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Handwriting? Worth the trouble these days?

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
Each of my articles is available as a PDF at https://tinyurl.com/y6vat4ut


Is teaching handwriting worth the trouble these days? It’s so old school. Next, they’ll be reintroducing writing on slates with chalk as was done in the middle of the last century. Who handwrites letters these days? It’s all keyboards. Kids are into tablets from Prep (kinder). So, it’s tempting to assert that all you need to teach kids is how to be a fluent keyboardist.

But wait. What if during the learning to read stage, the physical act of writing, rather than simply hitting a computer key, is more beneficial to early reading and spelling progress? Suppose it helps in somehow cementing letter-sound knowledge – an important early indicator of reading progress. That would be valuable enough for this focus to be. important. However, the act of handwriting appears to play a part in establishing a variety of writing skills, including spelling.

That is not to diminish the importance of learning keyboard skills as students’ writing development continues. Writing via keyboard has its own advantages  – ready editing, no white out tape needed, correction for many spelling and grammar errors (though far from all), easy cut-and-paste, readily save work digitally, etc.

So, how does teaching handwriting support early reading progress?

“ … historically, letter perception (a necessary precursor of reading) has been considered more of a passive behavior—that is, one that involves seeing the shapes of letters and hearing the sounds they represent. The potential importance of producing letters with the body, through handwriting, has generally not been considered as important. But what if—similar to learning about many other types of objects—learning about letters is facilitated by producing them? Then learning about written letters becomes an activity not only of seeing and hearing letters, but also of producing them by hand. A limited number of experimental studies have shown that, indeed, adults (James & Atwood, 2009; Longcamp et  al., 2008) and children (Li & James, 2016; Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou, & Velay, 2005) learn symbols better if they write them by hand during learning than through other forms of practice, including visual, auditory, and even typing. In addition, correlational work demonstrates that early handwriting can have significant effects on literacy skills in young children (for a review, see Hall, Simpson, Guo, & Wang, 2015). How handwriting facilitates symbol learning in terms of underlying mechanisms, however, is a question that can be addressed only with brain-imaging studies.” (p. 503)

James, K. H. (2017). The importance of handwriting experience on the development of the literate brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 502-508.


“Furthermore, based on an embodied theory of cognition [5], we hypothesize that VMM [visual-motor memory ] ability should affect written language recognition, as well as influencing written language production. In other words, VMM should also support reading abilities. Indeed, it is probable that more practised and procedural recall of letter/word forms while writing could aid pattern recognition when reading. This proposal is supported by evidence showing that the motor processes associated with writing reinforce a child's ability to recognize alphanumerical symbols [6]. Longcamp et al. [7] have demonstrated the importance of learning the motor representations of symbols for later visual recognition in adults. They taught participants new characters taken from the Gujarati or Bengali alphabets: half were trained using a typewriter and half by copying the characters by hand. Participants in the handwriting group were better able to recognize the new characters and retained this improved memory over time. Longcamp et al. [8] found improvement for character recognition in 5-year-olds when they learnt the letters through copying compared with typing, whereas Naka [9] showed that repeated writing of Chinese or Arabic characters by Japanese primary school children led to increased recall compared with just looking at the characters. Most recently, brain-imaging research has suggested that in pre-literate children the neural pathways associated with reading only activate in response to viewing letters if a child has previously been trained to print these letters free-form, as opposed to tracing their outline or typing them on a keyboard [10]. This implies that the activity of handwriting (and VMM) is advantageous for reading because it facilitates deeper knowledge of the component features that constitute a letter's form, aiding children's ability to distinguish and categorize letters. … There are a number of different models that attempt to capture the neural processes involved in writing and reading [11]. Nonetheless, most theorists agree that the complex skill of writing relies on a distributed set of cognitive processes that support the creation of orthographic representations. These representations are in turn used to activate the motor cortex and thereby generate hand movements [12,13].” (p.2)

Waterman, A.H., Havelka, J., Culmer, P.R., Hill, L.J.B., Mon-Williams, M. (2015). The ontogeny of visual-motor memory and its importance in handwriting and reading: A developing construct. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. 282(1798), 20140896 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0896


“Handwriting is a complex skill that, despite increasing use of computers, still plays a vital role in education. It is assumed that children will master letter formation at a relatively early stage in their school life, with handwriting fluency developing steadily until automaticity is attained. The capacity theory of writing suggests that as automaticity develops, the proportion of working memory dedicated to the mechanics of handwriting is reduced, releasing capacity for the planning, composing and editing of content. This study examined the handwriting ability of 284 mainstream primary school children and explored possible associated factors. Correlations were found between poor handwriting, lower cognitive and literacy scores, and a longer duration for handwriting tasks. Giving children the opportunity to practise their handwriting sufficiently to increase the level of automaticity may release working memory to be applied to the cognitive demands of the task and may potentially raise their level of attainment.” (p.105)

McCarney, D., Peters, L., Jackson, S., Thomas, M., & Kirby, A. (2013). Does poor handwriting conceal literacy potential in primary school children? International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 60(2), 105-118.


“A large body of data supports the view that movement plays a crucial role in letter representation and suggests that handwriting contributes to the visual recognition of letters. If so, changing the motor conditions while children are learning to write by using a method based on typing instead of handwriting should affect their subsequent letter recognition performances. In order to test this hypothesis, we trained two groups of 38 children (aged 3–5 years) to copy letters of the alphabet either by hand or by typing them. After three weeks of learning, we ran two recognition tests, one week apart, to compare the letter recognition performances of the two groups. The results showed that in the older children, the handwriting training gave rise to a better letter recognition than the typing training. … After training, we found stronger and longer lasting (several weeks) facilitation in recognizing the orientation of characters that had been written by hand compared to those typed. Functional magnetic resonance imaging recordings indicated that the response mode during learning is associated with distinct pathways during recognition of graphic shapes. Greater activity related to handwriting learning and normal letter identification was observed in several brain regions known to be involved in the execution, imagery, and observation of actions, in particular, the left Broca's area and bilateral inferior parietal lobules. Taken together, these results provide strong arguments in favour of the view that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write participate in the visual recognition of graphic shapes and letters.. … In fact, it has been reported that learning by handwriting facilitated subjects’ memorization of graphic forms (Naka & Naoi, 1995). Visual recognition was also studied by Hulme (1979), who compared children’s learning of a series of abstract graphic forms, depending on whether they simply looked at the forms or looked at them as well as traced the forms with their index finger. The tracing movements seemed to improve the children’s memorization of the graphic items. Thus, it was suggested that the visual and motor information might undergo a common representation process. Various data converge to indicate that the cerebral representation of letters might not be strictly visual, but might be based on a complex neural network including a sensorimotor component acquired while learning concomitantly to read and write (James & Gauthier, 2006; Kato et al., 1999; Longcamp et al., 2003; 2005a; Matsuo et al., 2003). Close functional relationships between the reading and writing processes might hence occur at a basic sensorimotor level, in addition to the interactions that have been described at a more cognitive level (e.g., Fitzgerald & Shanahan, 2000).” (p. 67).

Longcamp, M., Zerbato-Poudou, M.T., & Velay, J.L. (2005). The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children: A comparison between handwriting and typing. Acta Psychologia, 119, 67-79.


“In an age of increasing technology, the possibility that typing on a keyboard will replace handwriting raises questions about the future usefulness of handwriting skills. Here we present evidence that brain activation during letter perception is influenced in different, important ways by previous handwriting of letters versus previous typing or tracing of those same letters. Preliterate, five-year old children printed, typed, or traced letters and shapes, then were shown images of these stimuli while undergoing functional MRI scanning. A previously documented "reading circuit" was recruited during letter perception only after handwriting-not after typing or tracing experience. These findings demonstrate that handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Handwriting therefore may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.” (p.32)

James, K.H., & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends Neurosci Educ. 1(1), 32-42.


“Digital writing devices associated with the use of computers, tablet PCs, or mobile phones are increasingly replacing writing by hand. It is, however, controversially discussed how writing modes influence reading and writing performance in children at the start of literacy. On the one hand, the easiness of typing on digital devices may accelerate reading and writing in young children, who have less developed sensory-motor skills. On the other hand, the meaningful coupling between action and perception during handwriting, which establishes sensory-motor memory traces, could facilitate written language acquisition. In order to decide between these theoretical alternatives, for the present study, we developed an intense training program for preschool children attending the German kindergarten with 16 training sessions. Using closely matched letter learning games, eight letters of the German alphabet were trained either by handwriting with a pen on a sheet of paper or by typing on a computer keyboard. Letter recognition, naming, and writing performance as well as word reading and writing performance were assessed. Results did not indicate a superiority of typing training over handwriting training in any of these tasks. In contrast, handwriting training was superior to typing training in word writing, and, as a tendency, in word reading. The results of our study, therefore, support theories of action-perception coupling assuming a facilitatory influence of sensory-motor representations established during handwriting on reading and writing.” (p. 136)

Kiefer, M., Schuler, S., Mayer, C., Trumpp, N.N., Hille, K., Sachse, S. (2015). Handwriting or typewriting? The influence of pen or keyboard-based writing training on reading and writing performance of preschool children. Adv. Cogn. 11(4), 136-46.


“Reading and writing are related but separable processes that are crucial skills to possess in modern society. The neurobiological basis of reading acquisition and development, which critically depends on phonological processing, and to a lesser degree, beginning writing as it relates to letter perception, are increasingly being understood. Yet direct relationships between writing and reading development, in particular, with phonological processing is not well understood. The main goal of the current preliminary study was to examine individual differences in neurofunctional and neuroanatomical patterns associated with handwriting in beginning writers/readers. In 46 5-6 year-old beginning readers/writers, ratings of handwriting quality, were rank-ordered from best to worst and correlated with brain activation patterns during a phonological task using functional MRI, and with regional gray matter volume from structural T1 MRI. Results showed that better handwriting was associated negatively with activation and positively with gray matter volume in an overlapping region of the pars triangularis of right inferior frontal gyrus. This region, in particular in the left hemisphere in adults and more bilaterally in young children, is known to be important for decoding, phonological processing, and subvocal rehearsal. We interpret the dissociation in the directionality of the association in functional activation and morphometric properties in the right inferior frontal gyrus in terms of neural efficiency, and suggest future studies that interrogate the relationship between the neural mechanisms underlying reading and writing development.” (p.155)

Gimenez, P., Bugescu, N., Black, J.M., Hancock, R., Pugh, K., Nagamine M, Kutner E, Mazaika P, Hendren R, McCandliss BD, Hoeft F. (2014). Neuroimaging correlates of handwriting quality as children learn to read and write. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 155.


“What do these studies tell us about the importance of handwriting for letter learning? First, that handwriting and letter perception recruit the same network of activation in the literate brain, but before people become literate, handwriting serves to recruit this same network, implying that handwriting experience plays a crucial role in the formation of the brain network that underlies letter recognition. Further, we showed that perhaps the crucial aspect of handwriting for the development of this network is the variability in form that results from early handwriting in the young child. These findings have numerous important implications for literacy development. First, and obviously, handwriting (printing in the case of young children) is important for letter understanding and therefore for literacy development. Second, it does not matter how well a child prints his or her letters; in fact, it may be better if the child produces a lot of different versions of the same letter. Third, for children who have difficulty printing letters, viewing and tracing variable instances of a given letter may be very helpful for their letter categorization—an early step in letter learning—and subsequent literacy development.” (p.6)

James, K. H. (2017). The importance of handwriting experience on the development of the literate brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 502-508.


“Writing helps in many ways. First the physical act of forming the letters forces the child to look closely at the features that make one letter different from another. … Second, writing letters (left to right) trains the ability to read left to right. Third, saying each sound as the letter is written helps anchor the sound-to-letter connection in the memory” (p.239).

McGuinness, D. (2004). Growing a reader from birth: Your child's path from language to literacy. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.


“Writing is an immensely important and equally complex and sophisticated human skill commonly ascribed a fundamental role in children’s cognitive and language development, and a milestone on the path to literacy. Nevertheless, compared to the vast field of reading research, there has been less scientific attention devoted to the act and skill of writing. … A large body of research in neuroscience, biopsychology and evolutionary biology demonstrates that our use of hands for purposive manipulation of tools plays a constitutive role in learning and cognitive development, and may even be a significant building block in language development. Furthermore, brain imaging studies (using fMRI, i.e., functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) show that the specific hand movements involved in handwriting support the visual recognition of letters. Considering the fact that children today or in the near future may learn to write on the computer before they master the skill of handwriting, such findings are increasingly important. In this article we present evidence from experiments in neuroscience and experimental psychology that show how the bodily, sensorimotor – e.g., haptic – dimension might be a defining feature of not only the skill of writing but may in fact be an intrinsic factor contributing to low-level reading skills (e.g., letter recognition) as well, and we discuss what a shift from handwriting to keyboard writing might entail in this regard.” (p.386).

“A cursory and cross-disciplinary glance at the current state of writing research yields the impression that writing is mainly, if not exclusively, a mental (e.g., cognitive) process (MacArthur, Graham, & Fitzgerald, 2006; Torrance, van Waes, & Galbraith, 2007; Van Waes, Leijten, & Neuwirth, 2006). Cognitive approaches to the study of writing focus predominantly on the visual component of the process, and how it relates to cognitive processing. However, as evidenced by research in neuroscience, and as phenomenologically experienced by the writer him- or herself, writing is a process that requires the integration of visual, proprioceptive (haptic/kinaesthetic), and tactile information in order to be accomplished (Fogassi & Gallese, 2004). In other words, the acquisition of writing skills involves a perceptual component (learning the shape of the letter) and a graphomotor component (learning the trajectory producing the letter’s shape) (van Galen, 1991). Research has shown that sensory modalities involved in handwriting, e.g., vision and proprioception, are so intimately entwined that strong neural connections have been revealed between perceiving, reading, and writing letters in different languages and symbol/writing systems. (James & Gauthier, 2006; Kato et al., 1999; Longcamp, Anton, Roth, & Velay, 2003, 2005a; Matsuo et al., 2003; Vinter & Chartrel, 2008; Wolf, 2007).” (p.389)

Mangen, A., & Velay, J-L. (2010). Digitizing literacy: Reflections on the haptics of writing, Advances in Haptics, In Mehrdad Hosseini Zadeh (Ed.), InTech. DOI: 10.5772/8710. Retrieved from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/advances-in-haptics/digitizing-literacy-reflections-on-the-haptics-of-writing


“In parallel, children (and adults) under alphabetization also learn to draw letters of the alphabet. Indeed, writing requires fine motor coordination of hand gestures, a process guided by online feedback from somatosensory and visual systems (Margolin, 1984). In particular, gestures of handwriting are thought to be represented in the dorsal part of the premotor cortex, rostral to the primary motor cortex responsible for hand movements, i.e., a region first coarsely described by Exner as the “graphic motor image center” (see Roux et al., 2010 for a review). Exner's area is known to be activated when participants write letters but not when they copy pseudoletters (Longcamp et al., 2003). Moreover, direct brain stimulation of the same region produces a specific inability to write (Roux et al., 2009). Importantly, this region is activated simply by visual presentations of handwritten stimuli (Longcamp et al., 2003, 2008), even when they are presented unconsciously (Nakamura et al., 2012). Additionally these activations take place in the premotor cortex contra-lateral to the dominant hand for writing (Longcamp et al., 2005). These results suggest that literacy training establishes a tight functional link between the visual and motor systems for reading and writing. In fact, it has been proposed that reading and writing rely on distributed and overlapping brain regions, each showing slightly different levels of activation depending on the nature of orthography (Nakamura et al., 2012). As for the reciprocal link between the visual and motor components of this reading network, brain-damaged patients and fMRI data from normal subjects consistently suggest that top-down activation of the posterior inferior temporal region constitutes a key component for both handwriting (Nakamura et al., 2002; Rapcsak and Beeson, 2004) and reading (Bitan et al., 2005; Nakamura et al., 2007). … “Perhaps the most spectacular case in point, and the one we choose to focus on in this article, is the spontaneous link between the motor and visual systems during literacy acquisition. This link is revealed in the beginning of the alphabetization process by the classic emergence of spontaneous mirror writing, i.e., writing letters in both orientations indistinctly (Cornell, 1985). Indeed our primate visual system presents a mirror invariant representation of visual stimuli, which enables us to immediately recognize one image independently of left or right viewpoints (Rollenhagen and Olson, 2000; Vuilleumier et al., 2005; Biederman and Cooper, 2009). This generates a special difficulty to distinguish the left-right orientation of letters (e.g., b vs. d) (Orton, 1937; Corballis and Beale, 1976; Lachmann, 2002; Lachmann et al. in this special issue). One account for the emergence of mirror writing is that writing gestures can be “incorrectly” guided by mirror invariant visual representations of letters, a framework referred to as “perceptual confusion” (see Schott, 2007 for a review on this topic.In complement, recent studies demonstrate that after literacy acquisition, mirror invariance is lost for letter strings (Kolinsky et al., 2011; Pegado et al., 2011, 2014) and that the VWFA shows mirror discrimination for letters (Pegado et al., 2011); see figure upper part. Interestingly, in this special issue, Nakamura and colleagues provide evidence for the causal role of the left occipito-temporal cortex (encompassing the VWFA) in mirror discrimination by using transcranial magnetic stimulation. However, it is still an open question whether this region becomes completely independent to discriminate the correct orientation of letters or if it still depends on inputs from phonological, gestural, and/or vocal representations.” (p. 1, 3)

Pegado, F., Nakamura, K., & Hannagan, T. (2014). How does literacy break mirror invariance in the visual system? Front. Psychol. 5, 703. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00703


“In this debate about the importance of motor conditions when learning to read and write, the results of the present study are in agreement with those showing that writing letters facilitates their memorization and their subsequent recognition (Hulme, 1979; Naka and Naoi, 1995)” (p. 75).

Longcamp, M., Zerbato-Poudou, M.T., & Velay, J.L. (2005). The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children: a comparison between handwriting and typing. Acta Psychologia, 119, 67-79.


“Thus, replacing handwriting by typing during learning might have an impact on the cerebral representation of letters and thus on letter memorization. In two behavioral studies, Longcamp et al. investigated the handwriting/typing distinction, one in pre-readers (Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou et al., 2005b) and one in adults (Longcamp, Boucard, Gilhodes, & Velay, 2006). Both studies confirmed that letters or characters learned through typing were subsequently recognized less accurately than letters or characters written by hand. In a subsequent study (Longcamp et al., 2008), fMRI data showed that processing the orientation of handwritten and typed characters did not rely on the same brain areas. Greater activity related to handwriting learning was observed in several brain regions known to be involved in the execution, imagery, and observation of actions, in particular, the left Broca’s area and bilateral inferior parietal lobules. Writing movements may thus contribute to memorizing the shape and/or orientation of characters. However, this advantage of learning by handwriting versus typewriting was not always observed when words were considered instead of letters. In one study (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990), children spelled words which were learned by writing them by hand better than those learned by typing them on a computer. … Current brain imaging techniques show how neural pathways can be differentially activated from handling different writing systems: logographic writing systems seem to activate very distinctive parts of the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, particularly regions involved in what is called motor perception. For instance, experiments using fMRI have revealed how Japanese readers use different pathways – when reading kana (an efficient syllabary used mainly for foreign and/or newer words, and for names of cities and persons), the activated pathways are similar to those used by English readers. In contrast, when reading kanji – an older logographic script influenced by Chinese – Japanese readers use pathways that come close to those used by the Chinese (Wolf, 2007)” (p.389).

Mangen, A., & Velay, J-L. (2010). Digitizing literacy: Reflections on the haptics of writing, Advances in Haptics, In Mehrdad Hosseini Zadeh (Ed.), InTech. DOI: 10.5772/8710. Retrieved from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/advance ... of-writing


“Current brain imaging techniques show how neural pathways can be differentially activated from handling different writing systems: logographic writing systems seem to activate very distinctive parts of the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, particularly regions involved in what is called motor perception. For instance, experiments using fMRI have revealed how Japanese readers use different pathways – when reading kana (an efficient syllabary used mainly for foreign and/or newer words, and for names of cities and persons), the activated pathways are similar to those used by English readers. In contrast, when reading kanji – an older logographic script influenced by Chinese – Japanese readers use pathways that come close to those used by the Chinese (Wolf, 2007).” (p.389)

Mangen, A., & Velay, J-L. (2010). Digitizing literacy: Reflections on the haptics of writing, Advances in Haptics, In Mehrdad Hosseini Zadeh (Ed.), InTech. DOI: 10.5772/8710. Retrieved from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/advances-in-haptics/digitizing-literacy-reflections-on-the-haptics-of-writing


“Reading and writing are related but separable processes that are crucial skills to possess in modern society. The neurobiological basis of reading acquisition and development, which critically depends on phonological processing, and to a lesser degree, beginning writing as it relates to letter perception, are increasingly being understood. Yet direct relationships between writing and reading development, in particular, with phonological processing is not well understood. The main goal of the current preliminary study was to examine individual differences in neurofunctional and neuroanatomical patterns associated with handwriting in beginning writers/readers. In 46 5-6 year-old beginning readers/writers, ratings of handwriting quality, were rank-ordered from best to worst and correlated with brain activation patterns during a phonological task using functional MRI, and with regional gray matter volume from structural T1 MRI. Results showed that better handwriting was associated negatively with activation and positively with gray matter volume in an overlapping region of the pars triangularis of right inferior frontal gyrus. This region, in particular in the left hemisphere in adults and more bilaterally in young children, is known to be important for decoding, phonological processing, and subvocal rehearsal. We interpret the dissociation in the directionality of the association in functional activation and morphometric properties in the right inferior frontal gyrus in terms of neural efficiency, and suggest future studies that interrogate the relationship between the neural mechanisms underlying reading and writing development.” (p.155)

Gimenez, P., Bugescu, N., Black, J.M., Hancock, R., Pugh, K., Nagamine, M., Kutner, E., Mazaika, P., Hendren, R., McCandliss, B.D., & Hoeft, F. (2014). Neuroimaging correlates of handwriting quality as children learn to read and write. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 155


“The implication of the direct path finding is that instruction in word recognition skills will transfer more to handwriting than instruction in handwriting skills will transfer to word recognition. Instructional research is therefore needed to evaluate whether covariances or direct paths best characterize the relationships between handwriting and word recognition in literary instruction. This research is especially needed because multisensory approaches to language remediation (e.g., Birsch, 1999) tend to assume that integrating handwriting with word recognition instruction facilitates the learning of word recognition. However, the results for the direct paths in both structural models yield evidence of bidirectional, reciprocal relationships between word recognition and spelling. Training spelling should influence word recognition and training word recognition should influence spelling” (p.45). … This phenotypic study (see Berninger, Abbott, et al., 2001, for additional details about method and findings) provides additional support for the claim that reading and writing systems draw on common as well as on unique processes (cf. Berninger et al., 1994; Fitzgerald & Shanahan, 2000). (p.48)

Berninger, V.W., Abbott, R.D., Abbott, S.P., Graham, S., & Richards, T. (2002). Writing and reading: Connections between language by hand and language by eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 39-56.


“Handwriting is a perceptual-motor skill, acquired through repetitive practice (Feder & Majnemer, 2007), and is often presented as an example of a motor skill acquired via procedural learning processes (Dayan and Cohen, 2011 and Wilhelm et al., 2012). Handwriting production is most often characterized by performance speed (also termed ‘production fluency’, often assessed using text-copying tasks e.g., Graham et al., 2006, Hatcher et al., 2002 and Sumner et al., 2014) and legibility. Studies have found that handwriting legibility develops quickly during first-grade (ages 6- to 7-years), reaching a plateau by second-grade (Overvelde & Hulstijn, 2011). By third-grade, handwriting becomes automatic, organized, and available as a tool to facilitate the development of ideas. However, handwriting is not a straightforward motor skill (Cheng-Lai et al., 2013 and Planton et al., 2013), and has been linked with reading development (Berninger, 2009). Measures of motor proficiency that correlate with handwriting production in school aged children show an indirect effect on handwriting via reading related skills, such as orthography (Berninger, 2009 and Abbott and Berninger, 1993), underscoring reading as a mediator of the association between motor proficiency and handwriting production. … Previous studies have established that fine-motor perceptual performance predicts reading (Cameron et al., 2012, Grissmer et al., 2010, Pagani et al., 2010 and Son and Meisels, 2006) beyond the long-established contribution of executive function (Duncan et al., 2007). For example, in an analysis of several longitudinal, large-scale databases, Grissmer et al. (2010) found that performance on a copy design test in kindergarten predicted reading in fifth-grade, beyond early reading, attention, family, and child characteristics. In the current study ILT speed measurements were associated with handwriting and reading. Perhaps this association is related to the finding that similar brain regions are involved in learning perceptual-motor, motor, linguistic, and other cognitive skills. Furthermore, impaired functioning of some of these regions or networks may underlie deficits in handwriting and reading (Nicolson & Fawcett, 2011)”. (p. 265)

Julius, M.S., Rivka, M.,Shecter-Nissim, Z., & Adi-Japha, E. (2016). Children's ability to learn a motor skill is related to handwriting and reading proficiency. Learning and Individual Differences, 51, 265–272.


Handwriting’s impact on other writing skills.

“The meta-analysis by Santangelo and Graham (2015) has already shown that students with handwriting instruction would perform significantly better on writing quality, writing productivity, and writing fluency compared to their peers without handwriting instruction. The practical importance of handwriting instruction is further supported through the current meta-analysis, as we found the consistency of the relationship between handwriting fluency and writing. Although the contribution of handwriting fluency varied across different writing measures, handwriting fluency was identified as a significant factor of students’ performance on writing quality, writing fluency, and substantive quality. … Through the two studies related to the relationship of handwriting, keyboarding and writing measures, we stressed the need for incorporating handwriting as an essential part of instruction in classrooms. Handwriting and keyboarding both significantly positively associated with the development of writing, for a variety of writing measures. This further supports the simple view of writing, which emphasizes the contribution of transcription skills on text generation. Besides, handwriting did no worse than keyboarding on writing quality and actually significantly related to keyboarding performance, particularly on speed.” (p. 57, 59)

Feng, L., Lindner, A., Ji, X.R., Joshi, R.M. (2019). The roles of handwriting and keyboarding in writing: A meta-analytic review. Reading & Writing, 32, 33–63.


