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Katherine Albrecht, Ed. D.

Writing by Hand Can  Save Your Brain

Fort Fairfield Journal, February 4, 2015

Way back when, when I used to tutor in college, I was a Spanish tutor and an algebra tutor and eventually a classroom teacher. Over the years I instructed many hundreds of students. One of the things if you want to learn Spanish is you have to memorize a whole lot of vocabulary. Now, I'll give you a tip because some of you I know have students or are students in your household and can benefit from this tip. I'm telling this to illustrate why writing by hand can save your brain. This is handwriting as opposed to typing into a keyboard.

If you want to memorize a whole string of stuff whether it's Spanish vocabulary, biology terms, or some other thing that you have to memorize for exams I have a simple memory exercise. Get yourself a spiral notebook take about five or six sheets and fold them so the edge of it touches the red line that runs down the edge of your paper. Take your five sheets, flip them over fold it back so that your touching that red line. When you unfold it and open up the notebook you'll have kind of a mountain. You don't want to have a valley you want to have a mountain. What you do now is write the words on the left hand side, skipping a line for each one. Put the term on the left hand side and put the definition on the right hand side. Now take your first sheet, fold it over and you have sheet one showing with all your words and the number two sheet is blank because what you're looking at is the sheet underneath of it which has nothing on it. So now, take a moment and fill in the ones you remember. You might only remember 20 percent. Then open up your check sheet and compare them to see how many you missed.

Now here's the thing that made me the most phenomenal tutor ever because I guaranteed students to get an A in any type of vocabulary class who did this. If you have an answer wrong, take a separate color pen and cross off the answer. Now there's a reason for this. The reason you want to cross off the answer is because you're engaging so many different parts of your brain when you do that. You're engaging your eyes because you're seeing a line going through the incorrect information. You're engaging your hand because your drawing the line and writing the correct information. If you say them out loud, then you can engage your mouth and your ears. The only thing you're not doing is tasting and smelling the words and if I could find a way to do that, I'd probably do that, too.

Obviously, once you've filled in section 2 with all the answers then fill in the left hand side of that blank second sheet. When you're done you can take it out, throw it away, do it again and again and again. At the end you will know exactly how you're going to score on that test because if you're getting a hundred percent of them right, you're going to get a hundred percent right on the test.

Studies have shown that if you write information out by hand, rather than just typing it into a keyboard, you're using more of the motor cortex of your brain and will have a better chance of retaining that information in long term memory. When you sit down with paper and pen, away from technology, you're likely to think outside the box in many more creative ways than when you be doing when sitting in front of the computer. Writing by hand also sharpens aging minds.

This is why when Google says they're going to get rid of those clunky human actions, like having to reach into your pocket and take out a phone and speak into it, I'm thinking, wait a minute I think we need more than just that. We need to actually pull out books and open them.

One of the things I don't like at my church lately is when they put the words to the hymns up on the screen, people are no longer reaching for their hymn books, opening them, thumbing the pages and reading the words on the page. There's really something to be said about engaging multiple facets of your body in something you're involved in. You're singing, you're holding, you're turning pages, you're reading, you're flipping, you're not just standing there parroting what's written up on the screen.

So, the more of yourself you can involve in memorizing any kind of information you need to memorize the better off you're going to be. The more of yourself you can involve in really doing anything in life the better off you're going to be. There, I just gave you hundreds of dollars worth of tutoring information for free.





This editorial was transcribed and adapted for print from a recent Katherine Albrecht radio program, by David Deschesne, with her permission.  Dr. Katherine Albrecht, Ed. D. is a syndicated radio talk show host on the Genesis Communication Network. Listen to her program live daily, or download her podcast for listening at any time at Katherine’s website is: