Although schools in the United States are largely discontinuing handwriting skills in favor of keyboard proficiency, there is new research highlighting the importance of handwriting for children. A study from a collaboration between the Université de Sherbrooke and the Université du Québec à Rimouski Sherbrooke, both in Québec, has found that elementary school students get the greatest linguistic advantage from learning cursive handwriting.

In Québec, students typically learn to print in first grade, followed by cursive writing in second. Researchers Professor Marie-France Morin and Professor Natalie Lavoi wanted to find out which writing system is more beneficial for students. As such, they assessed 718 Quebecois students from 54 second grade classrooms. They considered three systems of handwriting instruction: print only, cursive only, and print and cursive together. They measured students’ writing speed and quality, as well as their skills in spelling and text construction.

The results demonstrated that students who only learned cursive benefited the most. The cursive-only students scored better in both spelling and syntax. Print and cursive together produced the worst scores. The researchers conclude that students can learn either print or cursive, but teaching both does not help young students because it becomes much more difficult to convert their writing skills into automatic movements when they learn two systems.

Understanding what writing systems work best for students who are learning to write is important for educators because more than 50% of the variance in writing quality among second-grade students is attributed to discrepancies in graphic-motor skills. The researchers suggest that children who are unable to write as fast as they think may forget what they were going to write, which contributes to the differential in skills.

Transitioning to cursive writing in second grade limits students abilities to automate handwriting skills. However, starting students with cursive writing eliminates problems like backwards letters and letter spacing. Children learning cursive “understand the concept of word more quickly than the others do and therefore tend to have better graphic-motor skills related to language, processing, which helps them in terms of syntax and spelling, explained one of the researchers.

This research is published in the journal Language and Literacy.

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