still trumps the day, but again most people can print and that suffices.

Not to be negative, but you are of the same age of the teachers who rail against computers and typing. It's just generations having a hard time moving past the "in my day" mind set .

Mike from Delaware
Sat, Jun 7, 2014 9:53am
Arthur: My guess is, handwriting be it printing or cursive uses the right side of the brain [artistic] side, not to mention eye to hand motor skills; where as typing probably uses the left side of the brain. So both writing and typing offer the students opportunities to use each side of the brain [probably why girls typically have better handwriting than the boys as studies have shown that females can access both sides of their brains far easier than males].

Yes today most folks know how to write in the US, but if not still taught in schools, what about in 10-20 years????

In our high tech society we no longer seem to value the "arts" such as art and music in schools [always the first things to be cut in a tight school budget, never football, soccer, or field hockey]. Think of the wonder of those Disney cartoon movies from back in the day of Snow White all hand drawn, today all animated cartoon movies are computer drawn. One required a talented artist, the other a talented computer geek, both valuable skills, but not just the same thing. One requiring real artistic skills, the other left brain computer skills.

Same with music, yes humans are still writing songs, but how many J.S Bach's do we have writing music today? The other thing is electronic keyboards replace traditional instruments both piano, strings, and horns. So much music, especially in the pop world is electronic. Unless you're listening to big band, country classics, blue grass, jazz, or classical music [none of these are popular today so most youth do not hear this music voluntarily as few radio stations offer these traditional types of music]. The art of playing a real acoustic instrument may also become a lost art with handwriting.

It is one of the things I especially enjoy in the Lutheran Mass, a mixture of: Gregorian Chanting, very old hymns from the 1500's [not heard in most churches], plus newer hymns like the Old Rugged Cross], and even some of today's praise and worship music. Most Evangelical Churches only use Praise and Worship music so the young folks in those churches miss out on hearing the centuries of wonderful music written to praise and honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It makes the worship time for me, even more special. Something about chanting or singing a 500 year old hymn that I don't get when singing a modern praise song, yet I am blessed by the praise song too, but in a different way, so both have a place in worship.

So you may not see a need for something as basic as handwriting, drawing by hand, or playing traditional musical instruments, but I believe it is something we shouldn't allow to be lost. Hi tech is great and there are many benefits, but its not the all to end all.

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