Is handwriting an important component to literacy instruction? Is it really necessary to teach handwriting, especially when keyboarding skills are so requisite with the rise of technology in education and the use of technology in everyday life?
The Common Core State Standards prescribe that legible writing should be taught in kindergarten and first grade only. Then in subsequent grades, the emphasis shifts to keyboarding proficiency.
According to recent research, handwriting versus keyboarding may affect the brain and benefit specifically those who struggle with reading. Children who learn to write by hand at a young age learn to read more quickly, as well as retain information and generate ideas.
Dr. Karin James of Indiana University compared the brain patterns of children who physically formed letters with those who simply watched others form them. Her research suggests that the brain’s motor pathways are only engaged when children physically form the letters.
Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, found in her research that children in second to fifth grade who wrote text by hand (versus typing on a keyboard) were able to produce more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard and were able to express more ideas. Those children with better handwriting demonstrated greater neural activity in the working memory areas of the brain, resulting in increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks. (See "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades" published in the New York Times.)
Tim Shanahan, literacy expert, suggests the following with regard to the importance of teaching handwriting (the following is quoted below from his recent blog post):
Premise 1: Writing has a positive impact on the development of children’s reading skills;
Premise 2: To derive this benefit, children have to engage in writing;
Premise 3: If they can write well (quickly, legibly), they will write more and better;
Premise 4: If children write more and better that will have a more positive impact on reading.
Conclusion: Therefore, we need to teach young children to print and write—early on.
So, what role does handwriting have in literacy instruction? Engaging students in handwriting, even beyond the first couple of years of literacy instruction, leads to better retention, increased ability to generate ideas, and overall improved reading ability. In literacy strategy teacher training, it is important to emphasize handwriting. As I conduct teacher trainings, I teach that four things should be taught as each letter of the alphabet is introduced: the name of the letter, the sound of the letter, uppercase formation, and lowercase formation. Explicitly stating the importance of providing students a variety of opportunities to practice letter formation is also key.
(See the English Sounds and Letters mobile app available for the iPad at the Apple App store to provide practice with letter formation.)