I was recently forwarded an article that looks at the importance of handwriting during a time when digital platforms are increasingly taking precedent. It says: “that handwriting still forms a unique part of our culture and identity.“
As an adult, my own handwriting has always been appalling and I know this is unacceptable as a teacher of literacy. Dare I say, when handwriting school reports (only a few years ago) my handwriting was still improving before the digital-era took over! However, handwriting will always remain when marking books and writing on the chalk-face. And if I wasn’t a teacher, would I still place as much importance on handwriting as an adult?
I have no idea why my handwriting has always been so poor, but I remember distinctly growing up as a child in Scotland, trying to ‘get to grips’ with the pen to find the most suitable and comfortable hold to use. My ‘holding technique’ had to evolve rapidly, as writing was of course a major requirement in school, much more than it is today. Not that it isn’t (equally) important today, but with digital technology all around us, I fear students have less and less opportunity to write at school.
If I think of the wide variety of school subjects I have taught, students arrive to some subjects with a ‘handwriting-attitude’. That is, they do not expect to complete extended pieces of handwriting as some subjects come with a predetermined stereotype. We know as subject experts, some subjects will not require writing as regularly as others, but this attitude must be quashed by all teachers. Students must be expected to complete extended pieces of writing in all subjects.
Less than 3 years ago, I remember attending an assistant headteacher interview where candidates were given a letter of complaint from a parent. We were asked to write a handwritten response. At the time, I relished the literacy challenge, but knew that my handwriting may go against me when being assessed. How often do we view student’s handwriting and find it harder to mark?
I do frequently. My solution; mark the work with the child.
From my time spent in 4 different primary schools, the writing technique I ended up using, was as expected. Neat and legible, nothing more. See image below left (<10 years old), and compare this to the image below right (>16 years old) which is the grip I still use today. My writing has of course improved, but the reason for my awkward grip, is that I fear I may have been forced to write, right-handed!
In the photo (above-left), the pen is held using a ‘precision grip’ which is pinched between the flexor aspects of the finger and the opposition of the thumb. In the image on the right, the pen is held using a ‘power grip’ between the fingers and the palm, with the thumb lying more or less in the plain of the palm to hold the pencil.
The lack of continuity of my own education in one school, may have led my own teachers to have no time to notice or do something about my pen grip. As soon as I arrived to school, I was soon off to another school, in another part of the country! I attended primary schools in Kilbirnie (76-79), then Dundee for four years, then onto London for two years and finally Newcastle for less than twelve months in my final year at primary …
I then attended three secondary schools! Could my schooling be a factor? Parenting? Or just my own development and preference? It appears that, according to “transitional grips in the Schneck and Henderson (1990) scale”, my handwriting grip has not developed!
Using the diagram below, you can clearly see my writing grip position in number 10 below. (Download here)
and a nice little video by @joelittlewood
A study from Finnish University, Åbo Akademi, has published a Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies which suggests a “descriptive two-dimensional model for the categorisation of ‘pencil grips'”. The research study is based on children during the first six years of writing instruction and compares techniques used in Finland and the USA.
“The cross-cultural disparity is most likely related to the differences in the onset of writing instruction … and it seems that certain previously not recommended pencil grips might nevertheless be included among those accepted since they did not appear to hamper either fluency or legibility.”
Are we losing the art of handwriting?
In a BBC News article, the art of handwriting has been under scrutiny after new figures show that two-thirds of teachers admit not giving students the marks they deserve because of poor writing.
The original article shared with me and my thoughts about my own handwriting has got me thinking about the importance of handwriting in schools and whether it’s not more important to allow children to learn in a way which is beneficial for them (even if that’s not with pen and paper) or for the teacher? Every student learns differently and whilst some may prefer to write things out, others may find it more useful using other methods.
I wanted to pick out a couple of interesting points from the article as I feel that it’s an important subject which should be talked about. It’s been great to see lots of teachers share images of their own handwriting, following my tweeted photograph.
Writing in examinations
I think the first interesting point from the article is that handwriting is still a necessity for examinations so has a very functional purpose. In my experience, I have seen students use laptops to complete their formal examinations. As we look to technology to offer new forms of learning for those students that benefit from learning in different ways, this is important to bear in mind. Those students who have devoted time to learning to write comfortably and articulately at speed will be at a distinct advantage in examinations unless they are allocated ‘additional time’. If we think about word processing in particular, there’s always a worry that students become too dependent on tools such as spell-check and synonyms. Consequently, any student who is too dependent on these tools will find it difficult to replicate the same standard of work during their examinations.
The other important point raised in the article is the cognitive argument that writing by hand has advantages for learning that can’t be replicated in other ways. As mentioned in the article, the act of writing by hand has been proven to help individuals remember things better. This is due to the fact that writing engages certain parts of your brain that aren’t used in other tasks, for instance when typing. For revision, this is incredibly important as the process of writing out class notes will allow students to remember information easier.
Is there any research to suggest that ‘typing’ notes to replace handwriting supports cognitive development?
These are just a couple of important points that I picked out from the article but there are also other interesting points, for example about identity which raises other important questions. New technology is offering much more variation in the classroom, however, handwriting should not be discredited and we should encourage discussion on the subject before this vital skill is dismissed.
After-all, you all know I love to tweet and blog and by writing and blogging about my thoughts on education, this has itself, improved my literacy. But, blogging has not improved my handwriting. We will always need a pen and piece of paper to hand, so let’s make sure we can still use them well. Really well!
You can download the Finnish research paper A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies by Ann-Sofie Selin.
These 20+ examples were kindly shared by teachers today:
I have added two images below that show my own handwriting in greater detail. I had to dig these out from my BAEd dissertation from 1996!
p.s. I do not claim to be a handwriting expert, just a teacher, conscientious of my own handwriting and the importance of developing this skill in students.
Do read the first link with caution. As Kate Gladstone has pointed out in the comments below: “Many commenters thereon, took a step that the author did not expect. They went so far as to actually look up the research which the author was citing, then to note the discrepancies between the actual research and its representation by the author of the article that claimed that research as support.” So, do read it very carefully! The author admits that “his article and views were of another writer’s summary of the research”.
- What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain
- The curse of cursive: Are we fetishising joined up writing? by @LearningSpy