The Importance of Handwriting for the Cognitive Development of Students
Writing by hand is immeasurably important for the cognitive development of children and students, in contrast with digital writing, claims pediatric specialist Perri Klass, MD in the research survey she collected and summarized in the New York Times in June 2016.
Handwriting is not a motor skill, but rather a cognitive skill. Schoolchildren and college students who write by hand stimulate cognitive regions in the brain that develop planning and thinking skills, and the result is better language development (NYT 2016).
Studies found that handwriting actually sharpens the memory significantly. For example, students who took notes by hand had better test results than their peers who typed their notes on the computer. The act of writing gave them an advantage in retaining the information and thinking of new, creative ideas. Psychologists explain that this is because writing takes more attention and thought than typing on a computer.
According to the standards accepted today in most states in the US, children learn how to write in kindergarten and in first grade, following which the educational system emphasizes acquiring skills using the computer keyboard. But psychologists and neuroscientists claim that it is too early to declare handwriting an outdated skill. New research shows that there are deep connections between handwriting and various aspects of education and development.
Children who learn writing skills first learn to read faster, and gain an advantage in terms of their ability to create ideas and retain information. “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically stimulated,” says Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist at the College de France in Paris. “It seems that the circuit plays a role that we were previously unaware of and the learning process becomes easier,” he adds. (NYT 2014)
In a study conducted in 2012 in the United States, managed by Dr. Karin James, a psychologist from Indiana University, researchers presented different shapes to children who had not yet learned to read or write and asked them to recreate them in one of three ways: to trace the shape on a piece of paper with a dotted outline; to draw it on a blank white piece of paper; to type it on the computer. Afterward, the researchers scanned their brains and showed them the letter or shape again. The researchers found that among children who drew the letter freehand without lines, there was increased activity in three regions of their brains which are usually active in adults when they read and write. In contrast, children who typed the letter or copied it did not exhibit similar brain activity at all.
The influence of handwriting does not only include improvement of letter identification. In a study involving children from second to fifth grade, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist from the University of Washington, found that when children write a text by hand, they produce many more words at a faster rate than when typing on a computer, and also express more ideas. Two psychologists, Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, reported that in experiments held in labs and in classrooms, they found that students who took handwritten notes during lectures learned better than students who typed their notes. (NYT 2014)