The Handwriting Is on the Wall

The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better — a lifelong benefit. Children who don’t learn correct technique find it harder to write by hand, so they avoid it. Schools that do teach handwriting often stop after third grade — right after kids learn cursive. By the time computers are more widely used in classrooms for writing, perhaps in fourth or fifth grade, many children already have decided they don’t like to write.

In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George’s County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills. —Margaret Webb PresslerThe Handwriting Is on the Wall (Washington Post (will expire))

The opening statistic that says only 15% of the 2006 SAT exams are written in cursive is fairly alarming. But I’m in no position to complain. My own handwriting is terrible. I remember consciously making changes to the way I wrote when I started taking notes in college — ways to improve my speed. And I’m willing to carry around a laptop or tap digital keys on my PDA rather than deal with my own awful scrawl.