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A Neuroscientist Weighs In on Cursive Writing Legislation

February 13, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - As Hoosier lawmakers consider reinstating cursive writing as a requirement for public schools, an Indiana University neuroscientist testified about her research on preschoolers learning the alphabet by printing letters, versus typing or just visualizing them. By using functional MRI technology, Karin Harman James found that learning by printing clearly had a greater effect.

"Only in the printing practice group did their brain activation start to look like a literate person's brain activation. You see this pattern of activation that a literate older child or an adult has - it's very stereotypical, what you would see in the brain when somebody reads."

Harman James says while it's evident that learning to write using fine motor skills is important in a child's learning process, she is waiting to see the results of her current research to know if cursive writing has different impacts on the brain than printing does. This research is expanding beyond preschoolers and printing, Harman says.

"We're looking at older children now. We're also looking at college students and comparing cursive to printing to see if the cursive actually is making any difference."

It is unclear if any schools in the state stopped teaching cursive after Indiana - and 45 other states - adopted Common Core Curriculum Standards last year.

Harman James says the use of fine motor skills in the process of writing should not be dropped.

"What's really important is that they create the letters, they understand how the letters connect to one another to make a word and they actually pay attention to that."

Senate Bill 83 passed the Senate, but has a tougher road ahead in the House.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN