Does writing by hand still matter in the digital age?

Mar 7, 2018 by

Technology is having an impact on children’s handwriting ability. But what does this mean for learning and development?

Cast your mind back to the most recent thing you’ve written. Maybe it was a document for work, a message to a friend, or a simple shopping list. Did you use a pen? Or did you type it?

The decline of writing by hand – particularly among young people and children – has been in the news. Last month, paediatric doctors warned that children were finding it difficult to hold pencils due to excessive use of technology. Letters to Santa are increasingly sent by email, and Cambridge University is piloting the use of laptops instead of pen and paper for selected exams after requests from students. Some academics have noted the “downward trend” in students’ handwriting.

But what of the role that handwriting plays in learning and development? And with technology changing how we live and work, what place does handwriting have in the modern classroom? These were the questions put to the teachers, academics and specialists in education and technology at the Guardian’s roundtable event on 27 February. The roundtable was supported by the Write Your Future campaign from Berol and Paper Mate.

The delegates noted with interest that everyone at the table had chosen to use pens, not laptops, to make notes. One reason for this could be that writing plays a social role in our lives, said Dominic Wyse, professor of early childhood and primary education at UCL and incoming vice-president, president elect of the British Educational Research Association (BERA). Having a laptop open would be rude in such circumstances, he argued – and he would find it more difficult to engage.

The level of engagement involved in writing by hand is important, said Diana Strauss, co-founder of Write Dance Training, which helps children develop their handwriting skills through music. She pointed to recent research carried out in France in which one group of adult learners was told to write notes while another typed them. Those writing by hand were later found to have a deeper level of learning.

Ros Wilson, founder of Andrell Education’s Big Writing model for teaching writing, described the process of handwriting as “creating a mental picture of the world” and said computer processing did not create the same picture in the brain.

This is why teachers encourage children to draw in the sand or water, which embeds learning in the early years, noted Naveed Idress, headteacher of Feversham Primary Academy in Bradford. “You never know what an A is unless you’ve physically drawn it.”

Source: Does writing by hand still matter in the digital age? | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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