Press "Enter" to skip to content

Handwriting Helps Kids Learn; Common Core Concentrates on Keyboarding

Last week my friend and Democratic District 33 Senate candidate Robin Page voiced her displeasure at the removal of cursive handwriting from the Rapid City School District curriculum. Blame that on Common Core: the new mostly nationwide education standards tell teachers to work on handwriting with kindergartners and first-graders, then focus on keyboarding.

And as much as I love computers, handing kids keyboards instead of pencils and pens may mean they they learn less:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier” [Maria Konnikova, "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades," New York Times, 2014.06.02].

An example of the benefits of handwriting appears in note-taking:

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding [Konnikova, 2014.06.02].

Permit me to contribute my anecdotal experience to the empirical data: I've seen the same effect in my own note-taking. I can type faster than I can write longhand. But whether I'm in class or interviewing someone for the blog, I feel as if I process and recall information better when I write it by hand. (I haven't noticed a difference yet between writing with pen on paper and writing with stylus on electronic tablet.)

Common Core opponents, you can keep arguing about the arcanities of government databases and Soviet-style homogenization. But if you really want to fight Common Core standards, I humbly suggest that a nuts-and-bolts research-based argument that dropping handwriting weakens kids' ability to learn will get ten times the traction for your cause.

Related: Diane Ravitch contends that Bill Gates should face Congressional hearings for short-circuiting federalism and buying the education system to promote Common Core.


  1. South DaCola 2014.06.10

    You should wrote this post on paper and scanned it. That would have been cool.

  2. Steve Sibson 2014.06.10

    "I humbly suggest that a nuts-and-bolts research-based argument that dropping handwriting weakens kids' ability to learn will get ten times the traction for your cause."

    Cory, the pre-Common Core government schools taught cursive writing, but many of those graduates still don't have the critical thinking skills necessary to understand the dangers of the Smarter Balance data collection.

  3. Bill Fleming 2014.06.10

    Tangent thought. Writing is essentially drawing. It's an art lesson that engages the creative part of the mind. Later we forget that letters are actually drawings, unless you're a graphic designer.

  4. JeniW 2014.06.10

    Handwriting is only part of the issue. The other part of the issue is penmanship.

    In my line of work I deal with print or cursive handwriting. So often it is impossible to determine if a letter is an "a" or an "o", a "b" or a "d" or a "p."

    Then with signatures many people just scribble their name making it not only difficult to read, but also to determine the letters.

    Then there are the e-mail addresses, is it a dash (-) or is it an underscore (_)? Is it an "e" or a "c"?

    This is true even for those of us who are "baby-boomers" who were taught to write in elementary and junior high (middle school.)

  5. Jerry 2014.06.10

    Just smart enough to be able to read the on and off switch on the machines of the future. Thanks to keyboards run by the smarty pants in the bosses booth. We will have running lights like in the airlines to show the path to the bathroom and have set times to use them or we will soil ourselves. What a brave new world.

  6. Roger Cornelius 2014.06.10

    Why should there be only one method? Shouldn't be too difficult or time consuming to teach both.

  7. Joan Brown 2014.06.10

    The way most people now write, they should go back to teaching the Palmer Method of penmanship on a weekly basis, starting in Kindergarten(back before there was Kindergarten penmanship started in first grade.)

  8. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.10

    Learning to write might reduce time for athletics. SILICON SNAKEOIL was written years ago. I think it is still relevant.

    Speaking of drawing, younger children should learn to print like draftsmen and also get some experience with representing reality with drawing.

    My cursive is still terrible, but if I take time, I can print like an engineer. I am not hung up on cursive as a necessity. With practice, printing can be done nearly as fast and is usually much more legible and unambiguous. Your mileage may vary of course.

    Chinese language may involve a lot of drawing. The alphabet we use is a more complicated version of zeros and ones that can be slapped together to make words. The whole written language with 26 letters is a wonder in itself.

  9. Donald Pay 2014.06.10

    Yeah, students should learn cursive, but let's not go back to the mind-numbing writing of one letter down an entire piece of ruled paper. Use cursive to write letters to Grandma, or other real world practice, but not dippy drill and kill penmanship exercises. Those of us who had "shop" classes, learned how to write with block capital letters, etc. So, many of us learned various ways to write.

    In ninth grade I started experimenting with writing by combining cursive and printing. I found it was faster to take notes by not worrying about whether I was using cursive or printing. Over the course of several years in high school I invented my own system, which, of course, is difficult for others to decipher. My mother kept examples of my writing from that era. It was very interesting to look at how my unique penmanship evolved.

  10. Steve Sibson 2014.06.11

    Jerry, I read the AlterNet column you linked to, and I found it to be quite humorous. I agree that illiteracy is a problem and America is dumb and getting dumber. And that problem will not be fixed as long as those who are causing that problem continue to think that they have the solution.

    The Neo-Marxist anti-Chriistian propagandist who wrote the column blamed Christian fundamentalists for the problem, but then admits this:

    "Amusingly, fundamentalist Christians are evidently as ignorant of the Bible as they are of science"

    And who does not want Biblical teachings in public schools, and the source to illiteracy of the Bible and science? The very same Neo-Marxist anti-Christian propagandist who wrote the column. The person is among the dumbest because the lack of wisdom as made it impossible for the person to filter out truth from lies. The Neo-Marxist anti-Christian Big Government advocates don't even have enough wisdom to understand that their government schools have been taken over by Neo-Fascist one-worlders. The purpose of the government schools is not to give us the ability to think, but instead to make us into do-as-your-told corporate human capital for the "global economy". How many times have we heard that from the Rounds/Daugaard regime? They call it "workforce development".

