Indiana Continues to Struggle with Role of Handwriting

Research at Indiana University suggests that teaching students handwriting skills is still important in helping them learn to read, writes Kyle Stokes at State Impact.

However, Indiana joined 43 other states last year in adopting a set of national curriculum guidelines that emphasize teaching students keyboarding skills. And IU psychology professor Karin James says that might be unwise.

“It’s not just that you’re using your hands to create the letters, because typing seems to be different than handwriting,” James says. “It’s that you’re actually creating those forms with your hands. That seems to be making a difference.”

Literacy expert and Vanderbilt University education professor Steve Graham says while handwriting is clearly important in education, typing should also be taught in the classroom.

“I’m not sure what it means that more parts of the brain light up when you do handwriting versus when you find with any other activity,” Graham said.

“It’s not necessarily surprising that particular parts of the brain light up when you do certain kinds of activities.  With something like typing, that’s a simpler motor skill, so I’d expect less of the brain to light up.”

The Indiana Department of Education gave school districts the option earlier in the year to stop teaching cursive in schools beyond third grade. It was felt that schools should have the choice because of the state’s adoption of those national curriculum standards, known as the Common Core State Standards.

The decision put Indiana under international scrutiny, signaling how counter-instinctive the proposal is when thinking about education. And so, while Common Core emphasizes keyboarding, most agree it’s not likely that districts will stop teaching handwriting altogether.

Kathleen Wright, national product manager for Ohio-based Zaner-Bloser Publishing, says overall sales for her company’s handwriting texts haven’t seen a dip. But schools are buying fewer texts for older grades.

“[Schools] aren’t teaching it as far into the elementary years as they would before,” Wright says.  “But then there’s also that scientific aspect of it. We don’t know what’s going to happen later on if you don’t teach children how to write on paper or how to write cursive.”