Some ask: “Is it worth schools spending time teaching handwriting when it seems to matter less and less?”
The debate also continues on whether keyboard skills are perhaps more relevant for children growing up today.
I have been teaching for over 30 years. I have taught all ages from 4 to 16 and during this time I have never wavered from my belief that handwriting does matter. There is a kind of special beauty when you see a well-executed piece of writing whether it is by a pupil, teacher, friend, relative, someone you have never met or a job applicant! But apart from my predilections, there are many of us who still believe in the significance of handwriting. Indeed research suggests that it matters in some very specific ways:
1. It has major cognitive benefits.
Writing things down means we are more likely to remember, process and expand on them. For example Steve Graham proposed that “Mastery of handwriting and Spelling is required for idea conceptualisation and production of high-level content” (1). Research has also highlighted the direct link between children’s handwriting ability and their performance at composition (2). Recent studies have similarly emphasized the value of speedy handwriting for note-taking – and the skills associated with selecting and prioritizing the most important information (3).
2. It is part of the suite of communications tools that all children need.
Even the most avid of keyboard proponents agree that everyone should at least be able to pick up a pen or pencil and write – and write well enough that others can understand what they have written. However, some suggest many teachers place too much emphasis on ‘neatness’ (i.e. legibility) rather than encouraging fluency (i.e. speed). My experience in the classroom and beyond, is once children have learnt to form and then join letters correctly, legibility, fluency and neatness will follow. To achieve this, however, handwriting does require regular practice.
3. It both feeds and reflects our culture and imagination.
Actor Steve Carell captured this succinctly. He said: “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It’s disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there’s something visceral about opening a letter – I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting” (4).
Authors, particularly those who have ‘switched’ from digital to pen and paper argue that the act of handwriting facilitates reflection and the expansion of their ideas – it is far too easy to ‘edit before you think’ with a keyboard!
Whatever your perspective, I suggest the day we no longer pick up a pen/pencil will be the day we stop teaching handwriting. That day is not here (yet!). Teaching handwriting therefore still remains important and for that reason we need to teach it well.
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.
- Sara Rosenblum , Liat Gafni-Lachter , May 2015 , ‘Handwriting Proficiency Screening Questionnaire for Children (HPSQ-C)’, quotation paraphrased from Steve Graham, ‘Want to Improve Children’s Writing?’, American Educator, Winter 2009-2010
- Medwell, J. & Wray, D., 2014, ‘Handwriting automaticity: the search for performance thresholds’, Language and Education.
- Sara Rosenblum, Liat Gafni-Lachter, 2015
- Steve Carell, ‘Kickin’ back with Steve Carell’ by Ty Burr, July 24, 2011, Boston.com