Anissa Brockway, Occupational Therapy Coordinator at 45th Street
Why do we still teach handwriting? It’s true that our digital world has made the use of pen and paper almost obsolete. People email and text as their primary means of communication. With all this digital writing, are we missing out on valuable brain development?
A research study that came out of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and published in Frontiers of Psychology in 2020 showed that cursive handwriting helps the brain learn and remember.
In an article published on the Promoting Literacy Development (PLD), educator and speech pathologist Diana Rigg stresses that the link between teaching handwriting and reading is interconnected. Handwriting activates neural pathways that are associated with reading skills, making brain connections that are not developed through tracing or typing letters.
At Aaron School, students learn how to write using the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) method, which is a research-based, multi-sensory and developmentally sequenced handwriting curriculum created by two Occupational Therapists, Jan Z. Olsen and Emily F. Knapton. The curriculum is designed to correlate with a child’s developmental milestones.
Up until third grade, the students learn print but an introduction to cursive is taught at the end of third grade if the class is ready. In fourth grade, only cursive handwriting is taught, with rigorous weekly instruction. There are many benefits to cursive writing, such as preventing reversals, decreasing errors, and improving reading skills. Phonics advocate and author Samuel L. Blumenfield outlines these and more in his checklist Ten Benefits of Teaching Cursive Handwriting.
This year, we introduced a new incentive for learning cursive: a pen license! Fourth graders are encouraged to take a cursive handwriting test when they feel that they are prepared and ready, just like a driving test. For the test, they are asked to transcribe a paragraph from print to cursive. The writing sample is then checked for errors and reviewed by the occupational therapist. Students are provided with constructive feedback and are encouraged to take the test as many times as they need to in order to pass.
Once they have passed the test, students are issued a printed pen license and are given a limited edition Aaron School engraved pen. We are proud to report that several fourth graders have already received their Aaron School pen license, and there are still several weeks left in the school year. The pen license program provides a fun and motivating way for students to keep improving their handwriting skills.
Students who work hard towards earning their pen license definitely have the write idea!