The Death of Handrwiting?

By Colin McGregor and Célie Dugand

Teaching cursive writing – in attached letters – is no longer fashionable in many school curricula. Older generations are sometimes shocked by the inability of some young people to sign an official document or even read a handwritten note. Fewer and fewer Quebec schools teach it. And in the United States, the Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 states do not require school districts to teach cursive writing.

Some Canadian provinces are seeing a decline in the teaching and learning of cursive writing. In Ontario, for example, this teaching is no longer compulsory, although teachers are free to include it.

As the keyboard becomes the note-taking tool of choice for students across the country, new research from Princeton University indicates that students are more likely to learn when they use handwriting at the old way rather than the computer to take notes in class.

The studies are referenced in the article “The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking”, published in the journal Psychological Science.

Written by Princeton researcher Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, the study tracked the note-taking habits of Princeton University students and tested the knowledge retention of students who used a laptop to take notes versus those who wrote by hand.

The results? Note-takers who used laptops created near-text recordings of lectures in the study, but scored lower on retention tests than those who wrote their notes by hand.

Even when students were given a week’s delay before a test on the same course, those who used laptops scored lower than handwriters, the study found.

“Despite their growing popularity, laptops may do more harm than good in classrooms,” the authors wrote.

The authors are not exactly sure why. But it may be because “handheld note takers perform more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes,” they wrote.

Taking textual notes involves a less deep form of cognitive processing. You can even do it without thinking about the content if you want. But when you use pen and paper, you process information more deeply because you can’t write it all down. The other benefit of using pen and paper is that you can move around the page very quickly, circling, underlining, or adding extra information in the margins.

Mueller, then a graduate psychology student at Princeton, now a researcher at the Rand Corporation, said in an interview that when it comes to note taking, her research shows that taking slow, deliberate, handwritten notes helps with short- and long-term retention.

Computers have benefits as learning aids, but they’re not universally effective, Mueller said.

“I don’t think they’re necessarily the enemy, but in situations where you’re trying to figure out ideas, I don’t think they’re very helpful,” she said.

Mueller said the most surprising finding from the research was that computer note takers got worse results than handwritten note takers even after the groups were given a week to study before being tested.

“You’d think those who took near-text notes would benefit from the extra detail when they had time to study, but that wasn’t the case,” Mueller said.

There are several other studies that say about the same thing, many of them available on the internet. The studies come at a time when classroom instruction in cursive writing – often considered the fastest form of writing – is on the decline in schools across the country.

If your goal is to better understand the material and not just to create a record of the material, take notes by hand.

Also seen on the Reflet de Société website

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