Writing by Hand

Pad of paper with pen laying on it saying "I am writing this draft by hand"

I wrote this draft by hand. Really.

I made myself write by hand, then type up this blog for you. I wanted to remind myself of the process, now that I have the skills to generate original writing through the keyboard.

When I talk to groups, parents inevitably ask me questions about handwriting. No matter the topic—handwriting is always a question posed by someone (or many) in the group. It just happened last Thursday when I spoke to a homeschool group in Delaware, Ohio. I was soon discussing the hows and whens and whys of teaching print, cursive, and keyboard—and the value of teaching all three through Intentional Copywork and Dictation practice.

The main point I emphasize is this: there is value in practicing all three forms of writing, value in progressing through all three handwriting stages, and value in not skipping one mode of writing over the other.

Research is mounting on the positive benefit of teaching reading in conjunction with writing. At Rooted in Language, we teach new readers to connect their literacy language skills: Say it; Read it; Write it. When it comes to teaching writing—like teaching reading—don't wait for some magic day when your "child is ready." If children are of school age, it is time to teach them to read and write.

Print versus cursive is the primary debate. Recent research indicates that writing in cursive has a positive impact in the development of writing skills. Read this New York Times article and remember:
  • Cursive teaches kids how to read cursive writing
  • Cursive teaches better control of spacing, anchoring letters to the line, and letter position for struggling writers
  • Cursive usage is correlated with strong writing composition skills
  • Cursive is fast and efficient for note-taking

Bottom line: don't skip cursive. If your child struggles with writing, and it is too stressful or time-consuming to teach all three modes of writing, then skip print. The child with dysgraphia will still learn how to read print (it is everywhere), but will likely fare better with cursive. Convincing a child with dysgraphia to learn cursive is the biggest challenge. If they persevere, my students with dysgraphia all achieve faster, more legible writing with cursive.

Of course, I don't need to convince anyone that kids need to learn keyboard. I do need to convince kids to use proper finger position when typing. Proper finger position is the key to becoming fast and efficient typists who don't need to look at their hands. I discourage the hunt and peck method. After all, the ultimate goal is functional typing for college and career. Colleges give students timed online examinations. Worse, they assume the faster the timing, the less likely kids have opportunity to cheat. So kids have to be fast and efficient to perform their best on these tests. One college student recently told me she took an exam with 10 "short answer" essays—each a half page of typing—and she was given 50 minutes to complete the exam. That is five minutes per half page of text! This is not the first story I have heard! Clearly, in college keyboard speed is essential to survival and success.

Sadly, even intermediate-grade students are now required to take computer-based state tests. Kids are expected to keyboard essays, as well. So we don't want our kids to be searching for keys when they need all their cognitive attention and effort focused on answering questions or generating writing. 

Since original thought should always be the primary cognitive load in generating text, the act of typing—or any form of writing—has to become automatic. All writing paths—print, cursive, keyboard—become automatic through the practice of Intentional Copywork and Dictation. Copywork practice does for writing what swimming laps does for endurance and technique . . . it's training. Copywork and Dictation helps all underlying writing skills become stronger, more efficient, and automatic.

At Rooted in Language, we have a plan for years of Intentional Copywork and Dictation practice as your kids learn print, cursive, and keyboard. Remember, move the hardest mode into Copywork and the easiest mode into Dictation. Here is my recommendation:

Copywork and Dictation_Print Cursive Keyboard.jpg

Even high school students should continue to practice writing by hand to keep their skills sharp and efficient for taking notes in class. This NPR review of a famous study will help you feel committed to helping your kids become excellent note-takers who write by hand.

When parents ask if kids with dysgraphia can just skip handwriting, or if kids who struggle to read can just use audiobooks, I encourage them to keep pushing through the struggle.

Help kids read and write to the highest level they can achieve. 

This is the analogy I share when people say kids will mostly type someday:

We would never tell our kids, "Why walk if you are going to mostly drive as an adult?" We want our kids to become adults who can walk and drive—ready to live healthy and effective lives. We want our kids to be ready for any situation. After all, one can't walk on a highway, and one can't drive on a forest path. Walking plus driving gets our kids almost everywhere they need, or hope, to go in life.

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