OUCH! TOO MANY KIDS CAN’T HOLD A PENCIL

THOUGHTS FOR PRESERVICE AND GRADUATE TEACHERS (55)

A letter in ‘The Australian’ on August 29 2019 from Bill Pannell sums up a growing deficiency among students. Pannell writers

“TV report of recent NAPLAN test results suggests a deficiency and continued deterioration in writing skills in Australian high school students.Video footage accompanying these reports makes the reason for this problem obvious: a sort of back-hand claw-like grip of pens and pencils.

Surely some basic instruction in the use of a writing implement would produce improvement in this area?”

Mr Pannell’s letter hits the nail on the head; that the ability to hold a writing tool comfortably and write with wrist and finger authority and control is fast becoming a lost skill. The skill of handwriting used to be taught in school. Handwriting lessons were part of the curriculum.

My urging and heartfelt pleading to graduating teachers is to research and reinstate handwriting lessons as a part of their teaching operation. Handwriting is vitally important and the ability to handle writing tools with authority and comfort should be reinstated. Handwriting lessons should never have been dropped.

HANDWRITING SHOULD BE TAUGHT

There is a lot of debate these days about whether or not handwriting should be taught at school. In some countries, including Finland and the United States, handwriting has gone by the by. Rather than being taught how to use a pen, all students are given the opportunity to learn keyboard skills including touch typing.

While trying to understand why this change has occurred I would be the very last person to advocate that handwriting should become a skill of the past. Rather I believe that it should endure forever.

I am certainly not down on keyboards and computers. But for children to have both handwriting and keyboards is optimal. To become mono skilled with handwriting going out the door would be altogether wrong. There are many many occasions in life when handwriting is important and indeed the only written communications method available.

When teaching handwriting, the “3 P’s” rudiments immediately comes to mind. That has to do with the methodology of writing. It is about;

* pencil or pen hold

* paper position

* posture – the way we sit in order to write most effectively and comfortably.

Stressing these things over and over again until they become habitual is important.

Part of handwriting is teaching children how to hold a pen or pencil so that it is comfortable and their fingers and wrists don’t ache. Watching people write these days can be quite a torturous experience because of the way in which writing tools are held. It’s obvious from observation that many people have never been taught how to write. That is an absolute pity.

The size (diameter) of pencils and then transition from pencil to pen is a part of writing graduation. Initially pencils are thick and as children grow older with more dexterous finger management the diameter of the pencil become smaller. When a reasonable agree of writing skill has evolved, then is the time to move on to pans. That is usually around year four to year five. Children love graduation to pens and having pen licenses issued to them by teachers.

Lined size is a part of learning to write. The younger child the bigger the line. 1 inch lines (30mm) are generally the starting point going down to around 12 mm by the time children get to the end of middle and the commencement of the upper primary years. Handbooks and exercise books can be purchased where lines are divided into thirds. This helps children when it comes to tall letters (t, f,) and letters having tales (g, y q,). The dimensions associated with writing can be trained with children developing that discernment over time. Over time, the one third divisions can be left and children go to straight lines for their writing activities.

These days specific handwriting lessons are often not offered in class. Or it may be that there is a handwriting text where children simply open and copy what’s written for them. I believe that those texts are enhanced by use of a transcription book and also with teachers demonstrating letter formation, joins, words and so on the whiteboard. The idea of children learning by copying really helps when it comes to handwriting development.

The way paper or writing books are positioned helps when it comes to the slope of letters. Writing from left to right is part of this and can be difficult particularly for left-handed children. Left-handers tend to “drag” their arms across pages as they write from left to right meaning that dog ears and crumpled pages become the norm. Train children as they finish a line of writing to lift their arm going back to the start of the

And then working across the page from left to right that overcomes the shuffling of arm on paper that can occur if this is neglected.

Steadying the paper or page onto which writing is being done helps. For this purpose the spare hand can be used. So often it is seen propping up children’s heads as they write where that writing is the task of one hand alone. Rather than the spare hand being a head prop, metaphorically describe it as an anchor which holds the boat (paper or book) steady against the wall so that it doesn’t rock back off fourth, or similar. This will involve a lot of reminding and correction easily seen as being in need of remediation when teachers are walking around classrooms.

Support children with lessons as a transition from printing to writing script style. Linked script is part of this and it does take time to teach. Little and often is important and I would suggest a handwriting lessons every day.

Remember to comment on handwriting and praise the effort that students put in to the script. Be they printing or writing this praise will help.

Handwriting is so important. It needs to be revived not neglected.

_______________________________

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