In past years, “reading comprehension” used to be the essential skill that children were taught among all other skills, and it was much needed in the workplace. Nowadays, writing has taken its place and became the most significant expertise that children have to master. Writing turned into the commonest skill of life’s two facets: professional and personal. Today the debate shifted, and it focuses on the medium, the way of writing: by handwriting or by typing; should we forsake teaching children handwriting in favor of typing?
We compose emails, posts, text messages, articles, status reports, scripts and more for professional use. In our personal life, we write e-mails and text messages as well. True, we have to read all these texts too. Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to conclude that writing is more important than reading. Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. Reading is easier than writing, primarily as one can scan through the text. Most of the texts we read are not complex literary or academic ones, requiring attention and reflection over hidden and overt intentions. They don’t even demand prior knowledge of other texts or any general knowledge.
Writing, however, beyond the mechanical activity of the hand, requires a connection to our most inner personality. Every time we write a text, we spread ourselves out on the page by our choice of vocabulary and style and, of course, the content. The properties and content of the text characterize us and require high levels of thinking. Therefore, most people find it harder to write than to read.
The act of writing is more complicated than the act of reading. While reading requires only the decoding of text, and the reader is entirely passive, the act of writing is two facets; There’s the physical activity of writing, which requires motor skills, technique, and hand-eye contact. And there’s thinking, word and style selection, the phrasing of sentences, etc. The first step of learning to write relates, of course, to the motor stage of the writing activity – how to draw letters and how to link them together to form a word. The body remembers the muscular movement, and over time the speed of writing improves, and it becomes as automatic as riding a bicycle or driving.
When I was a student, I was able to write by hand at a jet rate, or more precisely at the murderous pace with which my teachers and lecturers spoke. But, since the computer came into our lives, everything is written with the help of a keyboard. That was one of the reasons that while I was teaching in the computer room, I insisted on touch typing, which dramatically improves typing skills. When I say touch typing, I mean that you hide your hands with a kitchen towel and feel your way through the keyboard by touching and remembering the keys’ location. I invite you to try and find out how much the hiding challenges your sense of control on the one hand and shatters your speed and accuracy. And yet, after some lessons (with the towel, Darling) the improvement is dramatic (Here is a link to try touch typing).
It is common knowledge that skills that are not in use are lost over time. One day I had to write a check, but my hand did not remember how to draw the letters. Since most of the time, I use electronic devices – the mobile phone, the tablet, the computer – where I type all the text I create or consume. So suddenly, going back and using a pen was difficult. And it cannot be said that I’m one of today’s kids. So how quickly do we forget a skill that felt so natural as though I was born with it? Really scary. However, if you think about the essence of the word “skill” it is certainly understandable. “Skill“ is “the ability to carry out a task with determined results.” Part of the learning or acquisition process is repetition and memorization. The more we use the acquired ability, the better our skill is. Therefore, when we rarely use it, we “lose” it.
But the more interesting question is whether this loss of skill or the lack of learning has any implications, what are the meanings of not knowing to write by hand? English-speaking countries’ children used to learn first “print letters,” actually capital letters, and later “letters of handwriting,” circular letters that are connected, which would increase the speed of writing. Linked handwriting letters have already been abandoned in some states in the United States. Today’s children do not know how to read connected handwriting at home and even abroad. Will handwriting disappear like the connected script? And if this is the trend, does it have any effect on our lives?
Yuan Hsui, a correspondent for BBC Future, reports that in Finland, they have already abandoned their handwriting lessons and replaced them with typing lessons. In the United States, some states declared handwriting as secondary and took it off the curriculum’s core. And yet, studies have found that manual writing activates areas of the brain that remain dormant while typing. The more prominent advantages that researchers are talking about are related to learning and memory abilities.
Research shows that children who first acquire handwriting skills, learn faster and are better at creating ideas and storing information. Dr. Marc Seifer, a writer, graphologist, and lecturer in psychology, enumerates many reasons for the importance of continuing to teach and use handwriting, and the most important one relates to early childhood. In young children, handwriting is the cornerstone of learning because it calms and helps to concentrate, strengthens cognitive skills, stimulates motor skills and eye-to-hand contact, improves memory and makes more extensive use of the brain because it activates reading skills as well as writing skills. Dr. Norman Fortenberry of MIT says the mechanical act of writing helps internalize the material. Even the artwork associated with the writing activity stimulates the creative thinking that became so important at the end of the last century. In an interview with the New York Times, Stanislas Dehaene, director of Cognitive Neuroimaging and a psychologist at the French College in Paris, said: “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. The circle seems to play a role we were not aware of and learning has become easier.”
The last word: ” What a heavy oar the pen is, and what a strong current ideas are to row in!” Gustav Flaubert