The Relationship Between Handwriting and Reading

New studies have linked handwriting with stronger letter recognition and reading development. Since the advent of the computer, people have been arguing that handwriting should play a less central role in education since most communication will occur through keyboarding. This argument though is not supported by recent studies by Associate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre and neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille. By examining the research, they have confirmed that learning handwriting plays a significant role in learning to read.

The process of learning how to write a letter with pencil and paper involves higher sensory input and stimulates the brain more than learning to press keys on a keyboard. When students learn how to write a letter, the movements involved leave an imprint of the letter in the sensorimotor part of the brain. This motor memory is part of what helps us to recognize letter shapes. Velay’s research implies there is a strong connection between reading and writing and that sensorimotor is related to visual recognition. In addition, Velay has discovered that different areas of the brain are activated while reading letters which have been learned through handwriting compared to letters learned through keyboarding. Velay has also demonstrated that the sensorimotor areas of the brain are activated not only when we perform the action, but when watching someone else or hearing about the action.

This has also been demonstrated by teaching two groups of adults a new foreign alphabet. One group was taught how to write each of the characters at the same time as their sounds. The second group was taught only on a screen and through using a keyboard. Three to six weeks later the participants were tested on letter recognition and distinguishing right and reversed letters. The groups that learned the new alphabet through handwriting scored consistently higher than those who learned only through typing. fMRI brain scans also showed greater activity in the areas of the brain that controls language comprehension, motor-related processes and speech-associated gestures in the group that learned through handwriting.

This research confirms what we have been saying at Pedia Learning. Students must learn how to write the letters at the same time as learning to read them. By demonstrating how each letter is formed, providing students with explicit instructions, and asking the students to repeat those motions, they are developing stronger memories of the shape of the letters. These connections are vital to reducing reversals, increasing speed, and developing long term memory.

To read more about these foundational studies see:

University of Stavanger - Norway

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