“Sign here, please. “
Anyone who has ever accepted a UPS delivery, signed a school trip authorization form, or completed a legal document has probably heard this phrase.
But handwritten signatures may soon become a relic of the past. Fewer students are learning cursive writing in school, as evidenced by the fact that it is optional in Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland.
Many educators see no problem with this educational change. After all, computers are everywhere. Even handwritten signatures are replaced by electronic signatures and PIN codes.
If the only reason to learn cursive writing is the need to sign legal documents, maybe we should phase it out. But handwriting is useful for more than just signing documents. For example, a recent study published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology showed that handwriting engages the brain in more ways than typing on a keyboard.
These results are consistent with other studies. Hetty Roessingh is a professor at the University of Calgary and an expert in language and literacy. In her research, she discovered that handwriting helps children recognize letter shapes and plays an important role in their reading development.
According to Roessingh, linking letters in a script allows students to write faster and helps them move information from their short-term memories to their long-term memories. Students who are fluent in handwriting may engage in more difficult text, as more information will be transferred to their long-term memories.
Interestingly, handwriting remains useful long after students have finished elementary school. In 2014, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer published research showing that university students who took notes by hand retained much more information than students who used laptops.
Mueller and Oppenheimer attributed their findings to the fact that students who wrote notes by hand usually summarized main ideas in their own words, and because the information was processed by their brains. This helped the students retain key concepts in their long term memory.
In contrast, laptops made it easy for students to transcribe verbatim lessons without processing the material in their brains, leaving students with a lesser level of understanding. Obviously, it makes sense for students to use the method that helps them retain as much knowledge as possible.
However, this will only happen if students learn to write by hand in the first place. If students do not learn to handwrite in school, it is unlikely that they will acquire this skill as adults.
Learning does not come automatically. For most students, this is really hard work because our brains are not naturally wired to read and write. To achieve mastery, these skills must be explicitly taught, regularly practiced and constantly reinforced.
The evidence is clear that handwriting remains a useful skill. If students who graduate from high school can’t even sign their own names, they’ve missed a very important lesson.