Author: Suzanne Tiburtius, Specialist Teacher, Kent Learning Support Service
This article is a summary of advice taken from two articles by Suzanne.
Improving the standard of handwriting of secondary aged pupils can not usually be achieved by working with individuals. Handwriting is a movement skill, akin to typing, driving or playing the piano, and errors which pupils have practised over a number of years are not easily eradicated; working individually with pupils for short periods each week will not be effective if they then revert to old habits as soon as the lesson is over.
All staff must be involved and have consistent expectations
This does not mean that busy specialist teachers should be expected to spend much time on this skill, merely that they should know and back up what other colleagues are doing.
Start at the beginning
When pupils enter Year 7 handwriting can be assessed in the same way as reading, spelling and maths skills. It would be reasonable for secondary schools to expect the vast majority of pupils would enter secondary school able to complete all work in joined handwriting and that most had developed a fast note-taking hand which, though not as neat, was still readable. This may not always be the case.
What can mainstream staff do to encourage good quality handwriting?
The English department
- Focus on Year 7 and 8. The older the pupil the more difficult it is to change poor handwriting habits, unless the pupil is motivated.
- Assess the writing of all Year 7 pupils on entry for school for legibility, ease and fluency and speed, and observe their posture and pen hold in class.
- Specific praise and encouragement given for using joined handwriting.
- A separate mark given for handwriting and presentation.
- Discourage individual ‘quirks’ which affect speed and legibility
- Ready praise for extra effort or even quite small improvements, to be positive.
- Remind pupils to sit appropriately with the non writing hand resting on the writing surface.
- Discourage pupils from writing with unsatisfactory writing instruments as this can affect the standard of writing quite significantly. Fine fibre tipped pens, gel pens and nib pens are usually the best, biros or leaky fountain pens are seldom satisfactory. It is helpful if school stock a variety of these for purchase. Edding Crystalliner is pleasant to write with and gives a pencil like feel. Pens with thick rubberised barrels are helpful and Bic Fine liners are cheaper ball point pens which also give good results.
- Avoid seating a right hander next to a left hander so that they clash. A left hander should sit to the left of a right handed student.
- Give pupils specific targets for improvement; they need to know exactly what aspect of their writing to focus on and how they should improve this.
- Set the tone as soon as pupils enter the school in Year 7. They are likely to be more responsive to secondary school demands at this stage.
- Show a good example. Write as well as you have time for when writing on the board or in student books.
- Have clearly stated and consistent rules for presentation and lay-out of written work.
The problem of speed
As pupils move up through secondary school and the demands of the curriculum become greater, writing speeds may be a difficulty. The mature writer should be able to produce two standards of handwriting which may look remarkably different, one being a good quality hand which is used when appearance is important or when making a fair copy of work, and the other a fast note-taking hand which may be more untidy, but is still legible.
Some students may have the opposite problem and have developed the habit of using a fast, untidy note-taking hand for all purposes. They probably do not realise this and automatically begin to write fast no matter what the purpose of the writing with a consequent deterioration in quality.
This can be difficult to deal with as the student has acquired the habit of movement, and movement habits are often hard to change as they become quite automatic and the writer is no longer aware of what s/he is doing.
It is important to explain to the pupil concerned what is happening and that for some purposes the handwriting needs to be slower and more careful. Some work with handwriting patterns can be helpful in slowing down the handwriting movement as the pupil then only has one thing to concentrate on.
The aim for such pupils might be to produce two pieces of handwriting, one written carefully and more slowly, and the other written in a fast note-taking hand. The two pieces of writing should look markedly different.