Is handwriting the key to improved literacy skills? - Education Matters
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Is handwriting the key to improved literacy skills?


In an age where our lives are so technology-rich, a new study investigates the links between handwriting and other literacy skills in young children; highlighting that the (hand)written word should be the way of the future rather than a shift to paperless schools.

The study examined the influence of handwriting automaticity in the writing and reading performance of Year 1 students, both concurrently and across time; and the associations between students’ writing and reading performance, and writing instruction.

Results of the study conclude that handwriting fluency could be used to predict writing quality and reading skills a year later.

The study was conducted by Dr Anabela Malpique of Murdoch University and Associate Professor Deborah Pino‑Pasternak of University of Canberra; and involved 154 students and 24 teachers at seven Perth schools.

“A growing body of research argues specific cognitive benefits of handwriting during early childhood, including brain development, working memory, translation of thought-to-script, and overall writing quality and production,” the researchers explained.

According to the study, while it might be tempting to dismiss the importance of handwriting as simply cosmetic, handwriting in fact underpins many higher functions of writing. The researchers note that poor handwriting automaticity hinders vocabulary selection, ideation and revision, while also affecting motivation, writing development and, in turn, academic success.

The researchers note that their study’s findings, well aligned with recent neuroimaging studies, question the empirical foundations of digital only efforts in schools today. In a time when handwriting is being replaced by digital writing devices, research is showing that such a move could be counterproductive.

Of particular concern to the researchers were the teaching practices reported. Year 1 students spent less than 50 minutes per day practicing writing, which is the minimum recommended, while across the board there was great variability in the time students spent on writing.

Writing time and instruction ranged from 30 to 120 minutes per week.

The researchers also note that Australian teachers may be focusing too much on basic skills rather than teaching writing processes such as planning for writing and learning strategies to revise the quality of their texts.

“This may be problematic since research with primary students suggests that writing instruction in early education should include the teaching of basic writing skills and the teaching of writing processes in the same instructional protocol,” the researchers said.

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