, for example, concluded that writing by hand improved cognitive processing and reading skills when compared with typing.
Adding finesse to fine skills
According to Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia in the US, more and more research points to the fact that developing fine motor skills, including penmanship, at preschool age is a good predictor of a child's aptitude for skills such as reading and maths when they reach 5th grade (ages 10-11). However, despite this evidence he believes that the topic needs to be explored further before a firm judgement can be reached.
"What is handwriting offering - if anything - that children are not also getting when they are using keyboards?" Willingham asks. "Or is there something that children are getting from keyboarding that they are not getting from handwriting? That, to me, is a critical question."
It is difficult to provide an answer because most children in the world are taught handwriting. But the US could be poised to offer greater insight into the benefits - or otherwise - of handwriting in the coming years, Willingham says. The skill is being given a "cursory treatment" in many schools, with the teaching of handwriting declining nationwide since the 1970s, he explains. The majority of states (43 out of 50) are signed up to the nation's Common Core State Standards, which do not require the teaching of handwriting, leaving the decision to regional authorities.
The fallout from this shift won't be felt for another decade or so, but cognitive experts believe it may provide clarity on whether children should still be taught handwriting at school. In the meantime, the UK position on the issue is crystal clear - for the foreseeable future, at least.
"Being able to write by hand fluently and legibly is an important skill, at school and for later life. That is why pupils are taught handwriting in the new national curriculum [for England]," a Department for Education spokesperson says.
A spokesperson for England's schools inspectorate Ofsted adds: "As part of the judgement on the overall quality of teaching in primary schools, inspectors consider whether the teaching of handwriting is effective and whether pupils are applying skills they have learned across the curriculum. We have no evidence to suggest that the quality of handwriting is in decline."
Waiting for the last word
So whether teachers like it or not, handwriting is sticking around. And, although the skill is not formally assessed, it seems clear that it will be under scrutiny when Ofsted pays a visit. Whether that changes, as the performance of children who are not formally taught handwriting is tracked in the US, remains to be seen.
But research into the cognitive benefits of handwriting over typing suggests it should be given ongoing - and arguably greater - importance in UK schools until further evidence suggests otherwise.
Help older pupils to polish their handwriting with this practice booklet.
Try these varied activities for students who struggle with fine motor skills and handwriting.
Hembrooke, H and Gay, G (2003) "The laptop and the lecture: the effects of multitasking in learning environments", Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 151: 46-64.
Kiefer, M and Trumpp, N M (2012) "Embodiment theory and education: the foundations of cognition in perception and action", Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1: 15-20.