(Hand)Writing to Learn

Handwritingby Anniel   6/16/14
Recent studies on brain development and learning show a strong correlation between writing by hand, first by printing and then in cursive, to order the brain for learning. This new knowledge shows how the Common Core approach is harmful to children, and reveals the willful adherence to that harm by Common Core proponents.

In the Common Core Curriculum rudimentary writing skills are taught only in kindergarten and first grades, sometimes only two hours a week are spent on writing. Thereafter the program calls for teaching proficiency in keyboard skills, with added reliance on spell check instead of spelling itself.

Some neuroscientists and psychologists say that there are strong links between handwriting and broader educational goals in brain development. If children are taught to write by pencil or pen on paper they learn to read and spell more fluently, they are better able to generate ideas and to retain information. Certain neural circuits are automatically activated by the motions required in writing, and learning is made easier.

When even The New York Times Science Section writes on the subject you know something big is happening.

New imaging studies show that there are three areas of the brain involved in processing writing. One area seems to deal mainly with printing, another with cursive and a third area generates ideas and memory between the two writing centers. Children who are taught how to read and write using tactile and freehand writing techniques not only learn efficiently, but can more easily overcome conditions like dyslexia. They also have more ordered and broader based thinking. Tests of sixth graders who have used multi sensory reading and writing show that hand writers are more imaginative, work more quickly, spell better and use better grammar. They also have larger vocabularies.

Keyboarding and tracing printed letters by hand don’t show the same effect on brain development as handwriting, which seems to strengthen the learning process in all areas tested. When writing by hand, tactile sensations and motor actions make brains work harder. We learn by doing. Some researchers believe that the very messiness and struggle of learning to write by hand helps speed brain development.

Neurologists check handwriting to diagnose various brain and central nervous system disorders. Some stroke victims may lose all of their hand writing abilities, or they may retain the ability to print but not use cursive, or vice versa. Occupational therapists can begin treatment by relying on what skills the patient has left and then working to restore more function.

Many years ago I had a teacher friend who worked with dyslexic students by using the Slingerland Handwriting method. I looked at their little promotional video online yesterday and saw that they still have groups of students following the teacher’s actions by writing in the air using large arm and hand movements. Slingerland, as I recall, relies on hand/body movement and tactile tracing of letters. The method also stresses forming strokes of the letters correctly. I once spent an entire afternoon and evening helping my friend cut out sandpaper letters and gluing them to poster board for her students to trace. We also labeled the correct order of the strokes. I hope there are durable preformed letters and other helps now, and the site does show an on-line store. This program is one source for homeschoolers.

In checking on-line I found there are several low cost apps available that mimic writing by hand. Most use a stylus while others use the index finger. One app for very young children sounded fun. When the child correctly traces a shape or letter he is rewarded when several brightly colored pencils, complete with eraser heads, come running out to cheer him on. He may think he has won a video game.

There are, surprise, school administrators and other experts who are highly critical of the new studies, especially among Common Core advocates. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and many governors are big proponents of Common Core. Their stand on this issue is only one reason I would not want Bush or Huckabee as a candidate for president. In their world the political always trumps what is really good for children.

Politics has no place in the education of our children.

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades – NYTimes. nytimes.com
How Handwriting Boosts the Brain – WSJ. online.wsj.com
Better learning through handwriting – sciencedaily.com
Slingerland Institute of Literacy – slingerland.org
An excellent book on writing is Writing to Learn: How to Write and Think
Clearly About Any Subject At All, by William Zinsser

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9 Responses to (Hand)Writing to Learn

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Their stand on this issue is only one reason I would not want Bush or Huckabee as a candidate for president.

    Ditto. For a politician to come out in favor of Common Core is the equivalent of some hayseed claiming that Area 51 houses the bodies of space aliens.

    Certainly it is possible (in theory) that aliens have visited earth. And it’s possible that forever juggling “standards” based upon newfangled nonsense will improve education. But neither are very likely.

    • Leigh Bravo says:

      I agree Brad. It is obvious that the new curriculum is just a path to further dumbing down the populace. I could not believe when they decided to stop teaching cursive. I just cannot believe that there are parents who are okay with common core. I am also extremely disappointed when anyone, especially so called conservatives support it. Some of the books praising Obama and calling the US racist really piss me off! I was glad to see that some states are standing up and refusing to participate. We will not see our education system improve until government is out ofd the picture!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The problem with any sort of official standard is that it will be set by intellectuals who mostly hate their country. So even though in theory they might be a good idea, in practice they don’t work.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          That’s a great point, Timothy.

