Engage brain

I don’t have super-neat handwriting and sometimes even struggle to read a rapidly scrawled note to myself. I certainly pity my very patient PA! Of course, when I try harder, I can be neater, although I type so much nowadays that it does sometimes demand an effort. Our pupils, of course, are even more used to using keyboards (often virtual), although note-taking and essay-writing by hand are still very important as they prepare for examinations which are still almost all written on paper – unless, of course, a pupil’s needs merit special arrangements or support.

I am not here going to debate the pros and cons of handwriting versus typing, as a brief exploration of the literature suggests that the research is inconclusive, despite an understanding that the two methods engage different parts of the brain. The key to effective studying, however, seems to be that we should focus our cognitive resources as much as possible on the task at hand and block out distractions.

I do admire those who have neat, legible and beautiful handwriting, and calligraphy is clearly and art-form. I also love the texture and the feel (and sometimes the smell!) of the written word in book-form rather than on a screen. And there is some interesting recent American research which suggests that children (especially as they move from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’) learn better on paper than on screens: “Using a sample of 59 children aged 10 to 12, a team led by Dr Karen Froud asked its subjects to read original texts in both formats while wearing hair nets filled with electrodes that permitted the researchers to analyse variations in the children’s brain responses.” The researchers found that

reading both expository and complex texts from paper seems to be consistently associated with deeper comprehension and learning.

So, whilst benefiting from the digital revolution, we should perhaps pause to consider the power of both the hand-written word and the paper printed word.

I wish you happy reading, and hope that your handwriting is better than mine!

Best wishes,

John Watson