Every day, students are required to use handwriting skills. In the elementary grades, children still complete the vast majority of their assignments by hand. Older students find plenty of opportunities to exercise their handwriting skills as well, from taking notes to completing handwritten essays on standardized tests. The ability to write fluently increases student achievement across the curriculum, while handwriting difficulties can hinder students’ achievement.
One particular area that is affected by handwriting proficiency (or lack thereof) is composition. Research shows that early handwriting instruction has a direct impact on a student’s future composition success. Dr. Steve Graham, a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Maryland, tells us that, “In dozens of studies, researchers…have found that, done right, early handwriting instruction improves students’ writing. Not just its legibility, but its quantity and quality.”
Let’s take a look at some specific ways that handwriting difficulties can affect a student’s ability to write well.
4 Ways Handwriting Affects Students’ Writing
1. Quality of Students’ Writing. When students struggle to form letters, their attention is split between mechanics and content. Graham points out that these students will often take a “knowledge telling” approach to writing. Students may string together a series of ideas to form a composition but fail to utilize elements of the writing process such as planning, organization, reflection, and review. Consequently, the students’ writing may be of lower quality and complexity.
2. Length of Students’ Writing. If handwriting is not an automatic process, students will struggle to get their thoughts on paper quickly. They may forget what they wanted to write before they are able to write it. Additionally, students who can’t write fluently are at a disadvantage when completing timed writing assignments (such as the SAT essay).
3. Aversion to Writing. Students who have difficulty completing written assignments because of handwriting problems will likely develop an aversion to writing in general. They may dread writing assignments and avoid them whenever possible. They may even begin to think they are incapable of writing well. This can have a serious effect on the student’s academic achievement, since some writing is required in just about every class.
4. How Writing Is Graded. Even when readers are instructed to disregard handwriting quality, research indicates this isn’t likely to happen. Numerous studies show that handwriting quality influences how a composition is scored. Neatly written compositions tend to receive higher scores than less legible compositions, even though the quality of the content may actually be similar. According to one study, legible handwritten compositions even scored higher than typed compositions of similar quality.
As you can see, poor handwriting can have a serious impact on your students’ writing success. Consistent handwriting instruction and practice from grade to grade is essential to helping students learn to write fluently and automatically.
Dr. Kathleen Muzevich, a professor of reading and language arts methods courses at Alvernia University and the author of The Handwriting Wars, likens the process to that of learning to drive a car. When first learning how to drive, we’re so focused on the mechanics of driving (steering, braking, etc.) that we didn’t dare think about anything else. However, once the mechanics become second nature, drivers feel more comfortable shifting their attention elsewhere (sometimes dangerously). Similarly, when letter formation becomes automatic, your students can devote their concentration to the message they are trying to convey.
5 Tips to Help Students Build Handwriting Automaticity
The path to developing functional handwriting skills and – eventually – automaticity begins in the earliest stages of handwriting instruction. Try these tips to help your students build handwriting automaticity:
- Teach proper letter formation. Begin with the basic strokes, and then move on to teaching the letters one at a time. Discuss the proper formation of a letter before asking your students to practice writing it.
- Encourage self-evaluation. When students self-evaluate their work, they can immediately correct their mistakes and avoid developing bad handwriting habits.
- Provide models for reference. Students should have classroom models such as alphabet wall strips and desk strips available to reference if they are unsure of a letter’s formation.
- Set handwriting standards in every subject. Students write every day in every subject, from language arts to science to math. Be sure your students know that you expect them to use their best handwriting in all subjects, not just during handwriting lessons.
- Let them write! Give students plenty of opportunities to write by hand. When they have a firm grasp on proper letter formation, give them longer writing assignments. Ask them to write the same paragraph two or three times in a row and attempt to increase their speed each time while maintaining legibility.
Handwriting plays a major role in a student’s ability to convey their thoughts in a written message. Helping your students build handwriting automaticity will help them experience success when they begin writing compositions.
The beginning of a new school year is the perfect time to freshen up your handwriting curriculum and set your students up for writing success! If you’re looking for a new handwriting program, check out the Universal Handwriting series (you can even request free samples!).