“Based on the Writer(s)-within-Community Model, this article focuses on the role of handwriting in writers’ composing process. With the goal of highlighting the importance of researching and promoting handwriting, we provide an extensive summary of current evidence on the topic. It is well established that an important condition for skilled writing is handwriting automaticity. As here reviewed, there are at least four reasons why poor and slow handwriting can interfere with writing: it has a negative impact on the reader, creates a mismatch between ideas generation and recording, imposes heavy demands on working memory, and turns writing into a painful experience. Grounded on this, we make the case for providing child and adolescent writers with explicit and systematic practice in handwriting through evidence-based practices. The best practices at the letter (e.g., alphabet exercises), word/sentence (e.g., copying exercises), and text (e.g., authentic writing tasks) levels are reviewed. We conclude that the integration of handwriting practices into the educational program of beginning and developing writers is particularly important. It may allow the creation of solid basis for other writing abilities to flourish and therefore contribute to the emergence of capable and motivated writers.” (p. 311)

Limpo, T., & Graham, S. (2020). The role of handwriting instruction in writers’ education. British Journal of Educational Studies, 68(3), 311-329. DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2019.1692127


“Handwriting continues to be the main way of authoring text in the classroom and is the standard method of communication used in most examinations (McMaster & Roberts, 2016; Santangelo & Graham, 2016). This remains the situation despite the growing use of technology (such as tablets and laptops) within educational settings. This means that children who struggle in acquiring age-appropriate handwriting skills are at a considerable disadvantage in a number of different ways. For example, children who struggle with the mechanics of handwriting (so that the skill is not automated) may have reduced cognitive capacity for other mentally-demanding tasks such as generating creative ideas (Medwell, Strand, & Wray, 2009). Furthermore, a ‘presentation effect’ has been noted, whereby pieces of writing with the same content are scored more harshly when the writing is less legible (Graham, Harris, & Herbert, 2011; Santangelo & Graham, 2016). More generally, the process of handwriting has been shown to play an important role in the development of children’s cognitive and literacy skills (Frolek Clark & Luze, 2014; Graham, Struck, Santoro, & Berninger, 2006; Longcamp et al., 2008; Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou, & Velay, 2005; Mangen & Velay, 2010; McCarney, Peters, Jackson, Thomas, & Kirby, 2013; Waterman, Havelka, Culmer, Hill, & Mon-Williams, 2014). It is therefore unsurprising that handwriting ability has been found to predict academic attainment (Dinehart, 2015; McCarney et al., 2013).” (p. 1, 2)

Shire, K.A., Atkinson, J., Williams, E.A., Pickavance, J., Magallón, S., Hill, L.J.B., Waterman, A.H., Sugden, D.A., & Mon-Williams, M. (2020). Developing and implementing a school-led motor intervention for children with handwriting difficulties. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, DOI: 10.1080/19411243.2020.1837047


“Studies of typically developing children have found that the quality of handwriting shows a rapid development between ages six and seven, reaches a plateau between ages seven and eight and improves further in that handwriting becomes automated and organized between ages eight and nine (Feder & Majnemer, 2007). Automation is important for handwriting and other academic skills (e.g., reading, arithmetic). For example, if handwriting is unautomated, there will be a reduction in both the quality and quantity of text (Connelly & Hurtst, 2001; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). Handwriting ability becomes automated when the process can be quickly and precisely executed without the need for conscious attention (Connelly & Hurtst, 2001; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). Acquisition of a new skill is generally associated with a decrease in the need for effortful control over performance, which leads to the development of automation.” (p.1498)

Stievano, P., Michetti, S., McClintock, S.M., Levi, G., & Scalisi, M.G. (2016). Handwriting fluency and visuospatial generativity at primary school. Reading and Writing, 29, 1497–1510.


“Collectively, the research findings supported prior research showing the value of teaching handwriting for transfer to other written language skills such as spelling and some aspects of composing early in written language development of English speaking beginning writers (e.g. Berninger et al., 1997; Graham et al., 2000; Jones & Christensen, 1999). Specifically, the research findings provided evidence for the Slingerland method, which has been used by many teachers over the years, for teaching handwriting linked to spelling and composing. Moreover, a method of providing handwriting instruction embedded in other literacy activities, which previously was thought to be needed only for students with specific learning disabilities, has been shown to benefit typically developing writers in the general education classroom, as originally envisioned by Slingerland (1974). … Additional research is needed on (a) how long to teach one format—manuscript or cursive— before introducing the other format, and (b) how long to continue the review and practice of handwriting and related skills throughout the elementary and middle school grades. Indeed some cultures and educational systems begin with cursive format. A limitation of the current research is that it may be specific to schools and cultures that introduce manuscript in kindergarten and first grade and defer cursive instruction until later grades (typically third), whereas in some schools and cultures cursive is introduced first. Therefore future research should investigate the best ways to teach handwriting with transfer to spelling and composing in mind to beginning writers and readers (a) within the context of educational practices of specific different countries and written languages, and (b) for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, not just middle class as in the current studies, and ethnic backgrounds, not just primarily of European heritage as in the current studies. These studies did not address whether manuscript or cursive should be taught first but rather the advantage of teaching the same format for at least two years until mastered sufficiently to support sustained handwriting.” (p. 311-312)

Wolf, B., Abbott, R. D., & Berninger, V. W. (2017). Effective beginning handwriting instruction: multi-modal, consistent format for 2 years, and linked to spelling and composing. Reading and Writing, 30(2), 299-317. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5300752/pdf/nihms805554.pdf


“Accumulating evidence indicates handwriting automaticity is related to the development of effective writing skills. The present study examined the levels of handwriting automaticity of Australian children at the end of kindergarten and the amount and type of writing instruction they experienced before entering first grade. The current study involved 177 kindergarten children enrolled in 23 classrooms from seven government-funded primary schools in Western Australia. Individual child level data (e.g., handwriting automaticity and word-reading skills) were collected and teachers were asked to complete a survey assessing the amount of time and types of writing activities developed in their classrooms (e.g., teaching basic skills and teaching writing processes). Hierarchical linear models were conducted to examine total variance attributable to child and classroom levels. Results showed a total variance of approximately 20% in children’s handwriting automaticity attributable to differences among classrooms when gender and word-reading skills were controlled for. Large variability was noted in the amount and type of writing instruction reported by a subset of participating teachers. Handwriting automaticity was associated with the teaching of revising strategies but not with the teaching of handwriting. Implications for writing development and writing instruction are discussed.” (p.1)

Malpique, A.A., Pino-Pasternak, D., & Valcan, D. (2017). Handwriting automaticity and writing instruction in Australian kindergarten: An exploratory study. Reading and Writing, In Press. 1-24. See at https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s11145-017-9753-1?author_access_token=IMwCbRL1y3KSBow2-RRtvve4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY49l4mCr4kPaAkkrzDd4s_jBpTaZzj9DHkua_iROqHYuwdTcPwBdonmpfTP1A_0C2Ju8m4-IJTmsCYtc5oYqYml2ZVjpvaSCMjMBfbyUk1Myw==


‘Off to a good start’ is not enough to assume that children’s ongoing written literacy learning will develop and progress without sustained, direct handwriting instruction. This finding is underscored consistently by others in the research community (Graham, 2009; Moats, n.d.). Our findings corroborate those reported by others. There is something to be said about handwriting that demonstrates control of execution that suggests more than a matter of neatness. Far more important is its connection to fluency and in turn, the ability to unlock the higher order and more complex skills associated with text generation, in Berninger’s (1999) simple view of writing model.” (p.56)

Roessingh, H., & Nordstokke, D. (2019). Handwriting at Grade 3: More than a matter of ‘neatness’ Language and Literacy, 21(3), 38-63.


“This meta-analysis examined true- and quasi-experimental intervention studies conducted with K-12 students to determine if teaching handwriting enhanced legibility and fluency and resulted in better writing performance. When compared to no instruction or non-handwriting instructional conditions, teaching handwriting resulted in statistically greater legibility (ES = 0.59) and fluency (ES = 0.63). Motor instruction did not produce better handwriting skills (ES = 0.10 for legibility and −0.07 for fluency), but individualizing handwriting instruction (ES = 0.69) and teaching handwriting via technology (ES = 0.85) resulted in statistically significant improvements in legibility. Finally, handwriting instruction produced statistically significant gains in the quality (ES = 0.84), length (ES = 1.33), and fluency of students’ writing (ES = 0.48). The findings from this meta-analysis provide support for one of the assumptions underlying the Simple View of Writing (Berninger et al., Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 291–304, 2002) frontal gyrus text transcription skills are an important ingredient in writing and writing development” (p. 225)

Santangelo, T., & Graham, S. (2016). A comprehensive meta-analysis of handwriting instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 28, 225–265.


