Pen vs. Keyboard

Fountain pen on an antique letterBefore I write anything further, let me say that I obviously use both: the pen and the keyboard. Moreover, I firmly believe there is room for both, and benefits to derive from both methods of communication.

Now that I’ve made that point, let me share with you an interesting article from the British newspaper, The Guardian — Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? (PDF)

Some neuroscientists argue that the ability to write one’s letters by hand helps children learn how to write better than if one only types on a keyboard. Moreover, mastering the additional art of cursive writing also aids in cognitive development. At a time when many schools in the United States are dropping the requirement for cursive, other countries, such as France, are emphasizing its benefits more in their school curriculum.

Our reliance on — and near-constant connectivity to — devices such as smart phones, laptops, notebooks, etc. is definitely rewiring our brains, especially those of younger generations being raised in a computer environment from day one.

So the question may not be whether people will want to write handwritten letters in the future but rather will they know how to?

To encourage a child in your life to write letters, take a look at these suggestions on the Reading Rainbow blog.

4 thoughts on “Pen vs. Keyboard

  1. Nan Jay Barchowsky says:

    Before decisions are made about handwriting instruction, and whether “cursive” should be taught, we need sound research that may or may not prove its benefits. We should also learn the results of reliance on technology. To date I know of none.

    “Cursive” is known to many as the method of letter formation that dates to the latter part of the 19th century. There are other cursives.

    Why teach cursive? Why teach conventional cursive, the method that joins letters with loops, when more and more and more people can’t read it?

    Just some of the misguided, misquoted statements I often read:
    1) It strengthens cognition. No, any writing by hand will do that.
    2) It is faster. No, that’s never been proved.
    3) We need to read the Constitution and Granny’s letters. Not a problem: it takes less than an hour to learn to read the conventional cursive alphabet.
    4) It benefits fine motor skill. Then why do I see so many media illustrations of children writing their cursive lesson with death grips on pencils? No one is teaching the relaxed pen hold that is essential to fluent writing!
    5) We need signatures. No, every hand makes an individual mark.

    A variety of cursives have been used ever since the Romans gave us our western alphabet more than 2000 years ago. There must be a better way, a better cursive, one that would be easier to read and faster to write.

    Meanwhile, reading cursive should be taught. It takes about a half hour to teach kids to read the conventional, looped cursive. I’ll send a lesson I have successfully used upon request.

    My vote is for italic cursive, an easy-to-learn alphabet that is also easy to read. An option is to teach print-like script and guide that alphabet into something more fluent and individual; it’s often called “hybrid” writing.

    As first stated, handwriting in elementary grades strengthens cognition. So children do need it. They move their hands and fingers to form letters. The action goes into their motor memory to be recalled for reading.

    Advocates of conventional cursive may truly believe the unproven claims that cursive is superior. Frequently, the media backs up this belief by misinterpreting and misquoting researchers. For the sake of better education for our children, serious, thoughtful attention is needed.

  2. kategladstone says:

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    
    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)

    We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )

    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and nor restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
    
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

    Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

    What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
    Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrases by the person citing it
    
    or

    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.
    
    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
    
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

  3. Phoebe Conn says:

    I wish there were a closer connection between what’s taught in school and what science shows is best for learning. If a student will recall a lecture when they take written notes, while another types on her laptop and forgets most of what she wrote, the one using cursive will get the A. The other poor girl will wonder why she can’t remember as much as her friend. Let’s keep cursive alive for science.

Comments: