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The Argument For Cursive Handwriting and Clearer Thinking

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Just as in fashion, trends in education come and go. An average school day might no longer contain Latin, compulsory religious studies, or home economics, and it may not even include that old staple of primary education: cursive. As old-fashioned handwriting lessons make way for courses in keyboard skills, graphic design, and coding, some research suggests that this trend isn't necessarily for the best.

The proponents of a cursive-less classroom have some strong arguments on their side. There are only so many hours in the day, and certain skills need to be prioritized in an increasingly digital age. This kind of thinking is evident in the current federal Common Core standards for public education, which quietly exclude any form of handwriting instruction.  Some states, including California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Tennessee, have passed their own legislation to combat this development, and they have some research to back this up.

A classic study by George H. Early, published in the Journal of Academic Therapy in 1976, notes a connection between first-grade students' instruction in cursive handwriting and their aptitude for reading and spelling. The hypothesis was that so-called "joined-up writing" led to a sort of joined-up thinking, in which the "continuous line in writing a word provides kinesthetic feedback about the shape of the words as a whole, which is absent in manuscript writing." Cursive, in Early's view, promoted words, rather than single letters, as complete units of thought—much more reflective of the way human brains need to process language for comprehension.

For those who dismiss Early's study as a quaint relic of a pre-computer age, Dr. Virginia Berninger, educational psychology professor at the University of Washington, insists that his assertions remain valid. "Cursive helps you connect things," she says. Berninger is quoted in a policy brief published by the National Association of State Boards of Education, which has come out strongly in support of cursive [PDF]. The brief argues that unlike typing, cursive's combined requirements of cognitive and motor skills necessitate formal instruction—keyboards are intuitive, but writing by hand is not.

While cursive handwriting may never regain the dominance it once saw in lesson plans, there's still some worth in all those curlicues and flourishes.

[h/t Mic]

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The Best Strategy for Guessing on a Multiple-Choice Quiz
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While it can be better than facing a totally blank sheet of paper, the multiple-choice quiz can still provoke a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Students look at their options with doubt, wondering if their first instinct is the correct one or if they should double-back to fill in another circle.

Naturally, knowing the correct response is best. But if you’re in a situation where you have to guess, there’s a good way to improve your odds of getting it right. Writing for Quartz, Justin Couchman, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Albright College, says that our first instinct is not as reliable as we think: Something called “endowment bias,” which is a preference for the first thing to pop into our heads, can make us too attached to our impulsive responses.

To find out whether a student’s instinctual answers stood a better chance of being correct, Couchman had his class take a psychology exam—for a real grade—and mark each answer to indicate whether they were confident in the choice or just guessing. They also indicated whether the original response was altered. Couchman found that revising the first answer gave students a better chance of being correct than if they stuck with their gut-instinct first response.

In another experiment, Couchman had students rate confidence in their answers on a scale from one to five but had them stick with their original answers—no revisions were allowed. The ones students were most confident in tended to be correct.

The takeaway, according to Couchman, is that students were able to assess their feelings on a given question in the moment and then return to them for possible revision. By looking at their own self-assessment—a form of metacognition, the act of thinking about thinking—they could choose to alter answers they had the least amount of confidence in. It’s a more objective way of gauging answers than following a blanket rule of your first instinct usually being right.

The next time you’re faced with several possible answers, rate your confidence level for each. If it’s high, stick with your initial gut response. If it’s low, revise. You’ll stand a much better chance of success than if you followed a blanket first-instinct rule or an always-revise rule.

[h/t Quartz]

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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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