Handwriting can be a great way to learn skills faster


Although writing by hand is becoming less popular due to the convenience of computers, a new study shows that handwriting can be a great way to learn skills faster than typing or watching videos.

Brenda Rapp, senior author and Johns Hopkins University professor in cognitive science, says that parents and educators should ask themselves why their children spend so much time handwriting. You’ll be a better handwriter if it is something you do every day. Who cares if people handwrite less? Is there any other benefit to handwriting than reading, spelling and understanding? “We find there most definitely are.”

The article appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Robert Wiley, who was a Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. candidate, and Rapp were the lead authors of the experiment. He is now a professor at UNC Greensboro. 42 people were taught Arabic alphabet by Wiley. They were divided into three groups: typers, handwriters, and video viewers.

Each group learned the letters by looking at videos of each letter being written and hearing their names and sounds. The three groups were then challenged to discover the letters and hear them in different ways. The video group was given a flash of a letter on the screen and they had to tell if it was the one they just saw. The letter would need to be found on the keyboard by the typers. The letter had to be copied by the handwriters using pen and paper.

After six sessions, everyone was able to recognize the letters and make few mistakes when being tested. The writing group achieved this proficiency quicker than any other group – some of them in as little as two sessions.

The researchers then wanted to see if the new knowledge could be generalized by the groups. They could recognize the letters but could they all use them as pros by writing with them and using them for spelling new words or reading unfamiliar words?

In all those areas, the handwriting group was more successful – and decisively so.

The main lesson was that although they all were good at reading letters, writing training was their best. Wiley stated that they took less time to reach their goals.

The writing group possessed more skills than the adult-level reading and spelling. Wiley and Rapp claim that handwriting reinforces visual and aural learning. This advantage is not related to penmanship. It’s because writing by hand creates a perceptual and motor experience that unifies what’s being learned about letters (their sounds, shapes, motor plans), which, in turn, leads to richer knowledge and true learning.

Wiley stated that writing gives you a stronger representation of your mind, which allows you to scaffold towards other types tasks that don’t require handwriting.

Wiley and Rapp expected to see similar results for children, despite the fact that the participants were all adults. These findings are important for classrooms. Pencils and notebooks have been replaced by tablets and laptops in recent years, making cursive handwriting almost extinct.

These findings suggest that adults who are trying to learn a new alphabet should also supplement their learning with tapes or apps with some good old-fashioned paper.

Wiley is one of the many people who makes sure that his children have enough writing supplies.

“I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time. I bought them all finger paint for Christmas and told them let’s do letters.”

Related Journal Article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797621993111


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