The cursive writing : a major asset for learning.

Studies in neuroscience have highlighted the importance of learning cursive writing in education.
Apprendre enfant ecrire cursive

Writing and learning

For a few decades now, the role of digital technology has been steadily increasing. Just a few years ago, some countries like the United States, Norway, or Finland were questioning the relevance of teaching handwriting and were challenging the learning of cursive and manuscript writing. They were advocating for learning writing solely through keyboards. This recommendation sparked strong reactions, and cognitive science researchers highlighted numerous studies. These countries have gradually reversed their stance.

Reintroduction of cursive writing into the curriculum.

From 2019, handwriting has been reintroduced into the curriculum in the United States. But what about cursive writing? What is the importance of writing in learning? Can we differentiate the benefits of cursive writing and script writing?

Handwriting is a mental representation, a motor and language act that uses our senses: touch, sight, and hearing. This activity is complex because it is not innate, and its learning is lengthy, extending up to 13 – 14 years.

Improved reading acquisition

Research in neuroscience has shown that learning cursive writing facilitates better reading acquisition. Indeed, by tracing letters in cursive, students memorize their shape better and understand the order of letters from left to right. Connecting letters together promotes word distinction and helps manage spaces between words. Additionally, it helps avoid letter confusions such as b and d, q and p. Cursive writing allows for better differentiation between b and d, as well as q and p.

Less confusion with cursive writing

Conversely, in Anglo-Saxon systems, children who learn to write in print script must learn to leave a small space between letters as well as a larger one to space out words. However, this is challenging for young children. Confusion between symmetrical letters is also more common.

Handwriting rehabilitation can be done at any age. Don’t wait any longer to improve your handwriting!

It develops sensorimotor skills and learning abilities.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) published the results of its research in “Frontiers in Psychology.” Researchers measured the brain activity of 12-year-old children who write using a keyboard and compared it to those of children of the same age who write by hand. Cursive writing is an important tool for cognitive development. Graphomotor skills activate and develop different parts of the brain and create connections between these areas. As a result, the brain develops “functional specialization” that integrates sensation, movement control, and thought. Moreover, handwriting stimulates the same brain areas used for reading. The researchers also found that using a keyboard stimulates other brain areas unrelated to learning.

Develop visual memory

Cursive writing thus allows for the development of vocabulary as well as muscle memory: kinesthetic memory and hence better spelling memorization. The brain will memorize the writing of a stock of words, which we will be capable of writing without thinking after several uses.

Oralization and visual memory when writing also help to better remember the spelling of words. This helps to better anchor learning; it’s the “awareness of writing.” Who has never needed to write a word to remember its spelling? It’s because we’ve learned to write that our brain remembers the gesture, and instinctively we can write a word without needing to think about its spelling.

Engage long-term memory.

Other research [3] has shown that note-taking with a computer has an immediate advantage: better recall than well-organized handwritten notes. However, this advantage disappears after 24 hours. People who wrote their notes by hand had better results than those who typed their lectures on the computer. The latter have a poorer memory because they do not summarize and actively synthesize key concepts using a keyboard. Taking handwritten notes likely involves a deeper and more thorough processing of information, whereas transcription requires only superficial encoding of information.

Cursive writing Improves writing skills.

Learning handwriting is a good way to develop writing skills. Few people are able to write a long text, a thesis, or a book entirely on a keyboard. Writing work needs to go through handwriting to organize ideas, the main thread, or a plan. Learning to use a keyboard as well as handwriting takes time, and young people do not master both skills at the same time. In 2009, Virginia Berminger reported her study on students in grades 1, 5, and 6 who wrote by hand rather than on a keyboard. She found that they wrote more words, more quickly, and that the texts were richer.

In conclusion, the keyboard is a fantastic tool that can be helpful in many ways. However, as we have seen, it is important not to skip steps. Unless in special cases, learning to use a keyboard should not come at the expense of handwriting, which promotes better cognitive, sensorimotor, and language development. Once handwriting becomes automated, cognitive resources are freed up, and using a keyboard can make perfect sense without overusing it! As I often say, handwriting is a skill that requires practice; it is through regular practice that one remains proficient! développement cognitif, sensori-moteur et langagier. Une fois l’écriture manuscrite automatisée, les ressources cognitives sont libérées et l’usage d’un clavier peut trouver tout son sens sans en abuser ! Car comme je le dis souvent, l’écriture manuscrite est un sport, c’est en le pratiquant régulièrement que l’on reste performant !

Références :

[2] Eva Ose Askvik, FR (Ruud) van der Weel et Audrey LH van der Meer. «The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults » Frontiers in Psychology (première publication : 28 juillet 2020)

[3] Bui, D. C., Myerson, J., & Hale, S. (2013). Note-taking with computers: Exploring alternative strategies for improved recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 299–309.

Dig further : 

Dehaene, S. (2019). L’apprentissage de la lecture et de l’écriture. Education France  

Pierson, L. (2020). Bien écrire et aimer écrire. Edition MDI

Sana, F., Weston, T., Cepeda, N. J. (2012). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nerby peers. Elsevier. 

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