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The Importance of Handwriting Instruction

Handwriting instruction is crucial for a child's education.

Find out why teaching handwriting is crucial and why Great Britain and not the US should be the model for education policy for handwriting.

This is an English adaptation of an Interview with Guillermo Tupper, a reporter for El Mercurio the newspaper of record in Chile, published in Santiago, Chile on January 4, 2014.

Mr. Tupper’s Interview with Dr. Gentry

1. Is handwriting still an important skill for kids? Why?

Handwriting is crucial because recent brain scan studies have shown that early handwriting skill helps kids learn to read. Keyboarding doesn’t have this effect. With a language such as English with its difficult spelling system, early handwriting practice and writing down messages and thoughts helps kids break the code.

2. What are the negative effects of the arrival of text messages, chats and e-mails in kids’ language?

I really don’t think there are any negative effects. Texting and emails are simply a new vehicle for literacy. There are times when texting is appropriate and times when more conventional and formal writing is appropriate. Writing is like choosing conventions for dressing: dressing for formal occasions, dressing for semi-formal occasions, and casual attire are all appropriate choices. None of these are negative if one chooses the right style at the right time.

It’s interesting to note that some studies have shown that kids who text the most are generally better spellers in English even though they use “textisms”! LOL Isn’t that GR8! I consider knowledge of textisms to be a high level of spelling achievement but I wouldn’t recommend textisms for a job application or resume.

3. Some schools in the USA are thinking of stopping the teaching of cursive handwriting in school. What do you think about it? What concrete rule would you apply?

This is one education trend for which the USA should not be the model. Currently handwriting is not popular in the US because it’s not on state tests and there is a big movement in the USA for “high stakes testing.” We are “teaching to the test” but in some cases failing to teach important basic skills such as spelling and handwriting—both worthy goals for educated people and both very important for beginning reading success. In some schools funding for spelling and handwriting books has been cut. That’s a mistake. At the same time, spelling and handwriting have been cut out of the daily language arts schedule. That’s another mistake. Thankfully, many high-quality schools still consider handwriting and spelling to be important basic skills. I’m happy to report that handwriting is still required in Great Britain which seems to have a better “grip” on the subject.

The concrete rule that I would apply is that handwriting should be part of any educated person’s repertoire. Just like basic skills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, an educated person should have handwriting skill in his or her brain.

4. Let's think 100 years ahead. What would you think the role of handwriting would be at that time? Will handwriting be something from the “Middle Ages”?

It’s interesting to note that spelling was important for learning to read over two hundred years ago and it’s just as important for learning to read today. I don’t know what will happen with handwriting, but I hope Americans will be able to read the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s handwriting. I would like to think that a person could still get a thank you note, a recipe passed down from grandmother, or a love letter that was written by hand and signed in the unique form that belongs only to that one person. It’s special to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s own handwriting. Handwriting makes us more human. I’m glad Lincoln didn’t use the voice activation devise on his cell phone.

Which is better, a hand written note from the president of the United States or an email from the president? I personally have a book signed by President Clinton and I treasure it—but frankly, he could have used a few more handwriting lessons.

Check out the El Mercurio interview here:

Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write–From Baby to Age 7. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website.

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