Since I first learned how to write the alphabet I’ve had a fetish with improving my handwriting. I did not have a notebook, folder, or scratch paper throughout my entire schooling that was not covered with writing in every which way. I was determined to find the perfect way of presenting myself on paper. There was nothing that bothered me more than to feel like one of my peers had a better style of handwriting than me. I will never forget Paige Miller* and how she always seemed to be one step ahead of me on the handwriting front. As soon as I would be satisfied with my style, I would see her latest handwriting innovation and was forced to go back to the drawing board. I had to feel like my handwriting was at least on par with hers.
After years of playing around with different ways of writing my “a’s,” “i’s,” “g’s,” and “y’s” (because those were the letters that were the most fun to experiment with) I finally hit gold. I have now had a consistent style that has held my satisfaction for over 6 years now. It was a long pursuit, but alas, I found the right fit for me (or I just stopped being petty). But, did this fetish in some way reflect what kind of student I was? Is handwriting an important part of English instruction? Or, is it just a silly pursuit for competitive girls (or boys) that care about aesthetics?
Currently there are school districts eliminating handwriting from their curriculum in order to salvage extra class time for other subjects and, with the prevalence of keyboards - they feel handwriting has become irrelevant. However, some are wondering if students will lose out on some sort of intellectual or physical development in response.
Dr. Laura Dinehart of Florida International University School of Education has found that a 4-year-old’s fine motor writing skills are more predictive of later academic achievement than early number skills or early language skills. Dinehart’s team was able to discover this by examining the scores of 1,000 second graders and comparing it to their pre-kindergarten writing skills.
Not only were students with better penmanship in pre-k found to have higher scores in both reading and math later on, but they also had higher grades in general and higher scores on standardized tests. Students with strong handwriting marks in pre-k were found to have an overall “B” average in second grade compared to an overall “C” average for the students that did poorly on writing tasks in pre-K.
The only problem with the study: researchers don’t know why.
Schools are dropping handwriting from their curriculum and researchers are finding how predictive this skill is to future success, but no one knows why that is. Is handwriting’s benefit in today’s tech-savvy, keyboard oriented society simply that of being diagnostic of future achievement? Do teachers unknowingly perceive children with strong writing ability as being “brighter” students thus encouraging them more and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy for these students? What is it about good penmanship that leads to future success?
Dr. Dinehart did point out in her report that studies have found that children who physically write letters recognize them more readily than students who type them on the keyboard, possibly meaning that handwriting instruction leads to better reading skills. However, more research still needs to be done.
But, although the link is yet to be discovered, there is a link. Schools may be jumping off the handwriting bandwagon too early. As Dr. Dinehart said: “What we do know is that kids with greater experiences in early childhood do better later on, and writing can’t be discounted from that.”
What have you noticed in your classroom? Is there a link between good penmanship and strong performance?
*Name has been changed.