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Handwriting with Jeremy Rowe – NAPE 041

Handwriting

The National Association for Primary Education are planning new handwriting workshops for primary schools. Mark Taylor talks to Jeremy Rowe about his vast experience in education and what to expect from the handwriting workshops.

Handwriting is in the National Curriculum – is it an anachronism like 12x table? – or an important skill?

It could be considered important for aesthetic reasons – visually pleasing; a rewarding skill, developing fine motor control, and leading to a strong personal style’. It’s also an art form.

Quote Buzz Aldrin “No dream is too high (2108) “In this day of text messages, email and social media communications, if you really want to make an impression on someone, write a handwritten note of thanks or encouragement.”

More important is the significant contribution to development of thinking skills. We have enough years of using keyboards, so we can now compare. Neuroscientists and psychologists are beginning to raise questions about whether handwriting has unique value. Children who learn to write by hand well, learn to read quicker, retain information better, and generate ideas easier.

Scientists have long suspected the link between handwriting and memory, thought processes, creativity; handwriting boots neural activity in sectors of the brain associated with creativity; writing things down using a pen and paper has long been a trick to help spark the memory.

“How can I tell what I think if I cannot see what I say?” (E M Forster essay “Aspects of the Novel”, written just after he’d finish Passage to India 1924).

Recent research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience: looking at how we learn:

Examples:

  1. Brain scanning has demonstrated that handwriting activities help preschoolers learn their letters.
  2. Writing by hand is indispensible for helping children develop a brain that reads with proficiency.
  3. Handwriting is a key component in improving both spelling ability and written composition.
  4. Grey matter volume and density correlates with higher handwriting quality, signalling more efficient neural processing.
  5. Writing is better for the brain than keyboarding.

Professor Jane Medwell (leading academic in field of handwriting) says, “Handwriting is vital. Children who write by hand are better connected to their work and more engaged in learning.”

Joyce Rankin (USA State Board for Education) “There are direct links between developing good handwriting skills at an early age and academic achievement in both literacy and numeracy as children progress though their schooling; brain imaging has actually found that handwriting activites the brain more than keyboarding because it involves more complex motor and cognitive skills.”

By handwriting something to learn it, research says it helps to ‘etch it into the memory’. 

Handwriting is a complex skill engaging cognitive, perceptual and motor skills simultaneously.

Early years are especially crucial. Once children have formed counterproductive habits, they can be difficult to change. Ten or fifteen minutes daily will pay off. Start with large movements in the air to learn letter shapes; progress to patterns; families of letter; manuscript (letters not joined) then cursive (joined)

It must be taught carefully – “illegible handwriting can have a serious impact on a child’s self-esteem” (Lyceum School brochure)

Professor Virginia Berniger, Univ ersity of Washington investigated children in Years 2, 4 and 6. She found that they wrote more words faster and expressed more ideas when writing by hand than with a keyboard. Handwritten documents provide thoughts recorded at the speed of handwriting, a visual record of thinking, and reflective concentration (ability to think whilst writing).

The primary school is responsible – it’s very hard to change habits after about year 4, but continued practise in years 5/6 is essential to develop speed, fluency and the beginnings of a personal style.

Early years games and patterns start to ball rolling (but fine motor skills are possible only when the children is ready). Little and often – 10 minutes at the beginning of the day.

The NAPE workshops will start with a review of current research, but will be mainly focussed on technique from early years to year six.

Marion Richardson (1935) joined writing halfway between italic and copperplate (This is what Jeremy was taught in the 1950’s!)

Italic, first introduce in 1952

Basic Modern hand (Christopher Jarman 1979):

  1. No loops, flourishes or conceits
  2. Writing is logical and economical
  3. Legible
  4. Good for beginners who will later develop personal style

Develop lower case first (more easy to read than capitals); correct grip of pencil or pen; dealing with left-handers; there are many practical aspects of teaching handwriting which will be part of the workshops.

Website www.write yourfuture.com sponsored by Berol and Papermate, with excellent articles by Jane Medwell and others, and very good resources.

Jeremy D Rowe

September 2019

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