Is handwriting relevant in today’s digital age?
As Head of Literacy at an independent boys’ school, I am often asked about my views on teaching handwriting and whether it’s a skill of the past.
Though I acknowledge that our approach to teaching handwriting has certainly been influenced by technology, we still teach handwriting, and for compelling reasons.
It’s not a simple case of handwriting versus technology. There is obviously a place for both. The challenge today for teachers is to teach both handwriting and keyboard skills.
Now, more than ever, the teaching of handwriting needs to be integrated into the curriculum, as compared to the more scheduled daily writing drills of the past.
As with most aspects of literacy, the early years of a child’s development are where strong foundations are established. Letter formation plays a key role in the essential link between aural, oral and visual communication.
Letter formation links strongly with letter recognition, contributing to early reading success. Hand eye coordination and fine motor skills correlate positively with learning abilities and communication. There is much to support the continued focus on handwriting in these formative years.
An obvious factor for many, when considering the value of handwriting, is that our final year examinations are still handwritten, and will be for the foreseeable future. This reasoning is confirmed by our senior students. I have had many conversations with Year 12 boys, who lament their lack of attention to handwriting.
Speed and clarity are so essential during examinations. The clear advantage of being able to maximise their time allocation by writing quickly, while maintaining a legible style, is crucial to their success.
This insight influences our daily decision making as to whether students write or type their responses. There needs to be a balance, but opportunities to handwrite need to be prioritised, as this combination of speed and clarity will only come with practice.
We aim for automaticity when writing, where the handwriting is automatic and the focus can then be placed on the content, lending strength to our school’s commitment to increase and enhance the writing experiences of all students.
Research around the handwriting versus typing debate suggests a greater reliance on typing as students move through their school years. Other research indicates a strong link between handwriting and positive learning outcomes. It shows that writing by hand activates the parts of the brain influencing memory, impulse control, and attention, and suggests that writing by hand moves information from short term to long term memory.
This debate has implications for those students currently undertaking distance learning, where the tendency to complete work online challenges our need to provide handwriting opportunities.
Not only is a balance of hand written tasks needed, it provides a welcome break from an over reliance on screen learning during these unusual circumstances. We find that our students are grateful for the opportunity to get away from the screen and relax with pen and paper to gather their thoughts.
Raelene Plozza is the Head of Literacy (ELC−Year12) and an Instructional Coach at Brighton Grammar, an independent boys’ school in Melbourne. Raelene trained as a Primary teacher and later completed a Masters in Literacy, with her research focused on motivating adolescent boys to read. This article is about Education
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