Do you need a hand teaching handwriting?
Have you ever stared at your pile of marking, knowing that some books will take you twice as long to mark because you’ll have to decipher what has actually been written? There may be some fantastic content in there but if you can’t read it, then all that effort to write it in the first place has potentially gone to waste.
In an age where technology is an ever-increasing form of communication in the classroom and beyond, the keyboard could be attributed to the decline in hand-written legibility.
However, developing clear handwriting shouldn’t be ignored as it’s still a vital life skill.
Furthermore, a study by Debra McCarney et al (2013) has demonstrated that “Giving children the opportunity to practise their handwriting sufficiently to increase the level of automaticity may release working memory to be applied to the cognitive demands of the task and may potentially raise their level of attainment.”
In a nutshell, good handwriting can lead to better attainment in your students. Surely developing high-quality handwriting is a win-win situation for all?
Top 10 tips for teaching handwriting
1. Address issues early on
Habits are hard to break. Once a child is using the wrong grip or the wrong letter formation for a length of time, the more difficult it is for them (and us!) to stop it. Stay on top of this in the early stages of writing development by intervening.
2. Praise and patience
Whilst we need to tackle any issues as soon as possible, the last thing we want is for children to become disheartened or take a dislike to writing, therefore try to focus on positives as well as ways forward. Point out that well-formed join, or the fact that the child started in the correct place, as well as what needs to be done to improve.
3. Cursive versus print
There are differing opinions when it comes to when children should start joining their letters, and each school is different in their approach. In my personal experience, however, I have seen drastic improvement in presentation in the majority of children once they have learnt to write cursively.
Furthermore, we tend to teach children how to form individual letters without cursive “tails”, yet when we start introducing cursive writing at a later stage in their education, children have to ‘relearn’ what they have previously been taught.
4. Baby steps
Once you have decided that you are going to address handwriting head-on, it could be tempting to stand at the front of the class, take a deep breath and exclaim, “Right! From now on, I expect everyone to write cursively!”
For those who struggle, this could be very daunting. Instead, introduce cursive writing a little at a time.
For example, for the first week, practise writing their name cursively. The following week, the date. The week after that, the date and the title… and so on. This will build confidence and ability slowly but surely.
5. Consistency is key
In order for high-quality handwriting to be truly embedded, it needs a whole-school approach.
Whether you follow a scheme, employ a policy or engage in discussions, ensure everyone is on board and each class is consistent in how you decide to move forward so that everyone is doing the same.
6. Pen equals privilege
Give the children a sense of achievement by giving the use of a pen something to aspire to. Having a target to work towards means that their hard work and dedication to self-improvement leads to an ultimate goal.
I have found awarding pen licences a fantastic way of celebrating that achievement, especially announcing it during assembly. The atmosphere when the children know a pen licence is about to be awarded is electric!
7. Put pencraft on a pedestal
Give good handwriting the status it deserves. Express shock, amazement and delight when you see improvement. Send children to show other teachers/senior management their beautifully presented work. Display their efforts for all to see.
8. Practice makes perfect
It’s a cliché but practice really does make perfect when it comes to good handwriting.
Children must be given the opportunity to practise as much as possible. This could be a few minutes during registration, a warm-up to a literacy lesson or a homework task.
9. Make it fun
Practice is important but so is enjoyment! Therefore use ways to put playfulness into their practice time. For example, you could make up a jingle or a rhyme together to help you remember correct formation, make certain noises depending on which direction the pen needs to go, or write funny sentences.
10. Be a good role model
If you want the children you teach to take pride in their handwriting, then you must do the same. When you’re writing on the board, take your time to write exactly how you would expect the children to write. Teaching handwriting does not need to be a standalone lesson. It can be embedded into your everyday teaching – use it as an opportunity.
Handwriting has been traditionally taught in classrooms as part of the triumvirate of reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic but many see it as no longer relevant. But handwriting does have a place in our lives and it is a life skill that we must never stop teaching children. Handwriting matters because it empowers children and fosters effective writing development. It is a vital component of literacy.