Recent research describes the importance and impact of teaching handwriting, particularly in the first four years of school.
A recent blog on the Australian Association for Research in Education describes a collaboration between education academics at Murdoch University and the University of Canberra which confirms that handwriting is critical for both reading and writing development (Handwriting still matters!)
The findings are timely, in the light of the current demands being made on teachers and students to utilise online learning, and for students to use their digital and keyboarding skills to demonstrate their learning.
It’s important to recognise the important role that handwriting has in learning.
Just one of these findings include greater gains in letter recognition being achieved with writing with pencil and paper. This is a plus, when we are seeking ways to build letter name and recognition with early learners. Letter recognition is one of the critical features that predicts later literary success.
Handwriting in Australian Schools
The Australian Curriculum glossary describes handwriting as –
A production of legible, correctly formed letters by hand or with the assistance of writing tools, for example, pencil grip or assistive technology
Handwriting appears in Stage content in the Australian Curriculum: English, and begins with:
Foundation: Produce some lower case and upper case letters using learned letter formations (ACELY1653) –
- adopting correct posture and pencil grip
- learning to produce simple handwriting movements
- following clear demonstrations of how to construct each letter (for example where to start; which direction to write)
- learning to construct lower case letters and to combine these into words
The National Literacy Progression includes handwriting as a sub-element, describing some observable behavioural steps as students develop handwriting skills. This gives teachers a guide as to the steps that most students will demonstrate as they develop their skills. They can inform planning, while we respond to each student’s learning and progress.
Australian States and handwriting
Assistance with planning and programming for teaching can be found on each State’s department of education website.
Tasmania – has produced a detailed and comprehensive document. Everything you need to know about teaching handwriting to ensure students have success – to Year 9.
South Australia – a comprehensive handbook on both handwriting and teaching writing.
Queensland – QCursive – information on teaching this simple style which contributes to the ease and fluency of writing.
Things to know about and include when planning for the teaching of handwriting
These are included in the State Resources referenced (above), particularly those from Tasmania and South Australia.
We need to know and understand:
- the strength and agility required to meet the physical demands of handwriting:
- fine motor skills, fine finger grasp, storage grasp and in-hand manipulation
- proximal stability at shoulders, elbows and wrist joints, tripod grasp
- sensory awareness and
- the significance of these in other aspects of muscle and brain development;
- how each letter is constructed, grouping letters according to their shape and formation;
- how to best teach handwriting, including modelling:
Focused teaching of handwriting is most effective when educators provide dynamic handwriting demonstrations, forming the letters in front of learners. This provides correct models for learners. Tas Dept of Education: Handwriting p.18
Research-based evidence for the teaching of handwriting in schools is strong. We also need to be knowledgeable and sure in our justification of the 15 minutes or so each day devoted to this critical skill.
Handwriting doesn’t get taught to the exclusion of keyboarding skills for demonstration of learning, but is used in conjunction with all the other elements of learning and literacy. Check out research by Noella Mackenzie, from Charles Sturt University, who provides explicit and sound background and guidance in her blog posts, including an introduction to the topic Keyboarding, handwriting or both for 21st century learning?
Have a tight, predictable structure for each lesson – 15 minutes concentrated effort on everyone’s part, with clear criteria regarding shape, slope, size and spacing, all modelled by you.
In ‘Handwriting: Tips & Resources’, Bec, a literacy guide from South Western Sydney, describes her focused and explicit practice in a 30-minute video. There are structures and ideas for teaching handwriting, from an experienced practitioner.
Handwriting belongs in the daily timetable for Term 1. It provides good groundwork for the rest of the year, as it:
- sets the standard of teaching the students can expect from you, their new teacher,
- demonstrates your advanced knowledge about what each student needs in order to manage handwriting and have writing success,
- shows the standard of writing effort you expect in your classroom,
- models the standard of focused attention you expect when everyone is working,
- provides opportunity for students saying and writing letter shapes, writing words in sentences, and constructing whole sentences with appropriate punctuation.
Older students can be introduced to classic lines from poems, or a four-line stanza, a new one each day. The repetition builds the memory of the rhythm of the words, and will inform the teaching of poetry, as well as speaking and listening. At the end of the term each student has an introductory anthology for future use. Appropriate title, author and referencing provides practice for later research skills.
[W]riting by hand is a very complex skill, which relies on the acquisition and coordination of visual and motor skills that take effort and time to master.
In these pandemic school days handwriting still matters!