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Conversations about Handwriting

• Apparently, the chief regulator of school exams in England has declared that tests should be conducted on computers, rather than with pen and paper. As Ofqual head Isabel Nisbet sees it, handwritten tests are “invalid” means of measuring the progress of children raised on technology.

So, James Preston has published a succinct rebuttal against the obsolescence of handwriting in the New Statesman, arguing that the simple task of putting thoughts on paper encourages learning in a way that computers can’t.

This is not just an English language issue. Mathematics and the sciences are subjects that require a flow of thinking to come to a conclusion. This flow can only come from a pen or pencil.

The English exam boards long ago decided that, when it comes to answering questions, it is not just about the destination, it is also about the journey.

Seeing how an answer is reached is just as important as the answer itself.

The process of 'working out' can only be naturally produced when handwritten. Thoughts can move from the brain to the paper seamlessly without the self-consciousness and over-analysis of word processing.

The link between the hand and the brain is a symbiotic one, with research suggesting handwriting can boost brain development and capacity, particularly in young children.

He certainly makes an excellent point.

• Who says good handwriting doesn’t earn you anything?

Pentel recently sponsored a handwriting contest in the US, asking entrants to submit handwritten letters to troops serving overseas in a competition called, “Heroes Worth Writing For.”

According to the Daily Breeze, there were 250 entries. The grand prize winner was Betsy, from Virginia. She received a $200 Visa gift card and $100 worth of Pentel products, the paper reported.

That’s a pretty good haul for doing what we all do every day.

• For an interesting read, check out mom Theresa Walsh Giarrusso’s blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her daily battle trying to get her 7-year-old son to practice his handwriting.

She’s actually convinced his teacher at school to use it as a punishment – probably not the best way to turn him into a proud writer – but Giarrusso has good reason to insist he practice. She posts a compelling round-up of evidence suggesting that handwriting might make the kid smarter.

“With the ubiquity of keyboards large and small, neither children nor adults need to write much of anything by hand. That’s a big problem, says Gwendolyn Bounds in The Wall Street Journal. Study after study suggests that handwriting is important for brain development and cognition — helping kids hone fine motor skills and learn to express and generate ideas. Yet the time devoted to teaching penmanship in most grade schools has shrunk to just one hour a week. Is it time to break out the legal pad? Here’s a look at how the brain and penmanship interact:”

“Writing by hand can get ideas out faster
University of Wisconsin psychologist Virginia Berninger tested students in grades 2, 4, and 6, and found that they not only wrote faster by hand than by keyboard — but also generated more ideas when composing essays in longhand. In other research, Berninger shows that the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory.”

“Writing increases neural activity
A recent Indiana University study had one group of children practice printing letters by hand while a second group just looked at examples of A’s, B’s, and C’s. Then, both groups of kids 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,” researchers found.”

Interestingly, many of her readers seem to disagree that there’s any link between handwriting and intellect.

• Les O’Dell wants to know what would happen if people forgot how to write in cursive.

From his clever column on Galesburg.com:

If students don’t learn longhand, how are adolescent girls going to spend hours practicing their Mrs. Justin Beiber signatures? How will sports fans realize they are watching the Dodgers playing the Astros if they can’t read the script on the uniforms? What computer font will people use for their Christmas card mailing labels to make it look like they hand addressed all of those envelopes?

And what becomes of the special brotherhood between physicians and pharmacists — the only two professions that can decipher each other’s handwriting? How will kids ever learn to forge their parents’ signatures on less-than-stellar tests?

I couldn’t help but laugh at that last one, having done that very thing more than once on report cards, notes from teachers and failing tests.

• There’s a new service available to people too lazy to write their own thank-you notes.

Thankster.com describes its offerings this way:

Thanking people can take less time than going to a card shop. Sign up on Thankster.com, select your card, personalize notes with your message and font, and voilà! They will soon be on the way. The site's ever expanding themes include Weddings, Holidays, Graduations, Showers, Religious, Kids, and more. Thankster takes your order, prints it, stamps it and sends it in the mail.

Presumably, there’s a charge for the service, but the fees weren’t readily apparent on the site, which is still in beta.

What do you think, readers, would you be pleased or a little insulted to receive a thank-you note from a service like this?

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