From The Link Magazine’s Homeschool Blog

People Judge the Quality of Your ideas by Your Handwriting

That is a quote from Dr. Steven James, professor of Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Dr. James is quoted in an extensive and very interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal by Gwendolyn Bounds, “How Handwriting Trains the Brain.” (To read the full article, see

Ms. Bounds’ recent article about the significance of handwriting will bolster the belief among homeschooling families that penmanship is an important part of a well-rounded education and of high value in one’s overall curriculum. One of the programs she references is Nan Barchowsky’s Swansbury handwriting products, which will be familiar to our readers. Nan has been a long-time advertiser and article contributor on the subject of handwriting. (

Here are a few salient quotes from Ms. Bounds’ article:

“Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a “spaceship,” actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called “functional” MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters.”

‘It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,’ says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study. . . “

. . . Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

In high schools, where laptops are increasingly used, handwriting still matters. In the essay section of SAT college-entrance exams, scorers unable to read a student’s writing can assign that portion an “illegible” score of 0.

Back to Dr. Steve Graham: “Even legible handwriting that’s messy can have its own ramifications”, he says and cites several studies indicating that good handwriting can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th. “There is a reader effect that is insidious,” Dr. Graham says. “People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.”

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