I relearned something! I say relearned because several years ago Dr. Rosemary Sassoon, a renowned handwriting expert and author of numerous books on the subject, told me, “Don’t trace.” Sounded good, but how to teach children to write without a model? I still use a model, but try to keep tracing to a bare minimum. Now after reading these three paragraphs in the New York Times article, mentioned in my last blog, Take Care with Cursive, I’ll change my ways.
A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.
The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.
By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.
I won’t throw the model out all together, but it won’t get introduced until children learn the alphanumeric characters. It should not be hard to show a letter with a little verbal instruction about where to start making it. I don’t want letters to start at the bottom if they should start at the top, and neither should any teacher.