Monday, February 20, 2012

Can we learn from Mexico? - Edda Manley

We can have 101 reasons why we need to write in cursive, but until we find some that connect with parents, teachers, and students on an emotional level, change won’t happen. 

1) Children who are able to learn to write in the USA (same goes for Canada) are those where the parents have enough money to send the children to private schools or tutors.  I fear this will ultimately lead to a “class” system. Ironically, I don’t think most teachers have salaries high enough to send their children to private schools. Something for teachers to think long and hard about.

2) Most Latin-based language countries (all of South America and Central America and others around the world) value cursive writing or “caligrafia” as they call it and make sure their children are able to write fluently. This will, in the future, put North American children at a disadvantage from a global perspective.

We have so much valid information about the Importance of Handwriting, yet we stay on the wrong road instead of getting back onto the right road. 

3) At a 2002 conference that we hosted in Canada, one of our presenters, Inez Emmaus from Mexico, told us that for over 18 years only printing was taught in Mexico because in those days, their President didn't like to write in cursive so he banned it from the schools. Around the year 2000, the education leaders of the country decided that cursive was to be brought back into the curriculum. The first thing they had to do was to send the teachers who could not write in cursive back to school to learn how to write and teach cursive.
Maybe the thought of bringing Mexican people into the USA to teach American children how to write in cursive will inspire the education leaders to look after own. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why handwriting is important in school

Compiled by Linda Green

Cursive is an important skill to help train the brain. Jeanette Farmer,  Retrain the Brain, has proven that over and over that rhythmic cursive skills make a difference.

The keyboard seems to be replacing the pen, but is that progressive or damaging to school children?
Forty-two states now do not require that cursive handwriting be part of the curriculum in school.
Why the concern?

  • Thirty percent (30%) of children are dysgraphic.
  • Parents are worried that their children may not know how to sign their names.
  • The SAT and Advanced Placement exams currently require handwritten essays.
  • Ninety-nine percent of college students takes notes and perceive handwriting as important.
  • Journal research has shown that those who write their thoughts in journals are better able to solve their problems than those who don’t journal. This seems to link handwriting to a cathartic effect.
  • Writer Julia Cameron has her students do Morning Pages in their own handwriting. Those who have gone to the keyboard to write the pages have come back to the pen and paper, finding that they did not have quite the creativity with the keyboard that they do with the handwriting.
  • Graphotherapy has been shown to bring about positive changes in personality with handwriting exercises, demonstrating the importance of cursive writing
  • Handwriting therapy is being used successfully all over the nation, according to Jeanette Farmer, with children having disabilities.
  • Research is now showing that the sensory act of cursive writing is conducive to brain development and language fluency.

Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting indicates that when children are exposed to cursive handwriting, changes occur in their brains, which allow a child to overcome motor challenges. He says, “the act of physically gripping a pen or pencil and practicing the swirls, curls and connections of cursive handwriting activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.”
Dr. David Sortino ( recommends cursive handwriting as a strategy to stimulate brain synchronicity—that is to coordinate the  right side of the brain or visual, with the left side or verbal and linear areas of the brain.
Iris Hatfield, creator of the New American Cursive Program (, believes that the connection between cursive writing and brain development is a powerful tool to stimulate intelligence and language fluency as well as improve neural connections in the brain. “The physiological movement of writing cursive letters helps build pathways in the brain while improving mental effectiveness which may continue throughout the child's academic career.
Shadmehr and Holcomb of John Hopkins University did a study that showed their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons which resulted in an “almost immediate improvement in fluency,” which led to later development of neural pathways.  As a result of practicing motor skills, the researchers found that knowledge becomes more stable.
Author Matthew Geiger says there are psychosocial benefits to cursive handwriting. “As our brains learn to connect our inner worlds to the external universe, we begin to connect our inner worlds to the external universe. We begin to recognize abstract ideas like awareness of others and perception
Virginia Berninger, University of Washington, offers that handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key. Brain mapping has illustrated that sequential finger movements activate massive regions involved in thinking, language, and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information. In one study of grades two, four and six, the children wrote more words, they wrote faster, and they expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.
Handwriting increases neural activity. At an Indiana University study one group of children practiced printing letters by hand while a second group just looked at examples of ABCs. Both groups entered a functional MRI (disguised as a spaceship) that scanned their brains as the researchers showed them letters. The neural activity in the first group was far more advanced and “adult-like.” It showed that learning had taken place. (Functional MRIs show oxygen use in the affected areas).
Anne Mangen at University of Stavanger’s Reading Center says, “handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” Those who learn to write by hand learn better.
Mangen cites an experiment where two groups of adults were taught a new, foreign alphabet. One group learned the characters by hand, the other learned only to recognize them on a screen and with a keyboard. Weeks after the experiment, the group that learned the letters by hand consistently scored better on recognition tests than those who learned with a keyboard. Brain scans of the hands-on group also showed greater activity in the part of the brain that controls language comprehension, motor-related processes and speech-associated gestures.
Handwriting is one of the most difficult neuromuscular tasks involving proper eye focus, integration between the two hemispheres of the brain, fine motor activity, with more brain activation when writing.
Important points about cursive writing:
1. Cursive writing, once mastered, is faster than printing because the small pen lifts that result in printed letters actually slow down the writing process.
2. Children with learning disabilities are able to produce better written outcomes when using cursive because each pen break/pen lift when printing causes a minuscule disruption in the thinking process.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Excellent news from Iris Hatfield

Indiana Senate approves a bill to require teaching cursive writing.
Senate OKs bill to require the teaching of cursive writing. Click on this link for the article

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Report from the Summit

The Handwriting for the 21st Century Summit was held in Washington DC on January 23rd, 2012. Educators and researchers are concerned that the Common Core Curriculum, which aims towards a National Standards Test in 2014 (more than 40 states have agreed to participate), has left cursive writing out of the curriculum.

Three important points from that summit meeting were:
1) that fMRI research shows that children develop adult-like connections in the brain once they have learned handwriting to the point that it is automated. This cannot be accomplished by reading to children or by keyboarding; you must write by hand to do it
2) During the 1960’s and ‘70’s handwriting and spelling was emphasized and content was considered less important. In the 1980’s and ‘90’s the standard changed to making content the most important, and handwriting and spelling were no longer emphasized.
3) It was agreed that handwriting is one of the foundation skills that must be kept in the curriculum, and lots of work needs to be done to make this happen.

Many of the younger teachers today did not receive enough practice in cursive writing to feel confident to use it never mind teach it. It has always been interesting to me that illiteracy rates have escalated with the de-emphasis on handwriting.

Edda Manley (Canada)