Teaching Handwriting - And Why It Matters
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Why Handwriting is Important
Technology is a part of daily life and it supports student learning, but should it completely replace handwriting? Research has shown that there is a connection between letter-naming and letter-writing fluency and solduccessful reading development. There is a strong connection between the hand and the neural circuitry of the brain. This means that students who learn to write letters correctly also learn to recognize them more fluently, aiding in reading development. In addition, when students write letters manually, they will learn them more effectively. If the students go straight to a keyboard, it could reduce their ability to recognize the letters. Another reason handwriting is so important is because if a student labors on handwriting it drains their mental resources that should be used on paying attention to the content, elaborating on details, or organizing ideas. Because handwriting is used on a basic level in most subjects (taking notes, taking tests, and doing classroom work and homework), poor handwriting can have a negative effect on school performance. To make matters worse, when a student has a tough time with handwriting, the motivation to write may be greatly reduces, leading to lack of practice that may further the difficulties.
Manuscript or Cursive?
Manuscript (print) is typically taught in kindergarten or first grade, whereas cursive has been eradicated in many classrooms. So which should you teach first? Consider these:
- Does the student struggle with fine motor activities? If the student struggles with fine-motor skills, it is helpful to begin with cursive. It requires significantly fewer fine-motor movements than manuscript.
- Does the child show signs of reversing letters while reading and/or writing? If the student has demonstrated confusion about the direction of b’s and d’s, or p’s and q’s, cursive can be very helpful in minimizing the issue. Cursive handwriting naturally emphasizes the direction of reading and writing from left to right.
- Does your school teach manuscript handwriting? If manuscript writing is taught at your school it may be best to teach manuscript to minimize confusion.
- There are advantages to having students learn the form of writing similar to what they must read in print which is almost always manuscript.
Here are two articles that go into greater depth about which to teach first:
How to Teach Handwriting
Brief instruction and frequent feedback for students is key for teaching handwriting. There are four main aspects of handwriting instruction: pencil grasp, formation, legibility, and pacing.
Pencil grasp: When it comes to how your student holds a pencil, there are correct and incorrect grasps. The correct way is which the index finger and thumb hold the pencil against the middle finger. This is the most comfortable and efficient way to write. Incorrect holding of the pencil can cause poor letter writing and the student’s hand may start to get tired early.
Formation: This is how a student forms a letter. Straight lines are often easier for students to write than curves ones, so it’s developmentally appropriate to teach capital letters before moving on to lowercase letters. For students who struggle with letter formation, explicit instruction is really important. Students should be taught to start their letters at the top (or middle as is the case with some lowercase letters) and use continuous strokes as much as possible. Using visual aids such as arrow cues for stroke direction, dots for starting points, and dotted letters for tracing will help a lot.
Legibility: An important factor impacting legibility is spacing between words. Putting a “finger space” in between words is a good place to start.
Pacing: If students are holding their pencil correctly, that will often solve any pacing problems. Another issue to look for is how hard the student is pressing his pencil to the paper. If they are pressing too hard they will most likely get writing fatigue and be a slow writer.
Here are a few videos that are great for teaching handwriting:
School days are packed, and it can be easy to let handwriting sit on the back burner. However, using just a few minutes a day to instruct and give feedback to your students about their handwriting can lead to positive outcomes in their overall literacy development.