Taking Notes: Is the Pen Still Mightier than the Keyboard?

Educators are eager to know how the computers popping up in their classrooms actually affect student learning. Much of the research has focused on how computers and other digital devices increase the temptation and likelihood of multitasking, leading to lower comprehension and reduced productivity. But until now, few people have looked into whether the method of note-taking a student uses, such as typing on a computer or writing in longhand, affects how well he or she comprehends the lecture.

A recent study published in Psychological Science confronts the issue head-on. Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer asked students to take notes on a 20-minute video lecture using either longhand or a computer that had been disabled for any other use. They wanted to remove the distractions that have given note-taking on computers lower marks for memory and comprehension. “Even if you are using computers exactly as they’re supposed to be used, might that still be hurting learning?” is the question Mueller sought out to answer.

Mueller said she got the idea for the experiment when she was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class and forgot to bring her computer one day. She took notes by hand instead and felt a noticeable difference in her retention of the material. The experience made her wonder if others would react the same way.

The two researchers set up three studies to test various conditions. In the first study, one group of undergraduate college students were told to watch a 20-minute TED Talk on a subject they weren’t likely to know much about and take notes by hand. The other group took notes on the computer.

“Students who took notes on laptops tended to transcribe the content verbatim,” Mueller said. Those students took many more notes, but seemed to process what they heard much less. In a test taken a few minutes after completing the lecture, students who had taken notes using longhand performed much better. The difference was particularly striking on conceptual questions, where students had to take two pieces of information they’d heard in the lecture and synthesize them into a conclusion.

The researchers then tested another intervention, telling a third group of students taking notes on a computer that verbatim notes aren’t a good way to remember and that they should slow down. The other two groups remained the same as in the first study. The intervention group performed almost exactly the same as the computer note-takers who hadn’t received the intervention, leading Mueller and Oppenheimer to believe that simply telling students not to take notes verbatim doesn’t work.

Since the verbatim note-takers were recording more information than those taking longhand notes, Mueller reasoned that maybe that group would do better if given a chance to study their notes. So in a third study, the researchers asked both groups of note-takers to come back a week later, review their notes for 15 minutes and then take the test.

To Mueller’s surprise, the longhand note-takers still performed better. She also hypothesizes that since longhand note takers had to be more selective about what they wrote, they had processed the information better as it came in, making the recall easier.

These findings align with neuroscience research on memory reconsolidation. When information is called up into the short term memory after having been hardwired into the long term memory, it sticks better the second time.

“If you processed [the information] as it was coming in, then there’s more in your brain for the refresher to hang on to,” Mueller said.

Making it Stick in the Classroom

The typing versus handwriting debate recalls a related, heated discussion over whether students should continue to learn handwriting. While the research is not conclusive, several researchers contend that writing by hand stimulates special neural circuits, leading to stronger reading ability, new idea generation and retention of information.

Mueller thinks there’s still hope for digital note-taking, but says students must be taught how to slow down and process information as they take it in. She thinks there could be promise in stylus technology, which would slow the pace at which a person can take notes, but would still allow for digital storage.

Some educators are taking long form notes to new levels, embracing the idea of sketchnotes, in which the ideas presented in a lecture are captured as a combination of words and images.

“I sat through two 45-minute lectures in high school social studies and not only was I super focused because I was doodling, I could also basically give the lecture afterwards,” said Shelley Paul, who at the time was director of learning design at Woodward Academy. “And if I look at the doodle again today for three to four minutes, I can basically remember it all again.”

Paul admits it can be hard to keep up with a fast paced lecture, but even the things she decides not to depict end up getting connected to the images she does draw. She’s been implementing the practice with students who love the freedom to doodle in class and who are making great connections between information in the process.

While unconventional, drawing as note-taking makes sense based on memory research, which shows that if multiple ideas can be condensed into an image, the brain stores all those related ideas as one. The image acts as a zip file for multiple ideas, helping to fit more into the limited short term memory.

Underlying Beauty of Cursive Handwriting

Today many school districts are beginning to drop cursive instruction. Many argue with the advent of computers cursive handwriting is obsolete. While the beauty of handwriting may have become outdated, the cognitive processes that occurs are not. 

Teachers who teach children with language difficulties assert that a key component cursive handwriting provides, when these children are learning to read and write is, “the changes in the neural pathways within the brain” (Petersen 2013). That is, cursive handwriting stimulates the synapses and helps synchronize the left and right hemispheres within the brain. That’s why it’s important to note, developing the ability to write in cursive is about the neural stimulation occurring within the brain, not the appealing product—absent when students are printing or typing (Baruch-Asherson 2012).

