This is the first of two posts about evaluating handwriting. You can find Evaluating Handwriting, Part 2: Student Self-Evaluation here.
From pre-k onward, teachers evaluate their students’ progress in all subjects. To know how students are progressing with reading, math, spelling, or any other subject, their work needs to be regularly assessed.
Handwriting is no exception! Without teacher evaluation, students can rapidly develop bad handwriting habits. When you evaluate your students’ handwriting on a regular basis, you can address and correct handwriting errors before they become permanent.
Evaluating handwriting is especially important when students are just learning to write (for example, kindergartners learning to write in manuscript or second- or third-graders just learning cursive). Giving extra attention to their progress will allow you to address problem areas immediately and help prevent ongoing handwriting difficulties.
Evaluating Your Students’ Handwriting
Students write all day in every subject. If they make mistakes during their handwriting lesson, we don’t want them “practicing” those mistakes while they write throughout the day.
Try to allow a few minutes at the end of each lesson to look over your students’ work. Doing so will give you a chance to catch and address any serious issues. It will also help students recognize and correct any mistakes they may have made.
Here is a quick outline of what to look for in your students’ handwriting:
- Letter Formation. Check to see that the letters are formed properly. Most illegible handwriting can be traced back to incorrectly formed basic strokes. Reviewing the basic strokes with your students can help fix these issues.
- Letter Spacing. Letters should be properly and consistently spaced. Keep in mind that letter spacing varies depending on the shape of the letters. For example, there will be more space between two straight-line letters (like the lowercase i and l) than between two circular letters (like the lowercase a or o).
- Word Spacing. The space between words should be about the size of a lowercase o. You may want to encourage your students to use their finger or pencil to help keep their word spacing consistent.
- Line Quality. Lines should be consistent and smooth. Look for writing that is too thin or thick (or a combination, which results from inconsistent pencil pressure).
- Slant. Generally speaking, manuscript letters should be vertical, while cursive letters should slant slightly to the right. However, don’t penalize students whose manuscript slants slightly but is perfectly legible, or whose cursive is beautiful but lacks any slant. Remember – the ultimate goal is always legibility!
- Cursive Joinings. In cursive writing, check to see that students join their letters properly. Pay special attention to tricky joinings such as checkstroke joinings and overcurve-to-downcurve joinings.
Also take notice of your students’ paper position, pencil position, and posture. If incorrect, each of these elements can affect the quality of your students’ handwriting.
Evaluating Handwriting Across the Curriculum
Handwriting evaluation shouldn’t be restricted to handwriting lessons. Students write by hand across the curriculum! They take notes and complete assignments, quizzes, and tests in every subject.
If students don’t receive feedback on their handwriting outside of their handwriting lessons, they may not pay as much attention to maintaining legible handwriting. Here are some options for using evaluation to keep students mindful of their handwriting throughout the day:
1. Give a Dual Grade. Give students a grade on their assignment and a separate grade on the quality of their handwriting. This doesn’t mean you have to spend time on a detailed critique every time your students write by hand. Simply providing a + or – can be a powerful reminder that legible handwriting is expected. You can also give an E for “Excellent,” an S for “Satisfactory,” or an N for “Needs Improvement.”
2. Bonus Points. When your students complete an assignment, quiz, or test with particularly neat handwriting, add a few extra points to their grade as a bonus.
3. Spotlight Exemplary Work. Select the best handwriting samples from your class and display them for the class to view. Displaying great handwriting serves as a model for all of your students to aspire to. Sending papers with the best handwriting to the principal for additional recognition can also motivate students.
Teach Your Students to Self-Evaluate
Evaluating your students’ handwriting is essential to helping them develop good writing habits. But did you know that teaching your students to evaluate their own handwriting can boost their success even further?
Teaching your students to critically evaluate their own work will help them to better understand letter formation, and they will learn to immediately self-correct their mistakes. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we’ll go into more detail about student self-evaluation.
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Universal Handwriting provides sequential, developmentally appropriate handwriting instruction for grades PK-6.