Tag Archives: students

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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Answering The Unasked Questions

Death sucks.

Yes, I realize that I am courting the obvious there, but I thought we needed to restate where we stand on the issue. Sure there are some occasions, some deaths, where the cessation of breathing is cause for celebration and I would not try to argue that.

For the most part, though, people who die don’t want to die.

Again, blindingly obvious, but stick with me. I do have a purpose to this.

See, we as civilians only have to deal with death on a fairly irregular basis. It’s not like we see it every day as part of our job. Because we, as civilians, are not doctors.

Shara Yurkiewicz is a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School where she’s learning what it takes to become a physician. She’s taking classes about anatomy, about chemistry, about diagnosis of disease and all of that.

However, it’s what she’s going to learn outside of the classroom that will determine how good of a doctor she becomes. My wife, known to many as She Who Must Be Our Best Chance, also is a doctor. She’s an OB/GYN and she’s one of the best doctors I’ve ever met. Not only is she a dedicated physician, who continues her medical education every day, but she’s also got a tremendous stirrup-side manner. She connects with her patients as people, as sometimes friends.

And patients appreciate that. She didn’t learn that in a classroom, but it’s a big part of why she’s such a great doctor. Shara Yurkiewicz has plenty of time to work on her bedside manner, but, right now, she’s still learning some powerful lessons.

Thankfully, she shares a lot of those lessons with readers of her Scientific American blog “This May Hurt A Bit,” which follows her trials and tribulations as a medical student.

In a recent column, Ms. Yrukiewicz transcribes a conversation she Diversity can be accomplished with tiny, little steps and it's not all that hard, now, is it?had with a patient following his hip-fracture repair. It offers we civilians a gripping view inside the real-world learning medical students must go through to become effective doctors.

She thanks the patient for allowing her, a medical student, to watch as the surgeons worked to fix his hip. It’s a relatively bland conversation and I began to wonder why it was in her blog. Until we neared the middle and things — through no one’s fault — began to go downhill.

Very badly downhill.

I watched as they kept your eyes shut and handled your body just as gently as they had a few hours ago.

I listened to the final zip of the body bag. I don’t know who had the time to switch off the radio, but I’m glad they did.

I listened as the nurse asked God to rest your soul.

I watched you leave in a different kind of bed, to a different place. I’m not sure where.

You can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.

We fixed your hip, sir.

The operation was a success, but the patient died. It’s not an oxymoron, but a notice that physicians must understand the different values for success.

To become a good doctor, medical students need to understand that patients are not simply a presentation of diseases and symptoms. They are people, with lives and loves and desires all their own.

What Ms. Yrukiewicz doesn’t mention in her post is the next most important lesson a good doctor must learn: How to learn everything you can about what happened so it doesn’t happen again and then move on to the next patient, fully confident that the surgery will be a success and the patient will survive.

Her blog provides an interesting look into the world of student physicians. I’d recommend you dudes and dudettes go and give it a read. It’s always interesting to learn what the person on the other side of the white lab coat is thinking.


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