Getting technology 'write': handwriting in the modern classroom

December 13, 2019

 

While Monash Tech School boasts state-of-the-art technology for students to explore, this modern classroom still demands handwriting of its students. 

 

I cannot deny my own personal bias for handwritten cursive expression. Maybe I’m alone. Receiving a handwritten postcard seems more personal. Sending a handwritten letter to a politician or influencer can persuasively express more concern or anger. But like fingerprints on an old handrail, the artform appears increasingly forgotten and irrelevant. 

 

Computers have despatched the acclaim and necessity of the handwritten word with a striking ctrl alt DELETE. Is this really a surprise? In the classroom, keyboards offer fantastic alternatives for students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Office workers are praised and even hired for their affinity with the tactile clicking of words to a screen. When we start to consider the characterisation of ICT as a second language for the younger generations of students, we ask ourselves a simple question: 

 

Do we still need to learn handwriting? 

 

The Monash Tech School offers one of the most engaging and integrated forms of ICT-STEM based teaching in the state. Nevertheless, the year seven Superhumans program requires handwritten brainstorming in every level of its design thinking process. Students create hand drawn diagrams and sketches during ideations that they will use in their pitch presentations. Handwriting, here, characterises students’ understanding of topics such as diseases, as well as their conception of innovative solutions such as prosthetics, bionic devices, and working implants. Presentations demand a grasp of spatial relationships of words to pages; the foundations of handwriting. 

 

For Ros Wilson, founder of Andrell Education’s Big Writing model for teaching writing, handwriting is a process of creating a mental picture of the world. Research conducted in France showed students who handwrote their notes in a lecture had a deeper understanding than those who typed. The students visiting Monash Tech School seemed only truly to understand designs and abstract ideas once they drafted sketches, created labelled diagrams on butcher’s paper and revisited these ideas multiple times. This reflects the observations of Indiana University researcher, Karin H. James.

 

“Pressing a key on a keyboard doesn’t really tell us anything about the shape of the letter... If you press A or B, it feels the same. But if you’re creating a symbol over and over again, it creates in the brain a kind of cognitive image of what that letter looks like. The writing of that letter is critical to producing that image and having it in your brain.” 

 

On the one hand, the enduring impact of hand writing on physical-spatial skills, comprehension of abstract ideas and even posture is undeniable. The kinesthetic-based pedagogy differentiates tasks for students with different needs, such as dyslexia, while also helping students form useful mental pictures of their designs; better for every student. 

 

On the other hand, computers are increasingly becoming the chosen avenue for diagnostics testing in schools. In any case, communication forms are still evolving. Even touchscreens more frequently replace the kinaesthetic click of the keyboard. 

 

This is an era that should be characterised by compromise and growth. We should not cling to the past, just like we shouldn’t abandon it. We should learn from the approach by Monash Tech School where handwritten brainstorming and top-tier technology complement each other.

 

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