  11. Jerry 2014.06.11

    Thank you for taking the time to read the article Mr. Sibson, you can thank a teacher for that. I think the word you are looking for is liberalism and that is more of what we are now facing here in South Dakota and the world for that matter, with the blinding support by our leadership with ALEC. As I see that you are not really a supporter of Rounds/Daugaard until it comes time to cast your vote, I can totally agree with you on the trashing of these two. I do not necessarily agree with you regarding any kind of bashing of Christians though, on the contrary I see science as a way for all of us to be amazed at what our universe is around us. In order to grasp that, we must have an educated populace and that would mean of course, critical thinking. In my opinion, you cannot achieve that with a keyboard. By such things as the art of putting words to paper that is legible (hello doctors), helps us think while we are acting and thereby increases our ability to retain. As Les would probably say, more science from me, but that is my opinion and that is how I roll. Something to consider as well, in early western civilization times, the only ones who were educated were the clergy and they believed in science even if it trumped religious views. If not for science and knowledge, we would not have longitude nor latitude to find our way. You cannot have both though Mr. Sibson, you cannot believe in science and believe that we lived with dinosaurs and the earth is 10,000 years old. So yes, Christian fundamentalists all have way to many skeletons in their born again closets, and for that, we all suffer their ignorance.

  12. Steve Sibson 2014.06.11

    Jerry, thanks for your thoughtful response. I believe science and Biblical truth go hand and hand. The column criticized Ken Ham whose work proves that they do belong together, not apart.

    I agree with your criticism of ALEC. I ask that you also consider the National Governors Association and the Council of State Government as ones that are also guilty for the Neo-Fascist take over of the government schools. And the column is correct in pointing out the charter schools as a problem in regard to the Neo-Fascist infiltration into private schools as well. Most on the Christian Right don't understand why that is a problem. And again, that is because they have not read the Bible and gained the wisdom necessary to discern truth from lies.

    In conclusion, I see both political parties as part of the problem, and my mission is to help good folks from both political spectrums to rethink their agendas.

  13. Jerry 2014.06.11

    Your welcome. I see that I made an error in my post. It should read neoliberalism rather than liberalism. Night and day difference.

  14. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.11

    "And again, that is because they have not read the Bible and gained the wisdom necessary to discern truth from lies."

    One could read the Bible a thousand times and never have the wisdom to discern truth from lies. Their may be wisdom buried in myth, but little utility for lie detection unless one wants to use the Bible as a very complete fabrication example.

  15. Steve Sibson 2014.06.11

    Douglas, those who have ears but cannot hear and eyes but cannot see.

  16. Jerry 2014.06.11

    I have read that history book and can see why you would be so attached to it Mr. Sibson. It does have some historical value, but it also has a lot of myth and hearsay. So it is not meant to be taken literally but for folks like yourself, something that you can find passages in to fit your agenda.

  17. JeniW 2014.06.11

    Steve, it is not just the Democrats and Republicans, it is the members of the Tea Party, and other political parties who lie.

    But, a thing I have learned about people, especially in regards to politics:

    When people agree with someone, like that person, and support that person or stance, the person is telling the "truth."

    When people disagree with someone, do not like the person, and does not support the person or stance, the person is telling "lies."

    Truth and and lies are like beauty, all in the eyes of the beholder.

  18. Steve Sibson 2014.06.11

    Jeni, without a standard, such as God's Word, each makes up their own truth. No wonder there is so much fighting in politics. There is only one path to unity and that is Jesus Christ.

  19. Jerry 2014.06.11

    Mr. Sibson, you are correct in that each makes up their own truth because that is what the authors of the Bible have done. The story fits their personal beliefs rather than actual events and was written centuries after Jesus Christ walked this Earth.

  20. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.11

    Of the multitudes of religion, there is too little agreement on truth to justify any of them as a source for determining truth. There are obvious moral tenets which are socially and personally useful but wars and other mayhem result in the clashes between "truth" and "truth".

    It is still pretty hard to beat "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", but even that is uncertain when masochists, sadists, and multiple varieties of perverts apply the unjunction.

    There is a reason societies have laws and there is a particularly good set of reasons why separation of church and state (and schools) from religion of any kind is a good idea for constitutions.

  21. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.11

    "injunction" not "unjunction"....a short circuit there.

  22. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.11

    And, in reference to engineering style drafting, the term is not "printing", but "lettering". After 52 years, I don't always think of those terms immediately.

  23. Jerry 2014.06.11

    Could not agree more Mr. Wiken with the separation of church and state. It is clear that the current set of republicans both in our state and nationally are geared up to make government a holier than thou proposition. What could go wrong with that, I dunno, take a look at the Mid East right now. These are Muslim countries that are fighting and killing in the name of Islam. We do the same in the West like in Northern Ireland as an example. Both factions are Christian and both believe in the same God, but have different churches and that equal death by religion.

  24. Joan Brown 2014.06.11

    Douglas, when I was younger I could print quite fast mainly because I was a primary school teacher. Now it is hard for me to print or write. I have to print slowly and write slowly, and I do have problems because I have bad shoulders and my right hand has a tendency to get cramps in it when I write.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.11

    And, Even the Devil can quote scripture.

Comments are closed.