Also, the ability to write in cursive gives students the upper hand throughout their learning years. Quick, legible, cursive is always available when computers and printers are not. Writing by hand improves idea composition and expression. Sortino (2012) explains, “Learning cursive improves a child’s fluency, ensuring a secure neural network.” Cursive writing is also linked to developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. In fact, many elementary teachers find students learn to write in cursive quite easily, more so than block and stick manuscript.

Interestingly, research is now revealing the ability to write in cursive increases comprehension. A new study, (Peverly 2012) found college students who took handwritten notes showed better understanding of the material than those who took notes on computers. While, The College Board learned that students who wrote in cursive, for their essay portion of the SAT, scored slightly higher than their peers (Baruch, Asherson 2013).

The importance of cursive has come into question as school districts align their curriculum to reflect Common Core Standards. Nationwide schools are spending less time on introducing and practicing cursive writing and devoting leftover instructional time to “preparing students for the 21st century”. While many educators feel cursive is outdated they must acknowledge the cognitive attributes that occur, when students write in flowing, cursive letters.

from  at the Learning Leaf


Handwriting’s relevance in a digital world

Handwriting’s relevance in a digital world

By Anthony Cahalan, Swinburne University of Technology

The making of graphic marks in the form of letters was one of the first activities of early humans. Written words are the visual representation of our spoken language, and handwriting is a personal representation of the diversity of language.

Handwriting or “penmanship” has played an integral role in the education of many generations of schoolchildren and is the second of the educational triumvirate of reading, writing and arithmetic. But how relevant is handwriting in an age of mobile and wearable digital communication devices?

The benefits of handwriting

Contemporary education and psychology research suggests handwriting skills help children to read by “writing down” what they are learning in terms of spelling and sentence construction, similar to note-taking in other subject areas. It is “learning by doing” to an extent not possible with phones and tablets that auto-complete and auto-correct on behalf of the user. From a typographic perspective, handwriting provides us with the ability to see letters as shapes with form, weight, texture and space and this facilitates ease of reading by being able to form and identify letters that are clearly distinguishable from each other.

Writing in The New Yorker online, Maria Konnikova describes recent research in France and the USA that shows handwriting not only assists children to read more effectively but also helps them to create, imagine and recall information. Psychologists, such as Stanislas Dehaene at the Collège de France in Paris suggest that this is due to the activation of a unique neural circuit that facilitates learning by linking the gesture of handwriting with the child’s recognition of letterforms.

Writing by hand helps children read more effectively.

Konnikova notes that this view is supported by the research of US psychologist Karin James at Indiana University whose 2012 study found that the “doing” part of drawing letters by hand increases activity in three areas of a child’s brain that adults use when they read and write. Research at the University of Washington by US psychologist Virginia Berninger has shown that handwriting and typing on a computer keyboard generate different and distinctive brain patterns in children and that handwriting enables children to generate more words and more ideas.

Contrary to this research, some parents are questioning why schools would waste valuable class time on “outdated” skills like handwriting. This question has merit as many education jurisdictions plan their curriculum around the public testing of students and handwriting is not explicitly tested. There is, however, an irony in suggesting that handwriting be deleted from the curriculum because most students still need to complete their public exams and communicate their knowledge effectively to examiners through handwriting.

Integrating past and present

Rapid technological acceleration from desktop computers of the 1980s to mobile communication devices of this century has caused people to question the relevance of handwriting. It is important to remember, however, that the “global digital divide” means that only 40% of the world’s population has access to digital technology, making it premature to suggest an “either or” solution in which handwriting is totally endorsed or discarded.

Biometric authentication and digital signatures may replace handwritten autographs to verify documents and further technological developments may alter and improve the methods by which language is represented in visual form, but human judgement, subtlety and nuance are still vital necessities. Rather than seeing the relevance of handwriting as a “hand versus digital” dichotomy, an integration of the past and present is necessary to facilitate the integration of handwriting and technology in the future.

Four thousand years of writing and lettering history have brought the display of words to a point in the twenty-first century of incredible opportunity and possibility. Disparate and discriminatory digital access means the world is not in a position to completely jettison handwriting and there are still compelling educational and communication reasons to retain it. While typing on a digital device might be efficient, timely and convenient, even adults acknowledge that we learn and recall better what we write down on paper by hand. Until there is more definitive research to suggest otherwise, it seems on balance worthwhile maintaining for a while longer the role of handwriting in the critical early years of children’s education.

The Conversation

Anthony Cahalan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Why Teach Cursive

Readers may be asking “why cursive?” Here are a few answers:
1. Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity – much more so than printing.
2. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
3. Students still need to learn cursive to write a signature, to read historical documents in the PARCC Assessment exam (already adopted by 19 states) or to more efficiently write the essay portion on an SAT exam.
4. Why would we take away a mode of expression that works for some students? All forms of output should be an option: printing, writing in cursive and keyboarding.

