Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Handwriting Matters!

The Common Core standards call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists are finding, with the help of advanced technologies such as MRI’s, that the act of writing (rather than typing) stimulates learning centers in the brain that are not affected with typing.

Specifically, MRI’s in children show that when a child draws a letter freehand, they exhibit increased activity in three areas of the brain (that are also activated in adults when they read and write):  the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who type or trace letters or shapes show no such effect. The activation is significantly weaker.  (A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University)

Findings of recent studies indicate that 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 StanislasDehaene, a psychologist at the Coll├Ęge 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.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

Dr. James states “When a kid produces a messy letter,that might help him learn it.”

The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.

And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

Digital is here to stay and typing skills will be an integral part of communication.  But, pencil and paper have an important place in the education arena whether for children or adults.