Dec 13, 2016 by Carrie Gajowski, MA
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cursive handwritingCursive is becoming obsolete. How can that be?  I remember 1st grade at Glebe Street Elementary School in Johnstown, New York, where we practiced penmanship every day.  I tried to be so perfect writing out my letters.  The next step was learning cursive in 2nd grade!  Once I learned how to make those curly letters, I was considered a big kid, like a rite of passage.  As handwriting has disappeared with the advent of computers and smartphones, this rite of passage (and some people argue an important developmental milestone) may seem old-fashioned, outdated and irrelevant in today’s modern world.

Current research: Is handwriting still important?

The current research on handwriting is somewhat mixed - some say yes, some say no. 

Some educators and the Common Core say handwriting might be not be as relevant because it doesn’t directly tie-in to curriculum.  And many states are no longer required to teach it.  Only a handful of states are still teaching handwriting.  If I were a young student today in upstate New York, I wouldn’t necessarily be learning handwriting/penmanship.  Many skills aren’t deemed relevant if they aren't directly related to skills that state tests are targeting, which includes handwriting.

Why should we teach handwriting? 

Popular author/psychologist, Stanislas Dehaene, at the College de France in Paris states that,

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. 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. Learning is made easier.

So when we write something down, this research has shown that our brains get activated in ways that aren’t activated when we type something.  And this brain activation helps with recall when we are learning.

Exercise: Think about the last time you wrote something down

  • Did you actually write it or type it into your computer or phone? 
  • If you wrote something, did you find it easier to remember? 
  • If you typed it on a keyboard, was that easier to remember? 

Studies are showing that if a student handwrites something rather than types it, it is easier to remember and more ideas come from that as well. 

Implications as handwriting continues to disappear

Studies are being conducted to see what exactly a student loses when typing class notes versus handwriting them.  These studies typically ask students to listen to a lecture and either handwrite their notes with a pen and a piece of paper or type them into a computer for later viewing.  They've found that students who handwrite their notes retain information longer and are better able to understand the information given.  The students who are typing the notes are typically good at reciting facts, but have a harder time answering questions that are based on thoughts or concepts.  The students were tested a week later to see what they had retained.  They found that the students who had handwritten their notes performed better.  However, the students who typed their notes had more content , but performed lower when tested on what they had learned from the lecture.  So while it might be efficient to type notes in class, handwritten notes appear to help students retain information better.

With transformation of technology in schools and classrooms today, will educators ask their students to learn the art of penmanship, or will it be a forgotten subject in schools moving forward?  Share your thoughts with us on the importance of handwriting in today’s classroom below in the comment! 


Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension

What's Lost as Handwriting Fades

States Fight to Keep Cursive Handwriting in the Classroom

Some States Move to Save Cursive in the Classroom


Tags: writing


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I'm a strong supporter of

I'm a strong supporter of learning cursive. I got through college and my masters by re-writing my notes and reading them out loud to help me absorb and retain the information. My job now is completely infused with technology. I've tried to learn new concepts by typing notes but found if I truly want to learn it, I still need to write it down.

Writing does support memory

Writing does support memory in ways that don't happen with typing, but there is another reason to learn to write using cursive ... directionality. It enforces left to right eye action when the hand is also involved.

I am a teacher programs

I am a teacher programs coordinator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where we do professional development for educators around brain-based teaching. Thank you for providing us this research. The benefits vs. loss argument seems to have a lot to do with working memory and with elaborate rehearsal. Students with more limited working memory capacity are going to be able to record more information in that window of opportunity by typing than by handwriting. BUT because they are just recording and not manipulating the information as it is recorded, very little of that information makes it into Long Term Memory where it might be most needed. Some research that I have read also indicates that students who type are not only less likely to recall the information but are also less likely to be creative with that information. Again, thanks for this information and for providing a forum for discussion. Tim

I think that handwriting

I think that handwriting should still be part of the basic curriculum. I have even found that there are employers out there who want to see if a potential employee can write a good letter (not only spelling and grammar, but legible writing). Just because it seems easier to have everyone typing their notes/class exercises, writing is good for people in the long run.

Thank you for addressing this

Thank you for addressing this very important matter! We run a small, brain-friendly independent school, and we are passionate about teaching cursive and handwriting. We have seen a great deal of academic improvement in all subject areas after our handwriting units. One of our 6th graders successfully learned cursive and then challenged herself to learn calligraphy this year! It has been an incredible learning experience for her. We wish all schools would return to teaching handwriting and cursive in a brain-friendly way, because the benefits are so numerous.

I go to a lot of IT meetings

I go to a lot of IT meetings at the University that I work at and I am the only one with a steno pad taking notes and everyone else is typing their's. Are used to feel kind of funny but now I'm glad I do it. When I knew really need to remember something like a password or something forever I type it in my notes program in my iPhone and it's backed up to iCloud and it's their first long as I need it. But if I want to get comprehension I write it down. I wish I had not been so busy when my children were in school. I noticed terrible handwriting but except for complain I really didn't do anything about it. I really regret that now.

In college I took notes and

In college I took notes and then recopied my notes as the only type of studying for many of my undergrad classes. I still "go low tech" at most meetings today even though everyone here at work has been given a chrome book. I am fond of saying, “I don’t really know what I mean until I’ve seen what I’ve said.” I also find that it is relaxing to just copy the Bible I am working through Deuteronomy. The Bible commanded Israel's kings to write. "When he occupies his royal throne, he must make a copy of this Law for himself from a scroll used by the Levitical priests." Deu 17:18 So even God thinks it useful. :) As some people have taken to coloring for a therapeutic decompression stress reliever. Handwriting serves me that way.

There is absolutely value for

There is, absolutely, value for me in writing to transfer or deposit information into my long-term memory. The mere act of re-writing my notes was about all it took for me to prepare for tests in, and post, college. I'm a software engineer. I encouraged both my college educated children to do the same as well as students with whom I've counseled. When my children were in elementary school worked as a "high school building substitute teacher". Now I,m developing & advising others in developing mentoring programs for schools that serve impoverished elementary school children. I encourage them the same. WRITE,

Writing things by hand isn't

Writing things by hand isn't the same as cursive. I know I learn better by writing things by hand but my cursive is awful despite effort. Please differentiate the research results by commenting on why cursive is necessary, as opposed to writing by hand in whatever mix of cursive or printing is employed.

I teach at the primary level

I teach at the primary level and learning how to write a letter in the motor memory component is a very important part of learning the letter-sound principle.

To add another variable to

To add another variable to the discussion while I believe handwritng still remains critical to the learning process fluency of handwriting should also be considered. Students with difficulties in these areas may benefit from typing notes (plus recording) however would still benefit from revisiting these notes in a meaningful way for them as learners otherwise it has merely been an exercise to meet demands of others (teachers).

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