Technology is an indisputable fact of everyday life and it could also support students’ learning without a doubt. But there are limits to that too. Completely replacing handwriting instruction with keyboarding instruction in elementary school could prove to be unfavorable to students’ literacy acquisition. Teaching young students how to write by hand before moving on to keyboarding could possibly help improve their reading fluency as well.
Previously, researches have denoted that a correlation between letter-naming and letter-writing fluency and a relationship between letter-naming fluency and successful reading development has developed over the years. There is a strong connection between the hand and the neural circuitry of the brain—as students learn to better write the critical features of letters, they also learn to recognize them more fluently. This recognition of letters eventually leads to greater letter-writing fluency, which altogether leads to greater overall reading development of the kids.
Not only do we learn letters better when we entrust them to memory through our writings, memory and learning ability in general might benefit the kids as well. When students write letters manually, they learn them more effectively. Switching to keyboarding before students have developed handwriting skills might possibly reduce their ability to recognize letters. A study has found out that the students who wrote by hand—as opposed to on a keyboard—were able to generate more ideas in a quick succession of time. Students with better handwriting established increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks of the brain.
How to teach handwriting
Handwriting instructions do not require a big time investment: concise lessons and frequent feedbacks for students could possibly be integrated in all areas of the curriculum throughout the school day.
There are four main aspects of handwriting instructions: pencil grasp, formation, legibility, and pacing.
How a child holds the pencil, is a key factor while instructing them about good handwriting, there are correct and incorrect grasps. The correct grasps—in which the index finger and thumb holds the pencil against the middle finger, this results in comfortable and efficient handwriting, while incorrect grasps could cause poor letter formation and fatigue.
A student with a poor pencil grasp might get benefitted from using tools such as a pencil grip or from wrapping a rubber band around the ring finger and pinkie, not too tightly though!—to fold them against the hand. The students could also use the pinch and flip trick, in this trick, the student places the pencil with the writing end facing them, pinches the pencil between the thumb and index finger, and flips the pencil into the correct position.
This refers on how a student goes about while forming the letters. Straight lines are comparatively easier for students to write than curved ones, so basically, it would suitable to teach students to write capital letters before moving on to lowercase ones.
It is decisive that handwriting instructions could be integrated with phonics instructions as well: As the students are learning about how to write the letters, they should also be learning and practicing the sounds that the letters produce while speaking. Handwriting and dictation activities are the foundation stone of any multisensory phonics instruction program, as it requires the students to consistently practice forming the letters while connecting them to sounds would serve to better implant phonics concepts in the brain.
For students who struggle with letter formation, explicit instructions are particularly important for them. Students should be trained to start their letters from the top, and they should use continuous strokes as much as possible. Some letters might require them to lift up their pencils, and they should also be taught when to do this. Using lined paper is helpful, as is giving students a variety of visual aids: arrow cues for stroke direction, dots for starting points, dotted letters for tracing, etc.
The letters b, d, p, and q are often confused by younger students. Teaching the correct formation of these letters could possibly help diminish the confusion, as they have different starting points— “b”, for instance, starts from the top, whereas d starts in the middle. Internalizing the motor patterns for these letters could help make recognition more automatic and easier for the students to form letters.
An important factor affecting legibility is the spacing between words. It is helpful to provide confidence to the students to use a “finger space” between words, right-handed students could put an index finger on the line after one word before writing the next one. This technique doesn’t work for left-handed students, for the south-paws, different spacing tools could be used to improve the spacing between the words.
If students are using an appropriate pencil grasp and forming letters correctly, that generally means that they would not face any pacing challenges and even if they do, they might be able to tackle with it. Another aspect to look after when considering the pace is the press, students should not be pressing the pencil down on the paper too hard as they write because doing so could possibly lead to writing fatigue and a greatly reduced rate of letter production. But if they press too lightly, it could be a sign of weak muscles or inappropriate pencil grasp. Parents and teachers could encourage students to write with a variety of materials (markers, short pencils, crayons, and erasable markers on whiteboards) to help them adjust how hard they press and eventually, could contribute towards their improved handwriting as well.
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