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Educational Partners

Handwriting: cover the page or colour it?

By Bob Hext on 15 July 2011, 09:27am | Special Educational Needs

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.

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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Bob Hext

Bob Hext

Ex SEN teacher Bob Hext is Managing Director of Crossbow Education Ltd, which he started in 1993 to publish the literacy games he was developing to help his dyslexic students with their reading and spelling. In 2005, Bob and his wife Anne designed and patented the Eye Level Reading Ruler to support children with Visual Stress. In 2006, The Eye Level Reading Ruler was runner up SEN product of the year at the BESA Educational Resources Awards. Since then Bob and Anne have worked with leading academics in the field to widen their range of Visual Stress support products, which now include A4 overlays, tinted exercise books and pads, as well as computer-related products. Bob started teaching in 1973, and has wide experience in many environments, as a class teacher, Head of Department, and SEN teacher. Bob is an experienced training provider and has spoken on various aspects of Dyslexia teaching at Conferences and CPD events over the years, including Education North in April 2011, and will be presenting the seminar “Reading Writing and Colour” at Special Needs London on Saturday 15th Sept 2011.

Crossbow are a trusted “first stop” for many SENCOs looking for “dyslexia-friendly” teaching materials for literacy, from decodable phonic readers to spelling games and handwriting resources. Their visual stress support products are now used in 60% of the schools in the UK, and are also sold in the USA through their North Carolina subsidiary, Crossbow Education Corp. Crossbow were short listed for the Supplier of the Year award at the BESA Educational Resources Awards 2011.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/CrossbowEducation

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1 Comment

  • Reply Tim Miles Tim Miles 21 July 2011, 10:36am

    Thanks for this article. I'm pleased to hear someone consider the importance of handwriting and how to help those who struggle with it.

    When using a computer to write, it's easy to recast sentences and juggle words and phrases around without considering the overall flow of the piece. I have frequently spent some time “perfecting” the wording and structure of a paragraph, only to realise later that I have caused it to jar with an adjacent one - which might well have undergone a similar process itself!

    The practice of drafting and redrafting a piece of writing helps one keep the flow of the whole document in mind. This is most reliably done by hand: with a word processor it's too easy, and tempting, to copy-paste chunks of text and play around with sentences. Handwritten drafts enable a teacher to track the changes a pupil has made and gain insight into his thought process (I should note that some text editors – such as EtherPad – allow the history of a document to be replayed character by character). Moreover, the fact that it is harder and messier to make changes to handwritten work encourages pupils to think more carefully before committing words to page.

    Decent handwriting is also the best tool for making notes - on real or digital paper. It's quicker and more versatile than typing on touchscreens, and quieter than clicking away on a laptop.

    I'm less convinced by your last point - I doubt that the quality of a person's handwriting affects his ability to choose whether or not to commit a crime (or series of crimes) serious enough for him to be incarcerated – but it is refreshing to hear support for a frequently overlooked skill, and an explanation of how it can be more effectively taught to those who are struggling.

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