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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Teach handwriting. Really!

October 27, 2010

Richard Gentry and Steve Graham reaffirm the research about the importance of spelling and handwriting instruction in a new white paper. I'll write about the spelling research in a separate post, this one will focus on handwriting.

Teaching kids to write upper and lower-case letters helps them master letters and punctuation marks, the same ones they decode while learning to read. Because most children's books use upper and lowercase letters, Gentry and Graham suggest that effective instruction begins with teaching the manuscript (i.e., print) alphabet. The authors go on to support the teaching of cursive by Grade 3.

It was interesting to read that many teachers did not have formal training to prepare them to teach handwriting. Thankfully the good handwriting programs and curricula that are available teach both the teacher and student about correct letter formation. The good ones present a logical sequence for studying letter formation, use numbered arrows that show the correct order and direction of strokes, incorporate new letters into words using known letters, and provide practice pages that do not require copying from the board.

The authors summarize the research by saying that learning to write letters and spell words reinforces the letter-naming, phonemic, and word-deciphering skills required in developing literacy. This instruction assists children in developing the pre-reading skills associated with proficient reading by the end of the first or second grade: phonological awareness, letter identification, and vocabulary development. Handwriting instruction also increases legibility and letter-writing fluency. This is true for all students: those who struggle, ELLs, and typically achieving students.

The reference list is a who's who of writing and handwriting research. The full paper is available from Saperstein Associates here, and the executive summary can be found here.

Related posts:

My budding author and her (lack of) pencil grip

How young is too young for cursive?


I teach in a school that uses the SAXON Phonics program. Not only do the teachers focus on the phonological aspect of the program, but also model the correct method of forming the letters.

I am a museum teacher. When I write on the white-board in cursive, even for upper middle school, the students cannot read it. The teacher requests that I print. A twenty-something college grad who I work with has asked me to teach her to write in cursive.

let's also consider that before a child can properly "run a pencil" their bodies need to be ready: postural control + sensory maturation. These essentials mature at different paces for different kids, but we expect them all to sit in a desk (that is often too tall for their elbow height) and write neatly without addressing foundational immaturity in their neurodevelopment.

I wish K and 1st grade teachers would send more worksheets home to help the parents know what to have their kids practice at home.

If we want to improve handwriting, considerable time must be spent on it in school. We have so much else to teach, that handwriting instruction has gone by the wayside. It should be brought back, in some form, with the understanding that in today's age kids are going to grow up typing much more than handwriting.

The manner in which a student grips a pencil also influences the handwriting. Also it is time that we start computer keyboard familiarization along with cursive writing from early stages.

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J.K. Rowling