After years in the wilderness, handwriting is back. Many of us would have grown up, or even started teaching, in the days when there was a sort of take-it-or-leave it approach to handwriting. As long as you could read what had been written, no one really minded. Or so it seemed.
Nowadays, of course, it matters once more. In fact, it matters so much that it could affect assessment grades, so we really do need to take it seriously. Here are some ideas to make sure your class toes the elegantly flowing line.
The first thing you need to understand is the expectations. Essentially, you need to look at the teacher assessment frameworks (TAFs) for writing at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find the most prescriptive lists of requirements in the Key Stage 1 TAF. At working towards expected level, it’s about forming lower case letters with the correct size, orientation, placement, starting position and finishing position. Expected standard throws capital letters into the mix and greater depth standard includes evidence of the horizontal or diagonal strokes needed to started joining letters.
By the end of Key Stage 2, pupils are required to produce legible joined-up writing and maintain this when writing at speed for those working at the expected standard.
- Start them young
With so much resting on their handwriting, it’s best to start them early. Early Years teachers should have set them on the right path but it is likely that Key Stage 1 teachers will need to keep focusing on letter formation. Fortunately, there are more and more resources that can help children know exactly where to start and finish their letters properly so don’t be shy about using them.
- Special cases
For pupils who struggle, try giving them sensory materials with which to practise, such as trays of sand or shaving foam. You should also be alert to pupils who adopt left hand writing. Thankfully, we’re long past the days when teachers used to force left handed children to use their right hand. Even so, it can be a problem so you will probably want to see what resources are available to them. This is where your SENCO should come into his or her own.
At the other end of the scale, don’t feel bad about encouraging a high-achiever to focus on correct letter formation, no matter how precociously well they have composed their first novel at the age of six. They will thank you in the end.
Extend your zero tolerance approach to handwriting to include yourself. It is vitally important for pupils to see you using correct letter formation whenever you are putting pen to paper. So, if you have slipped into any bad habits over the years, or even if you have simply spend so much of your life typing that you have lost your pen-wielding muscle memory, make sure that you work hard to get your skills up to scratch.
- Joined up thinking
As mentioned earlier, your greater depth children should be in a position to start joining their letters by the end of Key Stage 1. Teaching cursive writing should be a natural extension of what has gone before as correct letter formation involves finishing a letter in the perfect place for flicking across to the next. Indeed, the better handwriting resources provide letter templates that allow the pupil to either stop at the end of the letter or start making the diagonal or horizontal strokes needed to join some letters. Just remember that there are some letters that are considered unsuitable for joining.
- Insist on good habits
This is really about starting as you mean to go on but there are some other things that can help. Make sure your pupils have got a good grip on their pencils and, if necessary, get special grips or triangular pencils to help. Check that they are sitting properly, holding the book or paper with their free hand and not slouching. If the expectation is that they join their letters, make it a requirement, even if it takes them a little longer at the beginning – they will soon pick up the pace. And once they are able to demonstrate consistently good pencil work, reward them with a pen licence. Soon enough, everyone will want one!
- Maintaining good habits
With so much to learn in school, it sometimes helps to have ever-present reminders for the pupils. Desk-top reference materials, such as alphabets of appropriately formed letters, can be very effective. Or why not try our ‘rules for writing’ display pack, designed to remind Year 1 pupils exactly what is expected of every sentence they write?
- Practise, practise, practise
Make time to practise handwriting, especially in the earlier years. If professional sports players can practise the same drill, day in, day out, in order to perfect their skills, school children can with their handwriting. Use handwriting worksheets or books with special guidelines to promote the correct size and placement of letters if necessary. Just make sure your pupils are clear which parts of which letters should go where – they can be rather confusing to the uninitiated.
- Killing two birds with one pencil
Even so, take every opportunity to give handwriting practise a dual purpose. Take our phonics phase 5 comprehension worksheets, for example. As well as exercising pupils’ blending and comprehension skills, they provide good handwriting practise too. The same is true of our Year 5/6 statutory spelling words practise pack which provide space for writing the words neatly and properly while promoting the pupils’ ability to understand and spell them.
Remember, as with most things in life, first impressions count. By helping your pupils to develop neat, well-formed handwriting, you’ll be doing them a favour for life. It’s just another way in which you can have a big hand in their future success.