Handwriting and Learning

Posted: 20th July 2010 by Mike Swickey in ArchivedSite

The Theorist from Fade Theory sent me an email alerting me to a fascinating article from Inside Higher Ed. The basis of the article is that, in the classroom, handwritten work is often the best work. Judge for yourself:

Amelia, a university sophomore, scores a 60 on her first academic paper. On her second she scores a 60 again. On her third paper, she pulls up to an 80 — mostly due to extensive rewrites. Yet on her midterm and final, she received an astounding 90 and 85. Not only was her paragraph structure and use of quotations significantly better, but her ability to sequence ideas and support claims had taken a leap. Even her mechanics (grammar, sentence structure and punctuation) had improved.

I’d like to say that these two high scores came at the end of the semester; this would prove what an effective instructor I was. Instead, they came at odd times — the first A came just after the second paper (which scored a D). The solid B paper did come at the end of the semester. The difference was in how the papers were produced. Both the 90 and 85 papers were handwritten in-class timed essays that constituted the midterm and final. The much lower scores were for computer-generated papers that she produced out of class. These, of course, could be rewritten over and over before the due dates.

I’d like to say that Amelia’s experience is an anomaly. But I can’t. In fact, this semester, 8 of my 20 sophomore English composition students scored significantly better on in-class essays written by hand in a timed situation. Some jumped more than a full grade level. In my three freshman composition classes, almost 20 of 60 students excelled when allowed to write in class rather than compose typed papers on their own time. In fact, at a large community college in California where I taught for six years, I frequently saw 10 to 25 percent of my developmental- and freshman-level writers do significantly better when asked to compose in-class with a topic given just before a two-hour writing period.

Read the rest of, “The Surprising Process of Writing,” at InsideHigherEd.com.

This is interesting stuff and raises a lot of questions. Is it simply the slower pace and deliberate writing that paper and pen demands? The comments at the end of the article make for good reading as well. It’s a very thought provoking piece. Thanks, Theorist!