“The most striking result was the strength of relations between handwriting fluency and both macro-organization and productivity for the fourth grade sample. We imagined that handwriting fluency might place a strong constraint on all aspects of writing for first-grade students, but did not expect it to be as strongly related to written composition for fourth-grade students. However, Graham et al. (1997) reported standardized path coefficients in the range of .5–.7 from handwriting fluency to composition quality as well as composition fluency for large samples of students from first through sixth grade. What might explain the striking relations between handwriting fluency and written composition, including macro aspects of organization of writing for fourth grade students? One possibility is that an individual who is fluent at handwriting fluency has more attentional resources that can be devoted to planning and composing when writing compared to an individual who is not fluent at handwriting and must devote attentional resources to this aspect of writing. Flowers and Hayes (1980) provided an apt description of the processing demands of writing: As a dynamic process, writing is an act of dealing with an excessive number of simultaneous demands or constraints. Viewed this way, a writer in the act is a thinker on full-time cognitive overload (p. 33, cited by Torrance & Galbraith, 2006). A large literature that includes both correlational and experimental methods supports this explanation of relations between handwriting fluency and higher-level aspects of writing (Alves, Castro, Sousa, & Stromqvist, 2007; Chanquoy & Alamargot, 2002; Christensen, 2005; Connelly, Campbell, MacLean, & Barnes, 2006; Connelly, Dockrell, & Barnett, 2005; Dockrell, Lindsay, & Connelly, 2009; Graham et al., 1997; McCutchen, 2006; Olive, Alves, & Castro, in press; Olive & Kellogg, 2002; Peverly, 2006; Torrance & Galbraith, 2006). The argument that handwriting fluency affects higher level aspects of writing because of capacity limitations is analogous to that made to explain the relation between fluent decoding and comprehension” (p.216-7).

Wagner, R. K., Puranik, C. S., Foorman, B., Foster, E., Wilson, L. G., Tschinkel, E., & Kantor, P. T. (2011). Modeling the development of written language. Reading and Writing, 24(2), 203–220.


“In addition, results of instructional studies imply causal relationships between handwriting and other written language skills. Teaching automatic letter writing improved compositional fluency: Students wrote texts that were longer (Berninger, Abbott, Whitaker, Sylvester, & Nolen, 1995) and were completed in less time (Berninger, Vaughan, Abbott, Abbott, Brooks, Rogan, et al., 1997; Berninger, Rutberg, Abbott, Garcia, Anderson-Youngstrom, Brooks, et al., 2006; Graham, Harris, & Fink, 2000). Teaching handwriting has also shown transfer to improved word reading (e.g., Berninger, Dunn, Lin, & Shimada, 2004; Berninger et al., 1997, 2006; Dunn & Miller, 2009)” (p. 494).

Todd, L. R., Berninger, V.W., Stock, P., Altemeier, L., Trivedi, P., & Maravilla, K. R. (2011). Differences between good and poor child writers on fMRI contrasts for writing newly taught and highly practiced letter forms. Reading and Writing, 24(5), 493-516.


“There is a strong relationship between orthographic–motor integration related to handwriting and students' ability to produce creative and well‐structured written text. This relationship is thought to be due to the cognitive load which results when attention is required by writers to write letters and words on the page. Lack of automaticity in orthographic–motor integration means that writers do not have sufficient cognitive resources to accomplish the more demanding aspects of text production such as ideation, text monitoring, and pragmatic awareness. A systematic handwriting program can significantly improve the quality of written text by young children experiencing problems with orthographic–motor integration. This study investigated the effectiveness of a handwriting program in remediating older students' problems in orthographic–motor integration and consequently enhancing their written language skills. Two groups of students in Grades 8 and 9 were provided with either practice in handwriting or daily completion of a written journal. There were no differences between the two groups at pre‐test. However, at post‐test, the handwriting group had significantly higher scores in orthographic–motor integration as well as for the length and quality of the text they wrote.” (p. 441)

Christensen, C.A. (2005). The role of orthographic–motor integration in the production of creative and well‐structured written text for students in secondary school. Educational Psychology, 25(5), 441-453.


“Evidence is accumulating that handwriting has an important role in written composition. In particular, handwriting automaticity appears to relate to success in composition. This relationship has been little explored in British contexts and we currently have little idea of what threshold performance levels might be. In this paper, we report on two linked studies that attempted to identify performance levels in handwriting automaticity for children at two ages, below which their success in writing composition might be considered to be at risk. We conclude by suggesting interpolated levels for children at different ages, although we recognise the tentative nature of these suggestions.” (p. 34)

Medwell, J., & Wray, D. (2014). Handwriting automaticity: The search for performance thresholds. Language and Education 28(1), 34-51.


“Handwriting speed is important to the quantity and quality of children's essays. This article reviews research on adult essay writing and lecture note taking that extends this finding to adult writers. For both children and adults, research suggests that greater transcription speed increases automaticity of word production, which in turn lessens the burden on working memory (WM) and enables writers to use the limited capacity of WM for the metacognitive processes needed to create good reader-friendly prose. These findings suggest that models of writing, which emphasize the metacognitive components of writing primarily, should be expanded to include transcription (handwriting automaticity and spelling). The article also evaluates the implications of fluent handwriting to WM, given that even the most fluent handwriting can consume some WM resources and recent research and theory has highlighted the importance of WM to quality writing. Finally, the implications of handwriting and WM to assessment and instruction are discussed.” (p.197)

Peverly, S.T. (2006). The importance of handwriting speed in adult writing. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(1), 197-216.


“The development of handwriting speed and legibility in 900 children in Grades 1–9 was examined. Each student completed 3 writing tasks: copying a paragraph, writing a narrative, and writing an essay. The children's speed of handwriting on the copying task typically increased from one grade to the next, but the pace of development was uneven during the intermediate grades and leveled off in Grade 9 as speed began to approximate adult speeds. In contrast, improvement in handwriting legibility on the 3 writing tasks was primarily limited to the intermediate grades. Girls' handwriting was more legible than boys' handwriting, and the girls wrote faster in Grades 1, 6, and 7. Right-handers were also faster than left-handers, but there was no difference in the legibility of their written products. Finally, handwriting speed contributed significantly to the prediction of legibility on the narrative and expository writing tasks, but the contribution was small, accounting for only 1% of the variance.” (p. 42)

Graham, S., Weintraub, N., Berninger, V., & Shafer, W. (1998). Development of handwriting speed and legibility in grades 1-9. Journal of Educational Research, 92, 42-52.


“The accumulated evidence also supports the proposition that handwriting and spelling play an important role in writing development (Graham, 2006b). First, handwriting and spelling are easier or less cognitively demanding for more skilled than less skilled writers. Second, there is a large body of research demonstrating that handwriting and spelling improve with age. For example, we found that children’s handwriting fluency improves 10 letters or more per minute each year up to high school (Graham, Berninger, Weintraub, & Schafer, 1998). Third, individual differences in handwriting and spelling predict how well students write. In a study with 600 children, we found these two skills accounted for 25% and 42% of the variance in writing quality at the primary and intermediate grades, and 66% and 41% of the variance in writing output at these same grade levels, respectively (Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997). Fourth, eliminating these skills through dictation has a positive impact on the writing of specific groups of writers. For instance, MacArthur and Graham (1987) reported that students with LD produced qualitatively better text when dictating stories versus writing them by hand. Finally, there is a small body of studies showing that handwriting or spelling instruction can enhance writing performance. We found that providing extra instruction in these skills to young struggling writers increased how much they wrote and resulted in improved sentence construction skills (Graham, Harris,&Fink, 2000; Graham, Harris, & Fink-Chorzempa, 2002). Graham (2006b) also offered a tentative proposition that sentence construction skills shape writing development. There is some evidence that skilled writers produce more complex sentences than less skilled writers, although these findings do not hold for all comparisons (e.g., good versus poor readers). Developing writers’ sentences become increasingly complex with age, although this finding varies by writing task. Sentence skills are correlated with writing performance (at least in some studies), but this appears to vary by genre. Lastly, efforts to improve sentence construction skills of developing writers can enhance their writing performance, if the right type of instruction is provided. For example, Saddler and Graham (2005) reported that sentence combining instruction had a positive impact on the quality of text produced by struggling writers.” (p.61)

Graham, S., & Harris, K.R. (2009). Almost 30 years of writing research: Making sense of it all with The Wrath of Khan. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24(2), 58–68.


So, cursive or manuscript? Does it matter?

