Is Handwriting History?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do we place too much importance on handwriting?

No – of course handwriting isn’t history.  But are we too focused on it – definitely!

A Year 6 writing moderator said to me that all work for moderation had to be handwritten, 1 piece typed would be passable but more than that was unacceptable. Is this the way to prepare children for their future? Is this the way to inspire our children as writers?

In the world of work, handwritten documents are limited to personal notes. Would a handwritten report or proposal be submitted? Would an author send a handwritten draft to their publisher? Even the delivery guy doesn’t need to hand write a card because his mobile device sends me an email to say my parcel has gone back to the depot. So why do we insist on so much of the children’s work being handwritten?

Handwriting On The Wall

Handwriting is still an important skill. I am not suggesting we should stop teaching handwriting. To some it is an art, to most it is a means to an end but to all it is a tool. Handwriting helps children to understand language, it develops fine motor skills and it can give a sense of pride. We should remember that most interviews will require some form of handwriting, exams are predominantly handwritten and the greetings card business is booming. Everyone does still need to be able to write. However, we need to rethink the balance.

Not My Type

Typing is a more important skill. The percentage of writing I will produce in my lifetime will be well over 50% typed, probably more like 70% and that takes into account all the writing I did at school and all the handwritten marking.

For a child in reception now, what percentage of the writing they produce in their lifetime will be handwritten? Will their secondary school exams be handwritten? Will they produce handwritten drafts of essays and assignments? Of course they won’t, so why are we forcing them to complete nearly all of their written work by hand now?

Feel A Draft?

The new curriculum places a huge focus on editing and redrafting. I have personal memories of handwriting end of year reports. I would love to say that every time I spotted a mistake I sprang into action, keen to rewrite the page perfectly so I could demonstrate my editing and redrafting skills, improving the end product. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

When I say to my class, “This is your chance to improve your work and make it the best it can possibly be!” then I remember the demoralised feeling I had when I knew I was going to have to write something out again.  

Being forced to rewrite something again and again does not develop a better piece of work, it breeds resentment for that piece of work. That resentment is made even stronger when you know that a £200 notebook, possibly sitting unused in a trolley, would save you from the hell of rewriting a third or fourth draft but using it would be seen as a form of cheating.

I want to develop a love of writing in the children I teach. I want every child to know the feeling of pride when they produce a well crafted text because they were able to spend time reorganising, rethinking and redrafting not just rewriting.

What Needs To Happen?  

A shift in thinking, not a seismic shift, just a small adjustment. The curriculum encourages the skills of editing and redrafting but we have to agree that seeing the same text rewritten two or three times with minor improvements is not the only way to demonstrate these.

We also need to provide the technology to our children. So many primary schools still see computing as a bolt on rather than a tool for improving the delivery of the curriculum. Finally, a change in the balance to value typed work as highly as handwritten. To allow 50% or even 75% of moderated work to be typed, as long as there is evidence to show development during the writing process.

So next time you ask a child to rewrite something, and you see that despondent look, ask yourself if their time would have been better spent redrafting a typed text.

Which method would produce a better piece of writing and best prepare that child for their future?

Martin Curtis writes for Teacher Toolkit.

Martin Curtis

Martin is a primary school teacher with almost 20 years experience, having held senior leadership and local authority positions. He spent a number of years out to set up his own business, but has always maintained an interest in education through tuition and supply teaching. Martin is now teaching Year 4 full time whilst being a part of a school's leadership team, leading assessment and computing across the school. He champions the use of ICT in the classroom and efficient use of data to inform teaching and learning. Outside of education, he has 3 boys who occupy most of his time and is also a governor at his children's school.

One thought on “Is Handwriting History?

  • 23rd March 2017 at 1:59 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Martin,

    Thank you for an interesting piece on ‘handwriting’ – it’s usefulness and the implications for focusing on handwritten work for now and in the future.

    I’ve just written an article on handwriting because I think it is important – and it’s important to teach it well. Sadly, I don’t think we are generally teaching it ‘well’ because, I suggest, many teachers are not trained well enough in how best to teach it – both print and fully joined handwriting.

    My suggestion is that we don’t need to make a meal of teaching handwriting, or joined handwriting, if we just knew how best to teach it thoroughly from the outset (print first) and then teach joined handwriting very quickly and intellectually. I despair when I see handwriting resources which drag ‘handwriting’ out for year after year. There is truly no need for this.

    For what it is worth, here is my article:

    https://phonicsintervention.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NATE_TE-PM_Spring-2017_22-26-HEPP-FINAL.pdf

    I laughed when I saw the use of the same youngster holding the pen with the tripod grip at the top of your piece and featuring in my article. Serendipity.

    I have free alphabet and handwriting resources and free video guidance for teaching joined handwriting effectively and quickly here:

    http://debbiehepplewhitehandwriting.com

    The best training I ever received was attending four weeks of a six week touch-typing course with old-fashioned typewriters (I’m getting on a bit). I now type and type and type – very quickly – and it brings me immense satisfaction.

    Therefore, I’m truly appreciative of your thoughts – but how about the best of both worlds?

    Best wishes,

    Debbie

    Reply

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