The downside to the information age is the decrease in fine motor skills used for writing.
This is a problem I am seeing more often as laptops and tablets replace the use of pad and pen. An increasing number of students are unable to form legible letters of the alphabet or write numbers clearly enough so they may read them thirty seconds later.
Some students going into Year 8 are incapable of writing between the lines of a paper or forming numbers within the squares of a quad ruled page. Students in Year 5 are unable to produce or read their name in cursive script. These students are struggling with the fine motor skills required to help them to learn.
I have recently finished reading an article by Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades?”, which suggests evidence is emerging of a greater link between handwriting and learning. It appears children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand.
Learning is a complicated process. When we reproduce letters, or anything else, by hand a plan is required before executing the action. The end result is highly variable in that it will not exactly represent the original. Learning to identify variable representations is important to decoding letters when reading.
The research by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at University of Washington, indicated that when a child who composed text by hand (either printing or cursive) “They not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on the keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”
There is also a suggestion of different neuro-pathways being developed in the brain when a child progresses on from printing to cursive writing.
Research at the University of California has reported laboratory and real-world studies of students learning better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.
I ask you “Is it time to throw away the pen and paper and adopt the technology of the keyboard?” Was it time to give up walking when we invented the car?
My suggestion to help build a better student is to continue to use the old fashioned copy book so your student may practise and learn to form letters and numbers. Encourage them to practise twenty minutes a day until they are proficient with writing the printed word. Allow this to develop into the practice of cursive writing so they may be able to record classroom notes in secondary school, lecture notes at university or record the minutes of a business meeting.