Handwriting: cover the page or colour it?

Bob Hext

Ex SEN teacher Bob Hext is Managing Director of Crossbow Education Ltd, which he started in 1993 to publish the ...

Website: www.crossboweducation.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

According to a recent BBC press release, the state of Indiana is the latest in a succession of US states which will not require its schoolchildren to learn joined-up, or cursive, writing. The move is part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which aims to ensure consistency in US education and makes no mention of handwriting.

Some critics say writing well is a vital skill for life and builds character, and that there is a link between kinaesthetic memory and spelling. Supporters of the move say that typing skills are more useful in the modern digital world, and that keyboarding develops kinaesthetic memory as well as cursive writing. But whatever is propounded by theorists, the fact is that handwriting remains an important medium for learning and communication, and is still going to be with us for quite a while.

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I remember teaching a child in year 9 (we’ll call him Sammy) who was so ashamed of his handwriting that he covered everything he wrote (which, to be fair, was very little) with his left hand as he wrote it. He hated what he saw in his exercise books – so he put nothing into them, or, if he really couldn’t avoid having to do something, he made sure he could see as little as possible of what he wrote. His behaviour, not surprisingly, was a constant problem, and the last I heard of him, he had become yet another exclusion statistic.

My previous article looked briefly at Visual Stress and reading. The same applies to writing: a person with Visual Stress writing on white paper may well see the letters moving around as they write. The result can be seen in the example (below) on the left. When they come to read what they have written, it is moving around again…

Now look at the example on the right: the same child, the same words, the same lesson. All that has changed is the paper. And the presentation, and the legibility, and the spelling of about eight words, and the child’s self-esteem…

I wonder what would have become of Sammy’s life if he’d had tinted exercise books to work in? Tinted exercise books cost more than plain white ones, but exclusion, and in many cases prison, costs a lot more still.

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