          And even though I don’t think Jeb Bush hates this country (nor do I think that you think he does either), they are “useful idiots” for that portion that does want to “fundamentally transform” us. And as Rush says, you don’t want to “fundamentally transform” something that you already love.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Basically, the President and Secretary of Education aren’t going to write the standards. They’ll be turned over to the intelligentsia, even though they ought to realize what the results will be, because they can’t bring themselves to challenge the Kultursmog (as Bob Tyrrell calls it).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It is obvious that the new curriculum is just a path to further dumbing down the populace.

        Leigh, I find it a balancing act regarding this stuff. And all wisdom surely resides in being able to balance and resolve sometimes conflicting aspects.

        The conceit of the statists types is that they know best how to run our lives. And it’s not that government doesn’t have a role to play in our lives. It’s that any American government must be limited in its conception of their influence in our lives. Anyone who embraces Common Core has lost site of that fact. It’s a homogenized (and intellectualized) top-down solution for something that requires a much more local touch (and the touch, as Timothy notes, by people who don’t have a grievance against this country).

        Unlike libertarians, I do not believe that people will automatically make good choices. But I do understand as a conservative that wrong choices made by individual people are much less harmful than wrong choices made by government. A wrong choice by one person may hurt only himself. But a wrong choice by a government official can hurt the lives of millions.

        Here’s another conflicting set of principles or values. I do believe that inside of mankind their exists the capacity of people to make their own choices. Even if they aren’t always the “right” ones, that’s what makes being a human being, making one’s own choices on things, with reason. But there is also room in this world (quite obviously) for experts. But we should we wary of these “experts,” especially when they reside in and around Washington DC (and the state capitals as well, if you ask me).

        Yes, there is a place for government and for true experts. This must be balanced with respecting people’s right to make their own choices,, especially making such choices as local as possible (the subsidiarity principle).

        The statists, on the other hand, do not think that individuals are competent to make their own choices as well as the statists can for them. To be a member of the Republican Establishment (let alone part of the loony Left) is therefore to be arrogant, to dismiss the very founding ideals of this nation, and to take upon oneself powers and responsibilities that only a Napoleon would want — no matter that they hide this circumstance in such clever verbiage as “for the children.”

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I think it was Jeff Bell who noted that elitism is based on complete trust of the “experts” and complete distrust of ordinary people, whereas populism is the reverse. Most of us, ultimately, are populists.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I think it was Jeff Bell who noted that elitism is based on complete trust of the “experts” and complete distrust of ordinary people, whereas populism is the reverse. Most of us, ultimately, are populists.

            That sounds like a sound definition. But we must add into that the formula of the “experts” who typically demagogue as the true Voice of the People. Those who would control our lives often come packaged in the phony veneer of a populist, shouting such phony BS as “the will of the people,” a topic done as well as I’ve ever seen it in Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism.” It reminds me of these same sinister useful idiots (or otherwise) who go around trying to sell this end-run around the Electoral College as some “voice of the people” thing.

            In the end, the Founders formed a Federal government that had elements of “The Will of the People” (The House of Representatives) combined with the rule of our betters (The Senate). And the fact of the matter is, we need both in some kind of precarious and artful balance — a balance the dad-blamed Republican Party has forgotten about, the Establishment Republicans having taken on completely the air of our “betters.” No wonder they dismiss Sarah Palin and get a woody for Jeb Bush.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    As for Common Core, one thing to note is that some of its supporters have said that it was a good idea but not well executed. (Why anyone would expect the government to execute it well is another matter, particularly given the likelihood that intellectuals and education “experts” were likely to run it.) Huckabee has put himself in that group, albeit without specifics. Any supporter should be made to confront such issues without resorting to hedges.

    I’ve noticed before the increasing modern notion that all children really need to learn is how to get results by using their computers. When it comes to arithmetic, this can lead to the computer/calculator becoming the new abacus. Richard Feynmann once learned that abacus users could compute very swiftly with their device — but if they didn’t have it handy, they had no grasp of numbers. The same thing will happen to people who only know how to punch numbers in on calculators. (I’ve expressed similar concerns about naval cadets not being trained to use sextants and other navigating devices. They can always use GPS, after all — until the day something goes wrong, like a key satellite being downed or EMP knocking out their devices.) So it’s no surprise that they would do the same thing with writing, regardless of the overall negative effects on brain development (or simply on being able to operate independently of computers that can always break down at key moments).

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