Write-On Handwriting Developer Interview with TheiMums

TiM: Please tell us a little about yourself.
WOH: Formed in 2002, Write-On Handwriting is co-owned by two sisters, Sherry Ford and Amy Hebert, who bring complimentary skill-sets to the passion of teaching handwriting. Amy is an educator who has worked with students for over 15 years. She has experienced great success with clients using the Write-On Handwriting curriculum, success that was not easily obtained using other products on the market. Sherry is the mother of two children – both learned and mastered handwriting using the Write-On Handwriting software and paper workbooks.

Our goal: to design apps that provide research-based instruction, engage students in the learning process, and focus on skills development.

TiM: How did the idea for your app come about?
WOH: Powerful Printing is already in the iTunes Store – Conquering Cursive App for iPad is the next step in our collective goal to help students improve academic skills through automatic and legible writing. Write-On Handwriting was the first company to offer a software solution to address instructional needs of teachers and learning issues concerning students so that effective written output can be achieved.

Readers may be asking “why cursive?” Here are a few answers:
1. Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information, and fine motor dexterity – much more so than printing.
2. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
3. Students still need to learn cursive to write a signature, to read historical documents in the PARCC Assessment exam (already adopted by 19 states) or to more efficiently write the essay portion on an SAT exam.
4. Why would we take away a mode of expression that works for some students? All forms of output should be an option: printing, writing in cursive and keyboarding.

We strive to find ways to provide teacher and parents with the tools to help children write fluently and legibly. Developing an app for cursive is a natural progression to make our handwriting approach available to more students.

TiM: And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the app?
WOH: The process for our cursive app was a much faster turn of about 8 weeks – we were fortunate that any “bugs” were worked out in the print app development. We worked on the app during the summer in order to have Conquering Cursive available for the 2013-14 school year.

TiM: Did you hire a developer or do it yourself?
WOH: We worked with two Cincinnati, Ohio design and development companies, Crush Republic and Clifton Labs – our second project with them!

TiM: What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?
WOH: The wait for launch is the hardest obstacle – wanting to get our product out to students, parents and teachers “yesterday.”

TiM: Have you had much support during the development process (from family, peers, Apple Inc.)?
WOH: Our family, friends and clients provided an abundance of support: reading through materials, testing the app, words of encouragement and promoting and purchasing products. Thank you all!

TiM: What are your plans for the future? Will you be developing any more apps?
WOH: We have another app in development right now – keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter feed!

TiM: What sort of feedback has your app been receiving so far?
WOH: Children using our handwriting apps are efficiently and effectively learning to write. Students express pride in their work, and teachers and parents respond, “I love using your program.”







Handwriting FAQ’s

Q: Why teach handwriting?
A: Students are expected to copy assignments from the board, take notes, and write test answers – legibly. Because students are graded on written output, not on what they might know, difficulty in any of these areas impacts achievement. Furthermore, because handwriting is visible, students compare the quality of their handwriting to that of their peers. Students with strong academic potential but poor handwriting frequently perceive themselves as low achievers.

Q: Is handwriting important given the widespread use of computers and keyboards?
A: Yes. Legible handwriting is still required in the classroom and is expected by teachers. Furthermore, as students learn handwriting, they are building other developmental skills such as sequential memory and fine motor ability. These fundamental skills assist students in other essential academic areas such as math.

Q: Has scientific research uncovered better methods by which handwriting should be taught?
A: Yes. Traditionally, handwriting has been taught as an art, but research now allows us to teach handwriting based on scientific research. Handwriting is a basic motor skill, like riding a bike or walking, but advances in motor skill learning have not been incorporated into the process of teaching handwriting. To become proficient at a motor skill, a student must acquire muscle memory.

Q: What is muscle memory and why is it so important?
A: Muscle memory allows an action to be automatic and mechanical – it does not require active thinking. Research shows that if a student has to think about how to write a letter, his or her ability to spell or write an answer is hindered. When proper handwriting becomes a muscle memory, a student is free to devote all active thinking to the ideas that he or she is trying to express. Forming the letters requires no thought; it just “happens.” Muscle memory is developed through a two-step process: motor pattern mastery and pattern repetition.

Q: How is a motor pattern mastered?
A: To master a motor pattern (such as ” how to write the letter p”), a student must have a visual image of the pattern and knowledge of the sequential steps by which the pattern is formed. When learning the motor pattern, a student needs individualized supervision and immediate feedback to ensure that he or she has correctly visualized and sequenced the pattern.

