TORONTO — A study by U.S. researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggests that handwriting beats typing and watching videos when it comes to learning to read.
The study, published in the June volume of the journal Psychological Science, had 42 participants learning the Arabic alphabet while split into three different learning types: writers, typers and video watchers.
All study participants learned the letters one at a time by watching videos of them being written along with hearing names and sounds. After being taught a letter, the three groups would learn what they were just introduced to in different ways.
The video learners got an on-screen flash of a letter and had to say if it was the same one they had just been introduced to, the typers were asked to find the letter on a keyboard and the writers had to copy the letter by hand with a pen and paper.
At the end of the study, after as many as six sessions, all of the study participants would recognize the letters and made few mistakes when tested – but the writers’ group reached that level of proficiency faster than the other groups, some in just two sessions.
“The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting,” said senior study author Brenda Rapp, in a release. “Obviously, you’re going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it….The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are.”
Researchers then wanted to see how the different learning groups could generalize the Arabic letters they had learned – such as writing with them and spelling new words with them. The study participants in the writing group were better at all of those things, the study results said.
The writing group also ended up with more skills needed for expert adult-level reading and spelling, and researchers say it’s because handwriting enforces the visual and aural lessons, meaning that writing by hand provides a “perceptual motor experience” that combines what is being learned about the letters, their shapes, sounds and how they are written, which creates richer knowledge and “fuller, true learning,” according to the study.
“With writing, you’re getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don’t in any way involve handwriting,” said study author Richard Wiley in the release.
Researchers say that although the study participants were adults, their findings are applicable to children in school, as many classrooms have replaced penmanship with tablets and laptops.