Tag Archives: Handwriting

Maybe The Handwriting Isn’t On The Wall After All

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

The same research also notes that there could be a difference in the brains of young learners between those who only know how to print block letters (Hello! I’m mostly one of those. Long story.) and those who learn how to write in cursive.

In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

That might not be all that much of a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that cursive writing is disappearing as a subject being taught to the little dudes and dudettes in school. My youngest, Hyper Lad, really only had cursive for about a single year.

He had to learn the letters, try to put them together, and then was forced to write his spelling sentences in cursive each week for the rest of the year. And, really, that was it.

Now it’s years later and, because he didn’t get cursive reinforced in school and because his dad didn’t get a chance to really learn cursive his ownself, I now have to do the reading for him when it comes to cursive notes written by his oldest relatives. Annoying, but also, apparently, only the smallest of problems relating to not knowing cursive.

It turns out, the benefits of learning both handwriting and cursive will last through childhood and into adulthood. Most adults know how to type and consider it an efficient method for taking notes, certainly above using a messy handwriting. However, the very efficiency of typing could be working against adults trying to assimilate new information.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

All of which means . . . what?

I’m not going to say that you must emphasize handwriting in the young dudes and dudettes, but it’s looking like it might be a good idea.

Heck, even just having them handwrite the really important bits from their notes might offer a significant improvement in their ability to assimilate new information. Definitely something to think about as you sit down for your . . . erm. . . their homework come fall.

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The Handwriting On The Wall

The future of school looks a lot like a computer keyboard. . . but maybe it shouldn’t.

Right now, young dudes and dudettes in elementary school, middle school and high school mostly take notes by hand. Every parent knows the nightmare of not getting the right color composition book and having to rush back to Walmart with a sniffling child and rooting in vain amongst the dregs of the school supplies, knowing the color won’t be there and school starts tomorrow and why won’t he just be quiet and for the love of peter just take the green one because it really doesn’t make a difference.

*ahem* Yeah, I might have some issues there. Moving on.

So, most notes are taken with pencil and paper in grades k-12, but that might not last for long. And that could be a problem as life goes on.

While college students still take some notes with pen and paper, I’m seeing more and more computers or tablets on college student desks as they take notes to the clicking of keys and not the clicking of a ball-point pen. And that technophilia is moving down into the primary school years as well.

The future is wall-to-wall computers and our schools are changing to accommodate that. According to some recent research, that could be a big mistake.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

Which we will discuss tomorrow when I come back with a bit more about the whole handwriting versus typing debate.

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Trouble With The Cur-cive

Rachel Jeantel was a recent witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida.

Called to the stand to talk about her final conversation with her friend Trayvon Martin, shot by Zimmerman in the latter’s community in Florida, Jeantel said she could not read cursive writing.

That’s the main takeaway from the fourth day of the George Zimmerman trial: Jeantel, the heavyset, snappy prosecution witness who was on the phone with her friend Trayvon Martin minutes before he died, cannot read script handwriting. Defense attorney Don West underlined that fact for the benefit of the jury, the general public, and everyone else looking for an excuse to dismiss her testimony.

A short tangent: The fact that Zimmerman was found not guilty . . . Wow. I don’t for a second think Zimmerman went out there with the intention of murdering someone. I do, however, think that him having a gun is what led to Martin’s death. Because of the idiotic Stand Your Ground and concealed carry laws, Zimmerman felt safe carrying along a gun. Without that gun, Zimmerman wasn’t on trial and Trayvon Martin still is alive. No gun sounds like a win-win situation. It was the stupid laws that enabled Zimmerman to walk around feeling like a Wild West gunfighter that really were to blame. Thanks, Florida Legislature. Back to the post.

The right-wing blogosphere took that as just another example — including her looks, her diction and her perceived lack of education — of how she was only one step above a slug on the social evolution scale. Sadly, I’m not kidding. But I’m also not here to talk about the Martin case, nor Jeantel.

I’m here to talk about the reaction by people around the nation to the idea that Jeantel can’t read cursive. I’m guessing that most of the horrified gentry casting aspersions down on Jeantel are a bit, well, older, to be kind. When they and I grew up, cursive was a necessity. The refined gentleman or lady had an impeccable hand and enjoyed writing letters to friends.

Heck, Twenty years ago, a $300 Montblanc pen was one of the most coveted and costly graduation gifts. But today, few clamor over them, much less an expensive one. It turns out they want MacBooks and iPads — new writing tools of the digital age.

My own three young dudes can’t read cursive either. Most of their age cohort are deficient in the skill as well. Schools, as I found out in my last year or so as a Title 1 Tutor at Awesome Elementary here in Charlotte, don’t put nearly as much effort into teaching handwriting as once they did.

And why should they? Computers are easier to use, faster to get your thoughts down in writing, and the only way your words can’t be read is if you’ve smudged the print out, rather than that your handwriting is terrible. Mine certainly is. Heck, I can barely write cursive myself.

As a youth, I lived in England for a year. The school I attended was going to begin cursive lessons in its equivalent of fourth grade. I was in the equivalent of third. When I returned to America, I found that cursive had been taught the year before. Whoops. I managed to pick it up as the years went along, but never easily and never neatly.

I eagerly made the jump to keyboards the minute it was available. So I completely understand why people don’t see the necessity of learning cursive, I know that Rachel Jeantel is not alone in her ability to read it. She merely was the first person these hoity-toity bloggers had ever “met” who was of that age and was honest about her ability.

Of course, there are those who are not so eager to ditch cursive. And they might have a point.

In fact, a field of research, called “haptics,” focuses on the connection of touch, hand movement and brain function. Studies show that handwriting engages different circuits of the brain than typing simply doesn’t. And those strokes and pressures of the pen actually send messages to the brain, training it in vision and sensation.

In fact, the study of handwriting, called graphology, claims to infer character traits — like laziness, creativity or organization — just by looking at your written words. That repetitive process of writing builds motor pathways into the brain, said Katya Feder, a professor at the University of Ottawa School of Rehabilitation. And the more children write, the more connections they build.

Before anyone gets all crazy about the way the brain lights up differently when people use handwriting compared to typing, we need to realize that there probably are different, but roughly equivalent, light ups in the typing folks.

There’s much more to the dying art of handwriting, a sort of eulogy to the skill, over at Techland, a blog for Time.com. You dudes should definitely go over there and take a look. Lots of interesting stuff.

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