Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The teaching of Handwriting

I'm currently teaching handwriting to two different classes, Year 3/4 and Year 5/6.  Not quite satisfied that I was doing this in the best way I did a little research and came up with the post that follows.  I'm now planning my handwriting lessons for the rest of term, and am much more confident that the children will actually be improving their handwriting.

The Teaching of Handwriting – A progressive approach
The purpose of teaching handwriting is to enable children to communicate effectively in writing.  Their writing will be legible (easy to read), fluent (they can write reasonably quickly with a good flow) and comfortably (children who have not learned to handwrite properly or who employ poor posture often find writing painful as they become quite stiff).
The teaching of handwriting is often provided as a whole class activity, with children assiduously copying letters, joins or words from the board and repeating.  It is true that handwriting can only be achieved by regular practice.  It is also true, however, that children enter school with differing handwriting readiness.  Their motor skills both gross and fine are at different stages, and therefore their readiness to pick up a pencil and begin making marks and then letters will all be at different stages.  It is as important with handwriting as it is with reading that we take each child from their own starting point and provide the relevant practice to enable them to achieve success and to progress at their own pace.  Here then is a progression chart for handwriting (the first two stages are concurrent).  In your class, whatever the age group, assess the handwriting skills level of each child, group those on a similar level together for handwriting work, and provide the relevant activities to enable them to progress to the next level.  While in some classes the children may all be at a similar level, in others it will become clear that there are children attempting to join their handwriting who have still not mastered letter formation, or who are not yet forming their letters in a uniform size.  In younger classes you may have some children who still do not have the physical readiness for writing, and who are not yet ready for letter formation, certainly not trying to write on lined paper.  In handwriting lessons, while the copying and practice is very important, it is equally important for the Teacher or a Teaching Assistant to give direction and feedback on letter formation, sitting position, evenness of script, achieving smooth flow, and pencil grip.
Contrary to popular opinion, the advent of the tablet, the smart phone and the computer has not replaced the need for fluent, neat handwriting and this life skill needs to be taught with care and attention.  Children leaving primary school must be able to write without thinking about it, so that they can concentrate on the content of their writing.  Research also demonstrates that children with neat handwriting tend to feel better about their writing and are more motivated to write, and are also better at spelling.  Every child should be supported to develop good handwriting.

Activities to support progress
Developing core strength and stability, bilateral co-ordination, sensory perception, hand and finger dexterity – core strength and stability are required to develop posture and coordination; bilateral co-ordination allows the child to cross the body successfully; sensory perception allows the brain and fingers to communicate effectively about textures and pressures; hand and finger dexterity involves the ability to hold and manipulate objects of different sizes.
Curl-ups, balance along a ‘tight-rope’ line along the ground, walking up and down stairs.  ‘Simon says’ using left and right, rolling and catching and then gently throwing and catching a ball, touching left toes with right hand etc. Feely bag, tactile play, being able to press gently or hard into balls of playdough.  Picking up and holding small objects, two or three objects at a time.  Finger dancing.  Rolling and releasing dice.  Cutting things up with scissors, moving on to accurately cutting out shapes.
Mark Making (these two stages run concurrently as children will be beginning to make marks while still developing their physical readiness).
Provide tools in a wide range of thicknesses as the child is developing their dexterity, they will be able to choose thick or thin brushes, crayons and pencils.  Provide sand trays to trace in, large sheets of paper and paper with widely spaced lines or squares.  Provide vertical or sloped writing surfaces as well as horizontal.  Trace large scale shapes and patterns.
Pre-handwriting patterns.  These establish the correct pull and push movements for all the shapes which make up the letters.
Teach correct pencil grip (sometime between age 4 and 6), and establish a good table height and sitting position for writing.  Trace over shapes and patterns.  These can start at quite large scale and then gradually become smaller and finer.  Patterns will include waves, circles, vertical and horizontal lines and circles. 
Letter formation – letters should be taught in groups based on the shape, rather than in alphabetical order.  Once the letter shape and how to form it has been established the children move through these stages as their fine motor skills develop.
Tracing over and forming letters with plasticine or playdough, in sand or salt trays, with whipped cream, on large pieces of plain paper.  Lower case letters (plus capital for their name), then numbers, then upper case letters.
Tracing over and copying letters on widely spaced lines.
Tracing over and copying letters on narrower lines.
Letter joins – a child is ready to start joining their writing when they are consistently forming their letters correctly, positioning them correctly on the line and maintaining a uniform size
Teach and practice each of the four main join types one at a time.  Diagonal join e.g. a-i, a-r, u-n, i-r, i-g, m-a, a-d; upper horizontal join, e.g. o-u, o-v, v-i, w-i, w-o, o-n, o-x; lower join to tall letter, e.g. a-b, u-l, i-t, t-h, b-l, l-l, l-k, e-b; higher join to tall letter, e.g. o-l, r-t, o-b, r-k, w-l; special joins f-f, f-t.  Break letters z (before) and g, j, q, y, and x (after)
Join whole words together.  It can be helpful here for the children to practice handwriting with their spelling words, developing two skills in one.
Developing fluency and style – Children can be encouraged to slope their handwriting slightly and to develop their own handwriting style.
Copying poems or making neater copies of their work for presentation.
Some key points in handwriting:
·         Pencils must be sharp
·         Short pencils (below 8cm) should be discarded.
·         Sit up properly with chair upright (not rocking).
·         Writing surface can be tilted to the left (right handers) or right (left handers) but by no more than 45 degrees.  The non-dominant hand should be on the table in a supportive position.
·         A clutter free table is best.
·         Left handed children should always sit on the left side of the desk

Children can be taught to be self-critical and even pedantic with their handwriting.  When working with a group, expect them to copy EXACTLY, and nothing less, as this will avoid any poor habits being deemed as acceptable.  As long as the work is pitched correctly for their ability and motor control then they will be able to succeed and will look with pride on their improved writing.

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