Previously, I have been guilty of overlooking the teaching of handwriting. Not for the lack of trying, I hasten to add, but because I have never found a way to make it work. If I’m honest, in the world of National Curriculum Levels, it didn’t really feature very highly, and so it was easy to miss it out. With the new curriculum, handwriting features more predominantly, and so will be much harder to ignore.
In reality, I’m really pleased about this. Over the years, I have seen many fantastic writers come and go who have been let down by the fact that their writing was barely legible. MNQTH argues that this is not a problem: we live in a digital age where people very rarely need to write by hand. We communicate via texts or emails – the art of letter writing is almost dead. Application forms are often filled in electronically; do we really need to have a beautiful, cursive hand? I think we do. I can’t argue against the electronic world, but I just don’t think we can dismiss the need to be able to physically write. In my early days as a teacher, I was led to believe that joining handwriting aided letter formation and spelling: a quick Google search landed me on the British Dyslexia Association, where this was confirmed (I would hasten to add that I have never researched this myself: I have no evidence beyond the above link, but I would be interested to know people’s views on this).
So, I know that teaching handwriting is important and valid, but the big question is how? I’ve tried it in different ways – teaching patterns as a whole class, small group interventions, patterns for children to copy when they come in first thing in the morning, but no way has worked. There just isn’t enough time for whole class teaching, our TAs are run off their feet like never before with interventions, and independent writing doesn’t work: those who know how to join succeed, those who don’t continue to make the same mistakes. At T’s parents’ evening (he’s in Y2), we were presented with a handwriting book for him to bring home. On each page was a letter pattern to practise, followed by a page of words which included the pattern. Clearly a lot of time had been put into making this, but ultimately, it boils down to MNQTH and I to teach him. That’s not my job. Well, technically, it is, but not when I’m at home. MNQTH and I will take the time to sit down with him, show him how to form the letters, make sure the relative heights of letters are correct, monitor the joins: I know T well enough to know he wouldn’t get it right if left to his own devices. He would use the wrong lines in his book, take shortcuts in his joining, stop mid join – just like most children who are learning to join would do. This one-to-one support is exactly what the children need in school – but when? In an ideal world, by the time the children reach me in year 4, they would be confident in joining, but no-one else has the time either.
So, a plea to all of you teachers out there: if you have an approach which has worked, which has successfully taught children to join without completely taking over the timetable, then I’d really appreciate your words of wisdom.