Handwriting Part 2: Handwriting vs. Typing

With Guest Blogger Rand Nelson of Peterson Handwriting

by Nora Chahbazi

In Part 1 of our handwriting blog series, I discussed the importance of handwriting. We’ve taught Peterson Handwriting in conjunction with EBLI for many years with the following positive student results:

• Correct letter formation (top to bottom, left to right)
• Faster writing fluency – which can positively impact reading fluency
• Increased attention span
• Improved focus and impulse control 
• Proper sequencing (doing tasks in correct order)
• Writing that looks good and is readable

In this post, Rand Nelson of Peterson Handwriting shares more detailed information about handwriting, as part of a conversation that we had in response to his seeing Peterson Handwriting in the EBLI iPad Apps.  Read on to learn:

• How handwriting relates to brain development
• How handwriting and typing activate the brain differently
• The “why” behind the power of Peterson Handwriting instruction in the EBLI iPad Apps

We’re thrilled that Rand has so generously shared his knowledge with the EBLI family!  


Rand Nelson - Peterson Handwriting

The EBLI apps won't accept a reversed production process so it guarantees the child experiences writing the letter using the correct process. They can't start at the bottom and go up to write l or o as is very common in primary grades. The app won't accept the reversed movements and won't produce a stroke on the screen. That is big, but there is actually something bigger.

"This study pretty much proves the importance of handwriting experience relative to reading skill development by showing brain activity with fMRI scans. The "reading circuits" were not stimulated by tracing a model letter or by typing it.

The paper describes the process of recognition mentioning a global shape-recognition step in the right hemisphere and a more detailed local "process" assessment that occurs in the left.

That local assessment can't occur until the production experience loads process dynamics into the motor system. To a very large percentage of youngsters, the shapes of b, d and p are all the same until they learn to write the letter correctly.

For many years I conducted a simple activity in teacher meetings that was intended to emphasize the importance of teaching the process very precisely rather than looking only at the shape produced by the child. The activity was a little game I called, "On Your Mark." I found it to be most effective when teachers played at the chalkboard, but a paper/pencil version did work.
In short, that game revealed the stroke sequence and direction of movement used to write a letter. Over many years, in meetings as small as four teachers and as large as an entire elementary faculty, about half of the teachers reversed the production process for the letter d. 

They made the door first, then added the doughnut. They put the doughnut in the correct position of course, but they built the form right-to left instead of left-to-right. Many admitted that they probably taught the kids to do it that way because they didn't realize they were reversing the form.

The EBLI apps won't accept a reversed production process so it guarantees the child experiences writing the letter using the correct process. They can't start at the bottom and go up to write l or o as is very common in primary grades. The app won't accept the reversed movements and won't produce a stroke on the screen.

That is big, but there is actually something bigger. The apps stimulate the use and learning of goal-oriented movements for producing the strokes. That is one of the characteristics of fluent processing. The child is learning to look ahead to the end-point of the stroke as the movement happens. The handwriting process improves as it includes more accurate goal-oriented movements and fewer visually added adjustments to strokes.

The handwriting activity in the EBLI apps provides opportunity for a youngster to produce the letter and also assures that the production process is correct in terms of the top-down, left-to-right production process that supports ocular tracking for reading our language.

The study mentions specifically the b/d problem. There aren't many teachers who don't recognize that these two shapes are the most frequently confused in reading by grade school kids.

When students are exposed to specific "process training" as offered by the handwriting activities in the EBLI apps, the effect of the movement training is maximized by getting the student to chant the stroke prompts, the color/rhythm, or by counting for the strokes. The vocal creates a template for rhythmic movement that forces engagement by the motor system. This seems to allow faster and better internalization of the correct dynamics.

The voice then can be the teacher's friend because it shows what kind of movement the child is actually practicing. When a child is using the visually-guided, drawing type of movement they can't chant aloud.
That system cannot guide goal-oriented, rhythmic moves so the child can't chant and write at the same time.

Getting the vocal going is often the most difficult task because we all start drawing letters. There is no motor pattern so we have no choice but to guide early movements visually. Some kids get stuck in this visual mode and don't make a connection with the motor system. The timed-writing exercise seems to stimulate that connection and LPM (letters per minute) scores rise quickly."

I encourage you to look at the research study that Rand shared.  The findings are intriguing and add weight to the argument that handwriting is more effective than typing for fostering reading readiness. You can also click here for the Peterson Handwriting prompts.  

I'd love to hear from you below with any questions or comments you may have.  You can learn even more about handwriting in Part 1 of our handwriting series.

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  1. Shannon Olsen

    Ok. This is awesome. Reading explicitly how the vocal cues affect motor movement and that the visual is not enough is huge. It makes so much sense! Thanks, once again Nora, for bringing more valuable information to our awareness. We appreciate you and all you do. Truly. 🙂 Love you, Shannon.

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