Q: What is pattern repetition?
A: Through repetition, the reproduction of a motor pattern evolves – from intense, careful, purposeful practice to an easily reproduced, automatic written pattern. Repetition of the pattern leads to muscle memory, which means that active thinking is no longer required to produce the pattern. In the context of handwriting, this means that rather than dedicating a portion of active thinking to the question of “how to write the letter p,” a student can focus entirely on the question of “how to spell the word apple” and rely on his or her muscle memory to express the thought in writing.

Q: Has this research been incorporated into Write-On Handwriting’s handwriting system?
A: Yes. Write-On Handwriting’s computer software applications were the first tools on the market that emphasized motor pattern mastery. Instructional tools should provide the visual and sequential instruction necessary for initial training in proper letter formation (motor pattern mastery). Our products are based on research and years of experience with students providing effective handwriting curriculum to educators and parents.

Q: How do the Powerful Printing and Conquering Cursive software programs and App for iPad provide motor pattern instruction?
A: Within each of the print and cursive software programs and the print App for iPad, letters are grouped based on the initial pencil stroke. This way, students are not required to memorize 52 print letter patterns and 52 cursive letter patterns in a disconnected and disorderly manner. They build skill using just 5 lower case print patterns, 5 capital letter print patterns, 7 lower case cursive patterns and 7 capital letter cursive patterns.

Q: Does Write-On Handwriting provide tools for pattern repetition?
A: Yes. After mastering the motor patterns underlying the proper formation of letters, students transition from the computer software or App to Write-On Handwriting’s paper workbooks. This is where they take pencil to paper and, through repetition, convert pattern mastery to muscle memory.

 Handwriting becomes fluid, legible and automatic.

Free Practice Pages for Summer Handwriting Skills

Summer is the perfect time to work on handwriting skills!
For a limited time, Write-on Handwriting is including FREE handwriting practice pages with the purchase of Powerful Printing Letters & Numbers App for iPad.

Click on the link below to go to the AppStore:

For $2.99 your child receives individualized instruction and handwriting practice.
Step One – the App: your child engages in learning and practicing letter formation, reviewing specific letters as needed
Step Two – the Practice Pages: your child practices writing spelling pattern words, building fluent recall through repetition and practical pencil-paper writing tasks

After you purchase Powerful Printing Letters & Numbers app, please email amy@writeonhandwriting.com with your receipt number and we will send you a PDF of our handwriting practice pages (28 pages including spelling pattern words, days of the week, months of the year, and different line widths – see below for example pages).

Handwriting really can be fun!

Thank you,
Amy Hebert, M.Ed.


mobile | 513.615.9015
email | amy@writeonhandwriting.com
website | writeonhandwriting.com
facebook | Write-On Handwriting
twitter | wohandwriting
pinterest | wohandwriting.pinterest.com

Teach Handwriting / Practice Handwriting

Teach Handwriting / Practice Handwriting

From Homeschool Curriculum Explorer. . .“When teaching handwriting … your child must learn and master is how to form both upper case and lower case letters accurately. . . One thing remains constant when dealing with building good penmanship in a child; it takes practice, practice, practice. In order to build handwriting into the muscle memory, children should be encouraged to practice to gain a level of mastery. . . Teaching handwriting at home can be very easy if the proper tools are utilized, such as handwriting books, practice pages and a good handwriting curriculum.”

Write-On Handwriting’s App, software and paper workbooks teach the upper and lower case letters so that children learn to write the letter patterns accurately. Our products teach the letter pattern and also provide letter pattern practice in our app and software. Our paper workbooks have several lines for each letter and extra review pages with words and sentences. 

An “H” is an “H”

An H is an H is an H…

The importance of teaching each print letter is that a child learns the letter pattern. “When guiding children’s letter formation, practice, consistency and legibility are the goals. Do children make the same letters the same way each time?” (Einhorn, K.)

App by Powerful Printing complements all handwriting curricula because:
1. the directional language for print letters is simple, and 
2. print letter formations have little variation across handwriting programs

In today’s busy classrooms, it is important that a child writes letters and numbers the same way every time. If a child must think about how to write the letters c, a, and t, he is not thinking about spelling the word “cat.” 

“[A] growing number of studies suggest that handwriting may play a bigger role in the writing process than is commonly believed. ‘If you have to stop and think about how to form a particular letter, that increases the likelihood that you’re going to lose something you might hold in your working memory,’ said Mr. Graham” (Viadero, D.).

App by Powerful Printing reinforces print letter and number patterns so that letter formation becomes automatic and writing becomes effortless.

No matter what handwriting program your child or school uses, Write-On Handwriting has a software and App solution for you!

Powerful Printing – Learn to Write Fluently & Legibly!

Powerful Printing Digital Workbook Software is a student-guided computer program that brings multiple senses to the task of learning to print. Sound and movement capture student attention as letters are individually presented through a 4-step process.

Even reluctant writers learn to write fluently and legibly with Write-On Handwriting!