“Unlike some European countries such as Italy and France that teach cursive writing from the beginning of formal schooling, in the United States manuscript writing (printing) is taught from kindergarten to second grade, and cursive is not introduced until third grade; and typically cursive writing is not taught after fourth grade. Thereafter, most children use only manuscript printing or a mix of manuscript and cursive (Graham, Berninger, & Weintraub, 1998)” (p.495)…. “Alphabetic languages with grapheme-phoneme correspondences may have been invented because writers discovered that written symbols associated with speech sounds require less brain resources and can be produced more efficiently (i.e., requiring activation of fewer brain regions and needing less energy to function). This link between letter writing and phonological access may explain why children improved in reading real words and orthographic coding when taught word decoding and letter writing in tandem compared to when taught decoding alone without letter writing instruction (Berninger, Dunn, Lin, & Shimada, 2004; Dunn & Miller, 2009). Automatic letter writing, with its automatic access to phonology (lexical names and sublexical phonemes) may also facilitate learning of word spelling. … Understanding writing development is complex because writing brains are dynamically constructed as brains interact with the environment (Berninger & Richards, 2002; James & Gauthier, 2006). In addition, writing involves many other cognitive processes besides transcription (Alamargot & Chanquoy, 2001; Fayol, 1994, 1999, 2008; Fayol, Jisa, & Mazur-Palandre, 2008; Hayes, 2009; Hayes & Chenoweth, 2006; Hayes & Flower, 1980).” (p.511-512).

Richards, T., Berninger, V., Stock, P., Altemeier, L., Trivedi, P., & Maravilla, K. (2011). Differences between good and poor child writers on fMRI contrasts for writing newly taught and highly practiced letter forms. Reading and Writing, 24(5), 493-516.


“Additional research is needed on (a) how long to teach one format—manuscript or cursive—before introducing the other format, and (b) how long to continue the review and practice of handwriting and related skills throughout the elementary and middle school grades. Indeed some cultures and educational systems begin with cursive format. A limitation of the current research is that it may be specific to schools and cultures that introduce manuscript in kindergarten and first grade and defer cursive instruction until later grades (typically third), whereas in some schools and cultures cursive is introduced first. Therefore future research should investigate the best ways to teach handwriting with transfer to spelling and composing in mind to beginning writers and readers (a) within the context of educational practices of specific different countries and written languages, and (b) for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, not just middle class as in the current studies, and ethnic backgrounds, not just primarily of European heritage as in the current studies. These studies did not address whether manuscript or cursive should be taught first but rather the advantage of teaching the same format for at least two years until mastered sufficiently to support sustained handwriting. This should be kept in mind in interpreting and generalizing the results.” (p.312)

Wolf, B., Abbott, R.D., & Berninger, V.W. (2017). Effective beginning handwriting instruction: Multi-modal, consistent format for 2 years, and linked to spelling and composing. Reading and Writing, 30(2), 299–317.


“There is increasing evidence that mastering handwriting skills play an important role on academic achievement. This is a slow process that begins in kindergarten: at this age, writing is very similar to drawing (i.e. scribbles); from there, it takes several years before children are able to write competently. Many studies support the idea that motor training plays a crucial role to increase mental representations of the letters, but relatively little is known about the specific relation between handwriting skills and teaching practices. This study investigated the efficacy of cursive writing teaching. The sample comprised 141 students attending eight classes of the first grade of primary school, all with typical development, not exhibiting any cognitive or sensory disabilities, nor displaying motor disorders that could significantly hinder the execution of the writing task. We tested whether the development of academic writing skills could be effectively supported by training strategies focusing on cursive writing. All rules and characteristics of the letters were explained by demonstrating the correct writing movements, based on the idea that movement learning becomes more valuable when children begin to connect the letters in order to write individual words. Growth models on pre-, post- and follow-up measures showed that performance on prerequisites and writing and reading skills were better overall among the children in the intervention group as compared to control group.” (p.1)

"...Nevertheless, we believe that working on the quality of the practice is fundamental; otherwise it would be highly improbable for writing feature rates to increase without negatively affecting readability. Concerning this feature of education, further investigation is needed to better understand the relation between handwriting practice and the development of writing abilities during primary school. Moreover, our study introduces an innovative fact not previously dealt with in recent literature: that children who adopted the cursive type as the only handwriting type showed a higher writing rate than pupils using more types. This fact contrasts with the literature which states that the cursive type decreases writing rates [51]. We also observed that pupils using cursive as the only handwriting type had better results in producing orthographically correct words than students using more types. As shown by other studies [20], it seems that the grapho-motor component affects word production management, especially for writers in the learning phase. In addition, we observed that children who only learned the cursive type made faster improvements in reading. This fact may be explained by a major focus of active resources on the lexical access task. The very nature of the cursive type may help students to easily memorize and recall a word unit, since in the cursive type the letters of a word are linked one to another, while in print type they are separated [35].

In conclusion, like other studies [10,11,35], our work tends to demonstrate how, upon training, writing and reading abilities improve in terms of written letter rate (students write faster), orthography (words are written correctly), and reading (students read and understand better). However, writing quality is a parameter to be investigated thoroughly in further studies. Considering writing type, we can observe how students who learn every type simultaneously do not achieve results as good as those achieved by cursive-only students. This finding supports the idea that the development of writing abilities in primary school is better favored by the teaching of a single type of handwriting, namely cursive handwriting. Furthermore, teaching of the cursive type generates improvement in graphic and orthographic word production by the end of the school year. A remarkable feature to be taken into account is the rapid improvement of basic skills in the intervention group as compared to the control group" (p.14)

Semeraro, C., Coppola, G., Cassibba, R., & Lucangeli, D. (2019). Teaching of cursive writing in the first year of primary school: effect on reading and writing skills. PLoS One, 14(2), e0209978. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209978.


“Reading and writing are major interrelated skills that partly determine academic achievement. The question of how to teach these abilities is an important issue for researchers and practitioners alike. In the present study, we explored the impact of handwriting learning on letter knowledge and reading. We compared three groups of schoolchildren from Quebec and France, who differed in the handwriting style they learned in first grade. In the manuscript group, pupils were exposed to only one type of allograph in reading and writing. In the cursive group, pupils learned to write in cursive, but encountered printed letters in books. In the mixed group, pupils learned to write in both cursive and manuscript. The results showed that the manuscript and mixed groups performed better than the cursive group on measurements of letter knowledge. The mixed group achieved the highest reading scores.” (p. 88)

Bara, F., Morin M. F., Alamargot, D., & Bosse, M. L. (2016). Learning different allographs through handwriting: The impact on letter knowledge and reading acquisition. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 88–94.


“Dr. Berninger said the research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing. Using a keyboard, and especially learning the positions of the letters without looking at the keys, she said, might well take advantage of the fibers that crosscommunicate in the brain, since unlike with handwriting, children will use both hands to type. “What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Dr. Berninger, “manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.””

Klass, P. (2016). Why handwriting is still essential in the keyboard age. NY Times, June 20, 2016 http://buildingrti.utexas.org/sites/default/files/documents/WhyHandwritingIsStillEssentialintheKeyboardAge_NY_TIMES.pdf


“Fast and accurate visual recognition of single characters is crucial for efficient reading. We explored the possible contribution of writing memory to character recognition processes. We evaluated the ability of adults to discriminate new characters from their mirror images after being taught how to produce the characters either by traditional pen-and-paper writing or with a computer keyboard. After training, we found stronger and longer lasting (several weeks) facilitation in recognizing the orientation of characters that had been written by hand compared to those typed. Functional magnetic resonance imaging recordings indicated that the response mode during learning is associated with distinct pathways during recognition of graphic shapes. Greater activity related to handwriting learning and normal letter identification was observed in several brain regions known to be involved in the execution, imagery, and observation of actions, in particular, the left Broca's area and bilateral inferior parietal lobules. Taken together, these results provide strong arguments in favor of the view that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write participate in the visual recognition of graphic shapes and letters.” (p.802)

Longcamp, M., Boucard, C., Gilhodes, J. C., Anton, J. L., Roth, M., Nazarian, B., et al. (2008). Learning through hand-or typewriting influences visual recognition of new graphic shapes: behavioral and functional imaging evidence. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 20, 802–815. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20504


Writing to spell/Spelling to write

Spelling and handwriting are different processes; however, they are learned simultaneously, and numerous studies have shown that they interact. Besides the commonly reported presence of a spelling deficit, previous studies have indicated that handwriting difficulties can also be detected in children with dyslexia. Despite this, this issue has not been sufficiently explored. The goal of the study was to investigate the potential handwriting difficulties met by children with dyslexia and how they might relate to spelling difficulties and to basic graphic skills. Twenty children with dyslexia were compared with a chronological age-matched group and reading level-matched group. Participants completed a spelling-to-dictation task of words and pseudowords, an alphabet writing task, and two graphic tasks. Results showed that children with dyslexia were less accurate and slower in preparing and executing the written response than typically developing peers, but they showed the spelling level expected given their reading ability. Children with dyslexia also performed similarly to children with the same reading level in the alphabet and graphic tasks, with both groups being slower and less fluent than the control age group. Altogether, the results suggest the existence of a delay in the development of handwriting and graphic fluency related to the level of reading and spelling skills rather than the presence of a core deficit affecting fine motor skills in dyslexia. In this sense, it seems that reduced literacy skills can affect the development of other skills that are usually enhanced with handwriting practice, such as fine motor skills.” (p.565)

