As I wade through the ever-thickening tech sludge, I find myself feeling guilty for teaching handwriting and anchoring handwriting firmly in the writing workshop experience. Am I just old school? Am I just descending to my own preference menu?
After doing a little research, I think I might have some potent backup when it comes to sticking with the pencil versus the keyboard. Findings compiled in the Wall Street Journal rough out a compelling argument for maintaining a balance between the pencil and the keyboard. Currently most elementary students in the US only engage in an hour of handwriting a week. Here are some of the robust data points:
Writing by hand can get ideas out faster University of Wisconsin psychologist Virginia Berninger tested students in grades 2, 4, and 6, and found that they not only wrote faster by hand than by keyboard — but also generated more ideas when composing essays in longhand. In other research, Berninger shows that the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory.
Writing increases neural activity A recent Indiana University study had one group of children practice printing letters by hand while a second group just looked at examples of A’s, B’s, and C’s. Then, both groups of kids entered a functional MRI (disguised as a “spaceship”) that scanned their brains as the researchers showed them letters. The neural activity in the first group was far more advanced and “adult-like,” researchers found.
Kanji form is evidently going down the tubes too if that makes you feel any better. The article wraps up with an interesting observation by Heather Horn of the Atlantic Wire who muses that all this research fascinating albeit “mostly shows that scientists are finally beginning to explore what writers have long suspected.” She cites an article in the Paris Review in which the interviewer asks novelist Robert Stone if he predominantly types his manuscripts. His reply: “Yes, until something becomes elusive. Then I write in longhand in order to be precise. On a typewriter or word processor you can rush something that shouldn’t be rushed — you can lose nuance, richness, lucidity. The pen compels lucidity.”
For the moment, I feel a license to keep my electric pencil sharpener on alert and those number two carbon critters in supply!