Like many teachers, a part of my summertime has been devoted to standards and curriculum work, as I am serving on a state committee given the task of creating the first set of handwriting standards for Kansas. This project is right up my alley, as each semester I have the students in my language arts methods course debate the merits of handwriting versus keyboarding. I was hoping that this committee work might bring to light some new persuasive points for our class debates, while also helping me to clarify my own opinion on the handwriting versus keyboarding debate.
The committee work increased my awareness about three key concepts.
- The physical act of handwriting helps young children learn letter name, shape, and sound, thus building a foundation for reading.
- Knowledge of both manuscript and cursive styles facilitates children’s creation of their own handwriting style, whether it be manuscript, cursive, or a manuscript-cursive hybrid.
- Fluent handwriting and keyboarding facilitate the flow of ideas during the writing process, thus giving a writer a positive feeling about writing.
My realization of these concepts grew from discussions during our committee work, but also from my reading of the Written Language Production Standards for Handwriting and Keyboarding (Grades K-8). These standards were created by a group of researchers and educators in 2012, seeking to better define the expectations for writing production, specifically focusing those skills not included in the Common Core State Standards. Based on handwriting and keyboarding research, these national standards map out the manuscript, cursive, and keyboarding skills to be taught across the grade levels. This detailed and sequential collection of skills provides guidance for teachers where little previously existed.
The Standards also provided guidance for me. Previously I had some knowledge about handwriting, but very little knowledge about keyboarding, viewing this as the purview of the technology facilitator, not the language arts teacher. I can see now that any tool that impacts the production of writing plays a role in the language arts class. The goal for both handwriting and keyboarding encompasses these three words: quick, smooth, and effortless. It’s all about getting your ideas on paper or screen in the most effective and efficient way.
This realization for me, essentially nullifies the handwriting versus keyboarding debate. To be successful, our students must be adept at both. Their decision of when to use handwriting or keyboarding hinges on the context and purpose of their message – just like we choose between using texting, email, Facebook, or telephone when communicating with a friend or family member. If children are not proficient at both keyboarding and handwriting, we have essentially removed their option to choose, thus limiting their communication skills. Instead of deciding between one or the other, let’s figure out how we can make time for instruction in both forms of written language production.