Curriculum

Handwriting – how to teach it?

FullSizeRenderI know that there has been much debate around the topic of handwriting on Twitter lately, and it is one which continues in our house.

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.

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13 thoughts on “Handwriting – how to teach it?

  1. Not sure if this is what you’re looking for but might be of interest…

    General advice from DFE http://www.foundationyears.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Gateway-to-Writing-Developing-handwriting.pdf – and promotes the consistent use of letter writing cues which we have in our programme. The doc states…When should I introduce joined up writing? As soon as possible once children are secure in the movements of each letter.

    Though this site http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/parent/help-with-handwriting says the following… Typically, when first learning to write, children ‘print’ their letters. They then move on to ‘joined up’ writing at a later stage. For children with dyslexia, learning two styles of handwriting can add an extra layer of difficulty and cause confusion. It is, therefore, much more helpful if a young child can learn to use a single system of handwriting right from the start. The most widely recommended handwriting style is called continuous cursive. Its most important feature is that each letter is formed without taking the pencil off the paper – and consequently, each word is formed in one, flowing movement

    There are also other bits of research advice that suggest it might help with spelling so ultimately it’s up to you/schools to decide.

    I’ve had a few schools ask me about the introduction of cursive handwriting. I’d certainly involve parents when developing a whole school approach to handwriting; some parents on Mumsnet have expressed a dislike that their school are expecting a cursive style.

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    1. Thanks for this – the BDA link was exactly the page I looked at earlier! I completely agree that it is crazy to teach children one style and then reteach it a year or two later. Hopefully, with a change in approach in the earlier years in school, my job in year 4 will be consolidation for the majority of children, with just a few needing individual support. For now, though, it’s the majority who need help, and that’s where my issues lie. I think perhaps the only solution is a whole class, little-and-often approach where I can go round the children and correct mistakes, but it’s finding the time do this which is a challenge!

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  2. Hello, I’ve run morning ‘handwriting club’ as an intervention for students with poor handwriting. I took the idea for the structure of the club from one in California- it is a six week course, each session we start with a physical warm up (gross motor skills), hand warm up (fine motor skills), letter formation with hands/paint brushes/sticks and then they pick up a pen.

    I’d be happy to share resources.

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    1. Thank you, Grainne, that would be really helpful. I have used “Speed Up” as an intervention before, which sounds very similar, but that was with the 5 neediest children. It had positive effects. This could be the way forward with those with the greatest issues initially.

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  3. The best handwriters I have taught through primary have always been pupils from non-UK Western European nations, e.g. Germany and France. The secret to their lovely script was that that they were taught how to do it and then made to practise. Doesn’t seem like much of a secret, does it? The difference with English (state) schools is that our pupils aren’t. It seems that it is enough that they produce some sort of decipherable writing, even if they hold their pens in an awkward fashion and never put the descenders on their ‘u’, etc. Obviously, I’m speaking from anecdotal evidence as an upper KS2 teacher! I sometimes say to my pupils that they have 3 weeks to do something about their handwriting, or we’ll form a ‘handwriting club’ for them at lunchtime. That has quite pleasing results!

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    1. I have to say, I’ve seen the same. Even children from Europe who have been in our school from reception still have noticeably “European” handwriting- it must be from home. I teach in Y4- I’m pretty sure the “sort it out” deadline would work with some of mine- the bribe of a pen works wonders too!

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  4. Modelling is also an issue, of course. If we model it badly, we can’t expect them to produce something superior. We need to give them examples of beautiful script to inspire them. I was always in awe of the boy who sat next to me when I was about 9. His parents had taught him ‘copperplate’ style and I did my best to imitate him! It’s not the most essential thing in the age of type, but if we’re going to do it, we should do it well.

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  5. Way back when, I taught a yr 3/4 class where more than half of them didn’t know how to form letters correctly at the start of the autumn term. Yours might not need to go back this far, hopefully, but it can be surprising to find how many letters sneak through misformed, only to cause havoc for joining. Apologies if this is all too obvious, but maybe something will be useful.

    Apart from getting pencil grip right, and checking sitting position, we focused first on getting the formation of c and n correct. For c, they need to start with moving the pencil up and left, not horizontally left (or closed letters often won’t join up) and then use this movement for the c family – o, a, d, g, ensuring they move anti-clockwise, and that the letter closes correctly at the top. That works much better than plodding through the alphabet. It takes huge determination, and many reminders, if they’ve been moving clockwise for o for a couple of years or more. Even more so, if it is in their name.

    For n, h, b, p, m, r, k – they must start ‘up in the air, not on the line’. Practising with whole arm movements (magic wands) helps. Again, lots of practise for short periods, agreeing with them that it is hard, but it’s a challenge they can succeed with. Some of the neatest writers by the end of the autumn term were those who struggled most at first. The other letters, and joins, follow relatively easy if you can get those ones fixed. So many children don’t know what it is that they are doing wrong. The more competent ones chose longer poems to copy out for display – everyone got to do at least one.

    Letter shapes in yellow pen, in letter families, with a dot to show where to start, can really help the real strugglers, and they seem to enjoy taking these home too. Spelling homework was given out in handwriting (photocopied) and if they didn’t practise it at home they did it at breaktime (a real pain).

    Finding the time was tough, but it is an investment in their lives – children with poor handwriting often can’t read their own writing, so editing is very difficult for them. Good luck – it will work, and their self-esteem will benefit too.

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    1. I teach in reception and this year we are trialling cursive or pre cursive to begin with. We are immersing them in cursive for phonics teaching. This was in response to the time taken further up the school to teach cursive when we thought we might as well teach it right from the start. So far so good, I have 6 on my class joining their names.

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