Martínez-García, C., Afonso, O., Cuetos, F. et al. (2021). Handwriting production in Spanish children with dyslexia: Spelling or motor difficulties? Reading & Writing, 34, 565–593. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/10.1007/s11145-020-10082-w


“The present study adds to the growing literature showing strong orthographic learning resulting from spelling practice (Conrad, 2008; Shahar-Yames and Share, 2008; Ouellette, 2010). The question remains, beyond individual modality differences, what explains the strong orthographic learning that occurs through spelling practice? Ouellette and Sénéchal (2008) have suggested that the benefit of spelling lies in its highly analytical nature that forces the child to consider each and every sound in a word. In producing the spelling, the child then must focus on each and every letter in their production. The result is that children attend to both the phonology and orthography of the word in more detail than they would need to during reading. Consequently, orthographic learning through spelling may result in representations that are more complete than would be created through reading (Conrad, 2008). As discussed by Perfetti and Hart (2002), while reading may proceed with partial representations, accurate spelling cannot. The analytic nature of spelling also promotes student engagement which can further benefit learning (Ouellette et al., 2013)” (p..

Ouellette, G., & Tims, T. (2014). The write way to spell: Printing vs. typing effects on orthographic learning. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(117), 1-11. http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00117/abstract


“This study also lends support to the hypothesis that strong links between the reading and writing systems exist at the word level (word recognition - spelling) and at the text level (comprehension composition)” (p.48).

Berninger, V.W., Abbott, R.D., Abbott, S.P., Graham, S., & Richards, T. (2002). Writing and reading: Connections between language by hand and language by eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 39-56.


“Our study has some implications for educational practice. The legibility of children’s writing impacts their educational experiences and outcomes (e.g., Feder and Majnemer, 2007), and thus it is important for educators to understand the causes and possible steps to remediating poor legibility. The present study shows clearly that handwriting legibility improves with spelling ability more so than with the handwriting practice that accrues with years of schooling and maturation. Moreover, our study suggests that it is learning to write the specific orthographic patterns of a given language that is particularly beneficial to handwriting development. Thus, it seems advisable for educators to focus on handwriting legibility, not only in dedicated handwriting lessons, but also during spelling instruction, and for bilingually educated children, and second language/orthography learners, handwriting should be a focus during spelling instruction in both taught languages. In addition, during dedicated handwriting practice, it would be beneficial to include spelling patterns of the language(s) of education. That is, taking the Welsh-English example, while handwriting skills acquired in the context of Welsh literacy lessons should generalize to some extent to handwriting quality in English, our results suggest that English spelling practice may confer even stronger benefits on handwriting in English. Finally, when children present with poor handwriting, this may be a signal to teachers of underlying spelling difficulties.” (p.16)

Caravolas, M., Downing, C. R., Hadden, C. L., & Wynne, C. (2020). Handwriting legibility and its relationship to spelling ability, age, and orthography-specific knowledge: Evidence from monolingual and bilingual children. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1097.


“(Traditional spelling programs) do not focus on making the spelling image of a word memorable through the use of all senses by simultaneously presenting grouped words orally, visually and through the motor movements of writing (Hulme 1981; Montgomery 1981; Moats & Farrell 1999) (p.328).

Post, Y. V., & Carreker, S. (2002). Orthographic similarity and phonological transparency in spelling. Reading and Writing. An Interdisciplinary Journal, 15, 317–340.


“However, transcription, including handwriting, is necessary for translating higher-order cognitive processes to spell words and create written text. The brain is a mediating variable during handwriting, spelling, and composing, but other child variables (e.g., interest and motivation) and environmental variables (e.g., instruction) also matter in writing acquisition (Berninger & Richards, 2009). Explicit instruction in letter writing helps developing writers learn to spell words, which are used to communicate ideas and construct the written text to express and elaborate upon ideas (Berninger & Fayol, 2008; Berninger et al., 2009b, c; Hayes, 2009; Hayes & Berninger, 2009).” (p.512)

Richards, T., Berninger, V., Stock, P., Altemeier, L., Trivedi, P., & Maravilla, K. (2011). Differences between good and poor child writers on fMRI contrasts for writing newly taught and highly practiced letter forms. Reading and Writing, 24(5), 493-516.


“In a series of studies, Hulme and Bradley (Bradley, 1981; Hulme & Bradley, 1984; see also Prior, Frye, & Fletcher, 1987) demonstrated the superiority of the Simultaneous Oral Spelling method, in which children learn to spell a word by pronouncing a word written and spoken for them, pronouncing the name of each letter while writing the word, and then repeating the whole word again (see Bradley, 1980, 1981). In a test of the efficacy of the components of the Simultaneous Oral Spelling method, Hulme and Bradley (1984) found that for a normally achieving group of young children, the motoric element of the method seemed to be the important factor (children performed better when writing the words than when using letters on cards to spell them); whereas for an older group of reading-disabled children, the combination of writing and letter naming seemed to be critical. Hulme (1981; Hulme, Monk & Ives, 1987) has carried out an extensive series of studies demonstrating that the motoric activity involved in tracing or writing various stimuli can facilitate young children's memory performance (see also Endo, 1988). These results are congruent with the work on word learning and led Hulme et al. (1987) to tentatively conclude that "It is, perhaps, not unreasonable to speculate that the motor activity involved in learning to write may be beneficial to the development of basic reading skills’” (p. 159).

“ … spelling is usually conceived of as a task that requires a more complete and precise orthographic representation than that required by reading (see Ehri, 1987; Stanovich, 1992). Thus, it may be that reading does not expose subtle differences in the quality of the orthographic lexicon in the same way that spelling does, perhaps because the advantages of redundancy are greater in the former task and thus the existence of precise orthographic representations is less critical” (p.162).

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1990). Early spelling acquisition: Writing beats the computer. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 159-162.


Are we doing enough effective writing instruction?

“The teachers’ responses raised some concerns about the quality of writing instruction third- and fourth-grade students receive, as teachers reported spending only 15 min a day teaching writing and students spend only 25 min a day at school writing. While teachers indicated they used a variety of evidence based writing practices in their classroom, a majority of these were applied infrequently. Further, three out of every four teachers reported that their college teacher preparation programs provided no or minimal instruction on how to teach writing.” (p.929)

Brindle, M., Graham, S., Harris, K.R., & Hebert, M. (2016). Third and fourth grade teacher’s classroom practices in writing: A national survey. Reading & Writing, 29, 929–954.


“Teachers should consider explicitly teaching transcription skills for struggling beginning writers using research-based interventions. In this study, students received a research-based early writing intervention that comprised a variety of handwriting and spelling activities, which likely contributed to students’ improved writing performance. However, research-based intervention may not be sufficient for all students all of the time. In this study, data indicated the need for multiple instructional decisions, about 90% of which were to either increase a student’s goal or change instruction. We strongly recommend that teachers collect ongoing progress-monitoring data and use those data to make instructional decisions based on students’ responsiveness to intervention.” (p.14)

Jung, P-G., Kristen L. McMaster, K.L., & del Mas, R.C. (2016). Effects of early writing intervention delivered within a data-based instruction framework. Exceptional Children, 1–17. DOI: 10.1177/0014402916667586


“Research indicates that little time is devoted to writing and teaching writing in primary classrooms. Cutler and Graham (2008) found Years 1–3 teachers allocated more time teaching basic writing skills (e.g., grammar, spelling, and handwriting) than teaching writing processes (e.g., planning and revising). In the time dedicated to basic-skills instruction, teachers reported spending less time teaching handwriting (46 min) than teaching grammar usage and spelling per week (80 min and 74 min, respectively). Similar findings were reported by Dockrell, Marshall and Wyse (2016) when investigating primary-school (K-2) teachers’ practices in the UK, with teachers allocating more time teaching basic writing skills (e.g., spelling and vocabulary) than teaching writing processes (e.g., planning and revising). Malpique et al. (2017) also found that kindergarten children were spending below the recommended 30 min of daily writing practice in kindergarten Australian classrooms and that teachers were spending significantly more time teaching basic writing skills, such as spelling. Statistically significant variations in the amount of writing instruction have been consistently reported across studies, and these findings have been corroborated by limited observational studies (Coker Jr et al., 2018).”  … research with primary students (Graham, Bollinger et al., 2012) suggests that writing instruction in early education should include the teaching of basic writing skills and the teaching of writing processes in the same instructional protocol. Considering the variability in the amount of time for writing and teaching writing, findings from the present study suggested a lack of uniformity in writing instruction in Australian primary classrooms, with potential consequences on students’ writing development. Simultaneously, these findings corroborate the WWC model (Graham, 2018) and the premise that there is variability across writing communities and within writing communities in which writing is developed, potentially associated with community members’ knowledge, beliefs and values about writing (Graham, 2019). Experimental studies are clearly needed to examine the extent to which variability in time for writing and teaching writing is explained by teachers’ beliefs and knowledge about writing instruction.” (p 788, 800)

Malpique, A. A., Pino-Pasternak, D., & Roberto, M. S. (2020). Writing and reading performance in Year 1 Australian classrooms: Associations with handwriting automaticity and writing instruction. Reading and Writing, 33(3), 783-805.


“The multicomponent nature of writing demands that teachers have a comprehensive toolkit of instructional strategies to meet the individual needs of children who experience difficulty with writing. Findings of this review indicate that such tools do exist and that a number of intervention options are supported by high-quality research and strong evidence of effects. These findings are encouraging given the importance of early intervention in preventing long term negative consequences of writing difficulties. In addition to a toolkit of research-based early writing interventions, it is essential to identify students with writing difficulties accurately, diagnose problems, and monitor progress to provide timely and appropriate interventions. … Practitioners may be especially interested in the finding that explicit transcription instruction (handwriting and spelling) leads to improved writing composition. Indeed, such foundational skills–based instruction might be needed for students who struggle with writing, to free up cognitive attention needed to engage in the more complex writing tasks that are currently required in school. These skills are often underemphasized in state standards and popular curricula (e.g., those that use a writer’s workshop approach) yet are essential for many students’ attainment of writing proficiency.” (p.3777)

McMaster, K.L., Kunkel, A., Shin, J., Pyung-Gang Jung, P-G., & Lembke, E. (2018). Early writing intervention: A best evidence synthesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(4), 363–380.


Does teacher training include evidence-based writing instruction?

“We contacted a random sample of 900 elementary teachers (grades K-5) in the United States to inquire about their use of writing to support students’ learning of classroom content or concepts. Characteristics (i.e., grade level, public v. private school, school locale, school enrollment) of the 150 teachers who responded to our survey were not statistically different from the entire sample surveyed. More than two-thirds (67%) of responding teachers reported receiving minimal to no college preparation on how to use writing to support their students’ learning.” (p. 1)

Gillespie Rouse, A., Kiuhara, S.A. & Kara, Y. (2021). Writing-to-learn in elementary classrooms: A national survey of U.S. teachers. Reading and Writing, https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/10.1007/s11145-021-10148-3


Writing issues in learning disabilities

“There is a general consensus that writing is a challenging task for students with learning disabilities (LD). To identify more precisely the extent and depth of the challenges that these students experience with writing, the authors conducted a meta-analysis comparing the writing performance of students with LD to their typically achieving peers. From 53 studies that yielded 138 effect sizes, the authors calculated average weighted effect sizes, showing that students with LD obtained lower scores than their peers on the following writing outcomes: writing quality (–1.06); organization (–1.04); vocabulary (–0.89); sentence fluency (–0.81); conventions of spelling, grammar, and handwriting (–1.14); genre elements (–0.82); output (–0.87); and motivation (–0.42).” (p. 1)

Graham, S., Collins, A.A., & Rigby-Wills, H. (2016). Writing characteristics of students with learning disabilities and typically achieving peers: A meta-analysis. Exceptional Children, 1–20, DOI: 10.1177/0014402916664070


“When the focus of the analysis narrows to just weaker writers, the evidence from this meta-analysis does not support the claim that the process writing approach is an effective method for improving quality of writing. The average weighted ES in five studies was 0.29, and not statistically different than zero. … We are not suggesting that the process approach to writing as it was characterized in this review be abandoned. First, we think that this is unlikely to happen. Second, there is much to like about the process approach. This includes its emphasis on the critical role of process in writing, collaboration, personal responsibility, authentic writing tasks, and a supportive learning environment. Instead, we suggest that advocates of process writing instruction integrate other effective writing practices into this approach. There is some empirical evidence that this is a fruitful avenue to pursue. For example, impressive improvements in the writing of average and struggling writers were obtained when the amount of explicit and systematic instruction provided in process writing classrooms was increased (Curry, 1997; Danoff, Graham, & Harris, 1993; MacArthur, Schwartz, & Graham, 1991). These studies involved teaching strategies for planning and revising. Other studies are needed to determine if incorporating other evidence-based practices, such as sentence combining (Graham & Perin, 2007) or spelling and handwriting instruction (Graham, 2010), into the process writing instruction further enhances the power of this approach.” (p.404-405)

Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The process writing approach: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407.


“Reduced handwriting and graphic fluency and speed might be related to differences in the amount of time that children in the different groups spend writing. As they need more time to complete writing tasks, children with dyslexia may in fact accomplish less amount of handwriting practice than CA children in the same period of time. It is also conceivable that children with dyslexia are exposed to fewer activities involving spelling and writing, either at school or at home. For example, curricular adaptations may be in place that limit the amount of writing that this group of children is demanded to produce in the classroom (e.g., they may be exempt of copying question headings or allowed to use a computer for certain activities). At home, children with low spelling or writing skills are likely to write for pleasure less often, just as reading ability has been shown to be positively related with reading for pleasure (Twist, Schagan, & Hogson, 2007). If, as suggested by some authors (Lust & Donica, 2011), handwriting practice not only increases handwriting fluency but also contributes to enhance other fine motor abilities, then reduced graphic abilities can be expected in children that engage substantially less with writing.” (p.586)

Martínez-García, C., Afonso, O., Cuetos, F. et al. (2021). Handwriting production in Spanish children with dyslexia: Spelling or motor difficulties? Reading & Writing, 34, 565–593. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/10.1007/s11145-020-10082-w


And a final word from Berninger:

“Brain Imaging Studies At the end of the 5-year longitudinal study, fifth graders who were right-handed and did not wear braces participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. Children’s brains were scanned while they generated ideas for a composition they wrote when they left the scanner. Differences between good writers and poor writers were observed during idea generation, especially in brain regions associated with working memory (Berninger et al., in press), and during spelling—both in temporary storage of novel words while letter patterns are analyzed in learning new words and in long-term storage of written words with links to other language codes (Richards et al., 2009). Of interest, good, but not poor, spellers activated in primary sensori-motor regions of the brain, consistent with the construct of a graphomotor envelope, analogous to intonational contours for spoken words, which may play an important role in learning to spell via word production (Richards et al., 2009). During sequential finger movements, after controlling for motor movements, brain regions associated with cognitive, metacognitive, language, and working memory functions were robustly activated in good writers but not in poor writers (Berninger, Richards et al., in press; Richards et al., in press). Handwriting (requiring sequential strokes or key presses), spelling (requiring sequential letter production), and composing (requiring sequential word, sentence, and text production) were significantly correlated with the same five brain regions (left superior parietal, right inferior frontal orbital, right precuneus, and right and left inferior temporal) on this sequential finger movement task (Richards et al., in press), consistent with Lashley’s (1951) claim that serial organization of behavior plays an important role in higher-order human cognition. On the fMRI tasks given to good and poor 11-year-old writers only one has been found to be associated with the gender differences—left inferior parietal region during planning of sequential finger movements, which was correlated with behavioral measures of handwriting and spelling. Boys underactivated compared to girls in left inferior parietal region. These and additional studies are extending knowledge of how the writing brain differs from the reading brain (see Berninger & Richards, 2002, Chapters 6 and 9).

Current and Future Directions The research is being extended in both theoretical and practical directions. On the theoretical front, I am exploring these questions: What are ideas? How do ideas in implicit memory outside conscious awareness get translated into explicit memory in conscious awareness in working memory? Why do some students have difficulty translating ideas into language? What does grade-appropriate writing for different genre look like at the word, sentence, and text levels based on children’s writing protocols rather than normed, psychometric tests? How can on-line experimental methods introduced by Fayol and colleagues inform our understanding of time sensitive language production units (e.g., language bursts described by Hayes & Chenoweth, 2006)? … “ … when writing by pen and by keyboard were compared on alphabet writing, sentence constructing, and text composing, children wrote more words and wrote words faster (Berninger, Abbott et al., 2008) and expressed more ideas (Hayes & Berninger, in press) when composing text by pen than by keyboard from second to sixth grade; but for letter writing and sentence constructing, the keyboard often showed advantages (Berninger, Abbott et al., 2008). Children with learning disabilities need explicit instruction in handwriting as well as keyboarding and both accommodations in the form of using a laptop and ongoing explicit instruction in all aspects of writing from planning to translating to reviewing and revising (Berninger, 2006a, 2008a; Berninger, Abbott et al., 2008).” (p.77)

Berninger, V.W. (2009). Highlights of programmatic, interdisciplinary research on writing. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24(2), 69–80.

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