Is Handwriting Old-School?

Photography by John Cullen

Back in the day, students might have spent up to an hour of class time mastering handwriting skills. (Remember penmanship awards?) But with instruction dwindling in many schools and computer literacy being taught to kids as early as Kindergarten, is handwriting, especially cursive writing, an old-school notion?

No way, says Dr. Marvin Simner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., and author of Promoting Skilled Handwriting (Canadian Psychological Association). “Without proper instruction in letter formation, handwritten messages are usually very difficult to read, and, as a result, teachers are likely to award lower marks regardless of content.” He adds that practising good handwriting also ensures that hand movements become automatic so kids can concentrate on the content. “Young children as well as older students who lack this practice typically write very slowly, and, as a result, they often forget the ideas they are attempting to put on paper.”

The main problem, he believes, is that handwriting today is moving away from formal instruction and is often taught in a more anecdotal fashion. “Handwriting is largely a motor skill that needs to be taught in a very specific manner.” Jan Olsen, founder of the education program Handwriting Without Tears, agrees. That may be why more than 4,000 Canadian teachers have been trained through her company’s workshops. School work, even at the college and university level, and many jobs do require handwriting, she explains. “So it’s important to master it, particularly cursive writing, which is faster and more efficient.”

And that type of proficiency can only benefit students and their grades, says Simner. “Since note taking by hand in class is often still part of the education system, some kids will be hampered by not having the proper skills as they go further along in school.”

What do you think? Is hand-writing in or on its way out?

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