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Should We Still Teach Handwriting in Schools?

Should we teach handwriting in schools?

How much do you write each day? Not on a computer, a tablet or a phone – but actually write.

Probably as teachers we write more than many people, particularly with endless mounds of marking, but for many whole days can go past without them having to write anything at all by hand.

So are we wasting precious time teaching handwriting in our schools? Are we just doing the modern equivalent of teaching pupils to ride a horse to get places, when they’ll be driving round in cars in 10 years’ time?

 

Even some countries are getting in on the debate. There was no requirement for cursive handwriting to be taught in the US’ Common Core State Standards which the majority of US states have signed up to. These standards claim:

“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

So is cursive handwriting something outside that, that our pupils simply won’t need?

 

Don’t Put the Car Before the Horse

Surely not. I think we need to be careful about what question we’re actually asking here. If we’re asking “Are touch typing skills essential in the modern economy?” then the answer must be yes. In the knowledge economy the majority of our future workforce will be communicating via computer, and we need to enable our students to be able to communicate as effectively as possible.

Surely, here in the UK, it should be a requirement that every child can touch type by the time they leave secondary school at at least 30 words per minute?

But does that mean we should stop teaching handwriting? I don’t think so.

I think the horse and cars analogy in many ways is misleading. A better one would be mental arithmetic and calculators.

It is essential that our students learn how to use calculators, particularly to cope with particularly demanding tasks. But that doesn’t mean that even in the 21st century there won’t be a significant number of times when mental maths is an essential tool.

And we don’t stop teaching things just because it’s not used 100% of the time. Under that logic we’d wipe out whole swathes of the curriculum. We teach those skills that are going to be useful to a child in its lifetime – and ultimately from writing a birthday card to keeping a shopping list handwriting is and will remain one of those skills.

 

I’d love to know what you think. Either tweet me or reply below and join the debate!

7 responses to “Should We Still Teach Handwriting in Schools?”

  1. I think you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about the medium by which things are written (handwritten or type) – it’s about the fluency with which students can clearly state their ideas and their observations.

    As I read articles like http://gigaom.com/2011/12/18/moody-gnip-social-cocktail/?utm_source=twitterfeed, I note that news is shared almost instantaneously. My job is to make sure students can efficiently get clear ideas to an audience. That is a skill students will definitely need going forward. I don’t care if they type those ideas or write them.

    If parents really want their kids to learn handwriting, I can send home a handwriting book for practice. I hope that parents want me to teach the things students CAN’T learn independently at home.

    Regarding your math statement, you might enjoy this TED talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=60OVlfAUPJg

    Janet | expateducator.com

    • Avatar Tom Hesmondhalgh says:

      Thanks Janet for your comment. I wouldn’t for a second question that fluency of communication isn’t an important goal, but it reminds me of an old saying – “better to send the wrong message to the right people, than the right message to the wrong ones”. Unless students have the capability to physically express their ideas, how fluently they do that is a moot point. I guess my gut feeling is still, even in the 21st century, that not being able to express oneself in handwritten form prevents you in certain cases being to be able to communicate at all. And yes, perhaps others can teach the skill, but ultimately as teachers – surely we are the best placed to do that?

  2. Avatar Christo Clifford says:

    I tend to agree but with certain provisos. Some children and subsequently adults will never develop good or even serviceable cursive handwriting skills. Disability, dyslexia, poor fine motor skills etc. These categories are a not insignificant minority who too often feel a sense of failure.
    It would be good to see the reality of this early on and recognition given to children that typing or voice recognition is valid for them in time for them to gain benefit from it in their education.

    • Avatar Tom Hesmondhalgh says:

      Yes – I think that’s a really good point. There are some for whom handwriting simply isn’t an achievable goal. A one size fits all approach can be dangerous.

  3. Avatar AnnaMarie says:

    I think handwriting is important in a sense of a skill aquisition however minor may seem to be it’s a skill! On the other side I have to agree with Janet about teaching at school what can not be taught at home..
    “If parents really want their kids to learn handwriting, I can send home a handwriting book for practice. I hope that parents want me to teach the things students CAN’T learn independently at home.”
    It’s a tough one, soon we will be thinking of books as obsolete when Kindle takes over. I’ve had a kid at school stating the obvious that she does not need to” look like a nerd” with a book in her hands if she can use the Kindle instead.

    But what if we find ourselves with knackered batteries, uncharged Iphones, Ipads or electricity deficit. I don’t think anyone will be able to communicate properly in the future. It’s all about self reliance, isn’t it…?

    • Avatar Tom Hesmondhalgh says:

      Well, indeed. I suppose ultimately it’s a question of risk as well. What’s the likelihood that it will all go wrong and we’ll need handwriting significantly in the near future?

  4. Avatar Andras says:

    Interesting view. Looking around the tube every morning. Touch typing is impossible on the mobile devices and totally useless. They are finger type as they do now days.

    Another thing: SIRI, Android assistance… well do you really think touch typing is still future proved skill?

    Difficult questions. I believe.

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Tom Hesmondhalgh

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