Innovation

Pen on paper facilitates learning, but is there a right way to write?

The keyboard didn't become my friend until I was almost 30 years old. In fact, I would write an 11-page report in college with paper and pencil, and then either painstakingly hunt and peck my way through it on the computer or have someone type it out for me. Even though the current generation of kids is more knowledgeable about computers and typing, there still are some benefits to writing things out by hand. Take a look at this news article: "Is the pen still mighty in the computer age?"

Here's a snippet from the article:

David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, banned laptops from his classroom in part, he said, because writing in longhand forces students to pay more attention.

"The (laptop) note-taker tends to go into stenographic mode and no longer processes information in a way that is conducive to the give and take of classroom discussion. Because taking notes the old-fashioned way, by hand, is so much slower, one actually has to listen, think, and prioritize the most important themes," Cole wrote in an essay published by the Washington Post.

Handwriting, for me, was part of the whole learning process. Writing, re-writing, and seeing what I was writing on the page actually helped me remember information on test days. I could visualize my words on the page, and I could actually remember the exact place where a particular word was located. Freakish, I know, but it's true.

Cursing the curves and curls in cursive

James Miles, a senior associate at the International Center for Leadership and Education, believes that states in the U.S. will begin to re-evaluate the introduction of cursive writing in elementary schools.

"If I go back to my generation, we did the Palmer penmanship (method), and you spent hours getting the tails and stems going the right way. That has gone by the wayside. Basically, what you do now is some form of cursive mixed in with some of the print so we don't necessarily have all our letters connected. The letters looks more printed than cursive and it's better for speed."

My son is in the 5th grade, and so I have some first-hand experience with the handwriting instruction that kids are given, at least in one elementary school in the city of Louisville, Kentucky. I remember the wide-lined writing paper in his younger years — you know, the kind that has a dotted line in the middle of each line. It was really important, for some reason, to make sure the lowercase letters made it all the way to the dotted line. Thank goodness that there's starting to be less emphasis on the prescriptive details, like cursive curls and loops. As long as it's legible, it doesn't have to be fancy, does it?  

Is there a right way to write? 

This last point can even be transferred to typing. Like I said previously, it took years before I learned how to type, and I never learned the "proper" way. In high school, I dropped out of my typing class (long story), and so all of my subsequent learning has happened as a result of practice, practice, and more practice. Miles addresses this issue and what it means for kids today:

"From a very early age they have been on the computer and can navigate very quickly. Now there is the concern that we no longer use the correct fingering, but if the kids are doing really well without the correct fingering, is it important that we hold on to these old traditions? I'm not sure." 

Do you think there's value to typing instruction, or do you think today's youth will learn how to do it without formal education? Also, what are your thoughts concerning the pen vs. the computer debate? Do you think today's electronic notebooks and stylus successfully combine the two?

About

Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.

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