Teaching the formation of letters and how to join remains as important today as it was back in 1958 when Marion Richardson and Dr. Fletcher, in the manual ‘Quick and legible handwriting’ made the following comment:
“Basic letter shapes used in print script do not lend themselves to speed and legibility. By making use of simple joins from the beginning, children experience the essentially cursive nature of handwriting”.
There is also much evidence, old and new, to support the view that teaching joined handwriting aids not only fluency but also spelling. Charles Cripps (1995) wrote:
“When children use a print style of writing (not joined) they see words as a series of isolated letters. When joining however, the word is seen a whole; spelling errors are less likely.” (1)
In addition, I firmly believe the correct pencil grip, correct posture and paper position must also be taught alongside the teaching of correct letter formation and handwriting joins. This has a real impact on the progression and development of writing content as well as good handwriting.
In schools where handwriting is taught regularly and consistently, it is often linked to the teaching of phonics and spelling with resulting benefits. Marion Standing, a headteacher I worked with at St Mark’s Primary in Merton, a school that used the Nelson Handwriting approach, commented:
“Having learned the letter strings as part of the handwriting skills they have been taught, the children have developed their own visual awareness. They recognise parts of the whole. Furthermore, having practised two or three letter strings as a handwriting skill, letter reversal becomes almost impossible, as the flow is not halted.”
And these benefits say nothing of easing the ever-increasing demands on the timetable!
There is, I suggest, still a need for all schools today to have a handwriting policy, ensuring there is consistency in how handwriting is taught throughout the school. This will enable our young people to develop the skill of handwriting so that they can write legibly and fluently whenever they pick up a pen/pencil.
Yes, children should be encouraged to develop their own style of writing BUT not until they can form and join letters correctly. Jean Alston highlighted the widespread nature of the issue with ‘the basics’ when she pointed out that one in five ten-year-olds has handwriting difficulties (2). She also wrote:
“By the age of 11, one in six pupils hates writing and the incidence of this disaffection is higher in boys than girls”(3).
As I see it, handwriting is a life-long skill, a movement principle, similar to dance or gymnastics. It is not a natural skill and once poor habits have become established they are hard to change. If we want children to be able to hold a pen correctly, write fluently, spell correctly and develop a style that others can read, then finding the time in the timetable to teach handwriting is just as important today as it was back in the 1950s – to ensure that future generations can write, as well as send text messages and be able to type!
Anita Warwick is the Executive Head Teacher of Uplands Primary School in Sandhurst and the Forest Learning Alliance (FLA). Anita has transformed Uplands from ‘barely satisfactory’ to ‘outstanding’, and it was awarded National Teaching School status in March 2013. Since 2013, Uplands’ KS1–2 results have been consistently high, placing the school amongst the top in the country. Anita has a real passion for handwriting, helping teachers deliver effective and exciting lessons to pupils in infant and junior schools. Her books include Nelson Phonics, Spelling and Handwriting, and the newly updated Nelson Handwriting, which has just launched on Oxford Owl. Her proven approach to the teaching of handwriting skills derives from 35 years in teaching all ages. Anita is also responsible for the creation of the Inspired to Lead (ITL) training approach, training over 1500 teachers and heads across the country. She is a Local Leader of Education (LLE), supporting heads and schools, and responsible for Initial Teacher Training recruitment and the organization and delivery of a range of CPD programmes.
Look out for more handwriting tips from Oxford Primary on Twitter. Follow @OUPPrimary.
- Charles Cripps, 1995, A Hand for Spelling, LDA
- Jean Alston, Special Education: Forward Trends; Vol 9
- Jean Alston, 1990, Aspects of Handwriting in Primary School Children, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester