A look at the literature and one teacher's perception about readiness skills necessary for writing and when to teach writing in school. Should teaching handwriting be the responsibility of a Kindergarten teacher or someone else? Are there certain skills a student will need to begin to write?
Personal Experience Teaching Handwriting
I vividly remember the first year of teaching Kindergarten when the vice principal came to the classroom for a visit amid a handwriting lesson. She kindly said that the Kindergarten teacher need not take time away from curricula areas to teach handwriting; it is the role of an after-school worker, parent or teacher assistant. This first year teacher experienced great discord with this feedback due to hours of practicing and teaching proper handwriting technique during student teaching and being told "this is the way it is to be done." Furthermore, learning that on some written state examinations, a grade can be deduced for illegible handwriting; after all, of what use is correct content if one cannot understand the written words therein? After that first year of teaching, I continued to teach and model proper handwriting to my Kindergarten students. It also drove me to study research about the subject of handwriting readiness and when handwriting should be taught.
Handwriting Readiness Skills
Although there is much research regarding writing readiness, there some commonalities within. Certain skills a student must obtain to master handwriting are:
- firmly grasp a pencil (sometimes called small motor or fine motor skill)
- have eye-hand coordination
- can follow handwriting "rules"
- recognize alphabet letters
- basic stroke formation in the form of vertical and horizontal lines and circles
- can follow verbal instructions
- knows spatial and temporal words- above, below, on top of, and between
Other studies seem to suggest the student must also:
- have a dominant hand use
- attention span
- memory skills to remember the formation
- perception skills to visual what the letter should look like
The studies seem to suggest then, some students may need more practice than others. Any experienced Kindergarten teacher will testify that some students do not come into Kindergarten with these skills developed, rather they are fostered over time and with other classroom experiences such as cutting, and manipulating clay or Playdough to name a few.
When to Teach Handwriting
Most experts agree that handwriting should begin in Kindergarten and mastered by the end of first grade. It is in my experience however, that some PreKindergarten students are developmentally ready to begin writing prior to Kindergarten (age 4). The more mature the student becomes, the easier it should be for him or her to write within the lines, control the writing strokes and to control the size and proportion of the letter or letters.
When teaching handwriting be sure it is during the early part of the school day and no longer than 15 minutes per session. It is best to teach the letter formation as you are teaching the letter and sound as the student will have a connection (prior knowledge) between the visual and audio when practicing. I personally taught letter formation as a group activity while teaching students to learn to read each other's names and the learning was reinforced throughout other writing experiences throughout the day (thus working on memory skills, i.e. "Remember, we made that letter this morning when...and this is how we did it...").
From the research, it is clear that teaching handwriting should begin in Kindergarten and should be taught by the classroom teacher. If students are going to write, then they must learn how to print. There are certain readiness skills that a student should possess. If the student does not, then give the student plenty of opportunities to develop them throughout the day and praise his or her attempts at writing! Teaching handwriting does not require, "drill and kill," meaning do not overdo it. Handwriting should be taught in small increments and reinforced throughout the day as the students are provided with many opportunities to write.
In the next article in the series let's focus on how to teach handwriting, take a holistic approach to teaching handwriting and choose a handwriting instruction program based upon the literature.
Marr, D., Windsor, M., and Cermak, S. (2001). Handwriting Readiness: Locatives and Visuomotor Skills in the Kindergarten Year. Early Childhood Research and Practice. Vol. 3 No. 1, 17-32.
Koenke, K. (1986). Handwriting Instruction: What Do We Know? Eric Digest: ERIC Information Analysis. 1-3.