Sunday, March 24, 2013

Handwriting Matters

This blog entry is a chapter from my upcoming book, tentatively titled, Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else. Grace Moores, who is assisting me with the book, prepared the initial draft of this chapter


Handwriting Matters

Handwriting is a skill that is arguably in the process of being lost in our modern society. With the advent of online news forums and digital books, print and concrete handwriting skills are beginning to seem unnecessary. The computer is taking the place of the pen.

Developing good handwriting, however, is still important for a variety of reasons. Good handwriting is courteous for the person reading what you’re writing. It’s also something of a necessity when filling out a job application. And if the teacher can’t read the pupil’s work then there's going to be a problem when going over it together.

Without even harping on it, as you work with the student to improve her story telling abilities, the handwriting will improve on its own, for two reasons. First, handwriting is a motor skill that improves with use. Second, by being interested in helping her communicate more effectively, the student will take greater care to write more clearly. After all, she may be quite proud of the stories or ideas she is attempting to share and won’t intentionally aim to have the handwriting be an impediment.

Since the beginning of literacy, the skill of handwriting has developed and changed with along with changes in society and technology. Some forms of handwriting are artistic, for example calligraphy or graffiti. Others are more utilitarian such as the near-illegible scrawl used in a doctor’s office. All handwriting, being the medium in which a message is conveyed, is affected by both the writer and the reader. For example, a dinner invitation written in pristine calligraphy will be received differently than one written in a sloppy scrawl. Each note will elicit a different response. While one note may imply a formal dinner with suit and tie, the latter indicates that jeans and a t-shirt will be adequate. In this way, it is important to be aware of handwriting and the affect that it has on others.

Furthermore, it is courteous for handwritten messages to be easily legible to the recipient. Your student will likely one day secure a job in which written notes may be a necessity Handwritten notes are still an important form of communication in most employment settings. One such example is found in the experience of a clothing store employee. Every week, he orders more supply based on notes left by the other employees. All goes well until he processes the list left by one employee in particular. In order to ensure the accuracy of the order, he usually has to call the employee to confirm the list. This is a waste of everyone’s time and may result in costly errors when legible handwriting would have fixed the problem. Developing good handwriting throughout an academic career could be very important in future careers.

Developing good handwriting is also useful in developing linear thinking. When using a computer, it is easy to edit the format of sentences and whole paragraphs with a series of clicks. Word order is entirely flexible. Conversely, handwriting with pen and paper requires the mind to sequentially order the thoughts and plan further ahead when writing, sharpening positive thinking skills. This type of brain development is not present when solely typing on a computer.

At the same time, maintaining good handwriting forces students to be disciplined in writing out their ideas. While computers maintain pristine uniformity with absolutely no effort on the part of the writer, precision in handwriting requires both attention and discipline. (This is not to imply that good writing using a computer is effortless. It only resolves the legibility issue.)

In these ways, it is easy to see that handwriting is an important skill to develop in the student. Some tips to improving handwriting are as follows:
1. Practice. Print out a bunch of handwriting practice sheets. The most important thing about the paper is that it has wide lines. It is easy to see lack of uniformity and other inconsistencies when the letters are really big.
2. Develop good handwriting muscles. The muscles that should primarily be used in handwriting are muscles in the forearm and back. Too much finger muscle use in handwriting will develop really small, cramped handwriting as the writer painstakingly draws each letter individually.
3. Strive for uniformity. The key to good handwriting is consistency. Practice each letter until you can easily maintain a uniform shape for each.

In short… if you want to improve, write on.

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