By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of Pathways2.0 Reading and Language Arts
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our already-digital world became even more so over the last year. Amid all the Zoom classes and virtual learning, students likely typed more of their assignments than they wrote by hand—and that may be a cognitive loss.
We’ve written before on this blog about the cognitive benefits of teaching handwriting to elementary students and encouraging kidwriting in kindergarteners and early learners. Since then, even more research has emerged to back up what we already know: there are real cognitive benefits to writing by hand.
In July 2020, three psychologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, published a new study in which they monitored the brain activity of 12 young adults and 12 12-year-old children as they were writing in cursive by hand, typing, or drawing. In both groups, they found that when the subjects wrote by hand, brain areas in the parietal and central regions showed “event-related synchronized . . . oscillatory neuronal activity,” which has been linked to memory and encoding of new information. When the participants were drawing, the researchers found similar activation patterns in the parietal areas.
However, when participants typed on a keyboard, the activity differed from the previous patterns and was “desynchronized,” meaning that, according to the researchers, “its relation to learning remains unclear.” In the end, the researchers concluded, writing by hand and drawing produce neural patterns that promote optimal learning and offer students “the benefits of sensory-motor integration” in a way typing may not.
“It is vital to maintain both [handwriting and drawing] in a learning environment to facilitate and optimize learning,” the report stated.
That’s why Pathways2.0 and Kindergarten Stepping Stones continue to emphasize the teaching of handwriting through program features such as Emergent Writing Cards for kindergarteners and time allotted within the Daily Writing Workshop for explicit handwriting instruction up to sixth grade.
During COVID-19, it’s understandable that teaching handwriting might become more challenging if your school is still operating under remote or hybrid learning protocols. After all, you can’t hold your students’ hands through the computer screen and guide them in the correct formation of letters or the proper pencil grip.
Luckily, occupational therapists such as Thia from printpath.org have developed some tips to help teachers succeed. Document cameras let the teacher show his or her hands to the class even via Zoom, and with some easy modifications, such as asking students to tilt their laptop cameras downward when writing, you’ll be able to watch them work and offer suggestions. It’s also helpful, she notes, if students can sit at a desk of appropriate height, with a non-swivel chair and perhaps a footrest.
Although the pandemic has made it more difficult to teach handwriting, research confirms the importance of its inclusion in the curriculum, so it’s worth the extra effort. Continue to rely on Kendall Hunt Religious Publishing programming as we focus on the skills your students need for cognitive success!