Friday, October 25, 2013

Does hand-writing their notes help students learn better?

Handwritten excerpt from Tennyson's "Mariana"
At today's Pedagogy Discussion Group (hosted by the TennTLC), amid the discussion of testing as a learning activity, someone brought up the claim that hand-writing one's notes aids in memory retention. I have found this personally to be true. When I studied for tests, I hand-wrote my notes. I made copies of notes by hand. I created a huge chalkboard in my head and imagined myself carving formulae into it with a glowing gold pen. When it came time to take the test, I knew where on the board to "look." I could remember writing out the poems and definitions. I could mentally envision my writing and the papers. I always thought that the benefit was primarily spatial or visual. But the very act of hand-writing may be responsible.

A study by Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Versailles found "that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting" (Science Daily). In an article co-written with Velay (discussed in the same Science Daily article), the University of Stavenger's Anne Mangen suggests that something is lost when students type instead of hand-write. However, the full connections between sensory motor skills and cognition are not yet understood.

Many of my students type their notes during class. There's good reason: typing is faster, and many of them can't write legibly in cursive. The notes can be saved to the cloud and opened on a variety of devices, making studying much more convenient. I've been encouraging this practice because of the convenience and the environmental benefits of the "paperless classroom." But have I been doing them a disservice?

1 comment:

  1. Apparently my mental chalkboard is similar to the technique of the "memory palace," or "method of loci." Who knew!