“Let’s drop those handwriting classes…”
…and why that’s a bad idea.
Hello! Welcome to the 19th edition of Things in Education, the fortnightly newsletter through which we hope to share the latest in education research and developments in the form of accessible summaries and stories to help you in the classroom and at home.
This is the first article in our Foundational Learning series of Things in Education.
In many schools across the world, handwriting classes are being replaced by typing classes. At first thought, this doesn’t seem too bad. After all, typing on keyboards and touchscreens is the most prevalent form of written communication today. So, has handwriting become an obsolete skill? Should we focus more on new age, tech-focused skills like typing and less on handwriting?
Turns out, we shouldn’t. Handwriting is not just about an outdated practice and neat notebooks. Handwriting experience and practice play an important role in language development and learning to read, especially when done in a fun and multi-sensory manner!
Handwriting and Recognising Letters
Learning to read begins with hearing and learning the sounds of the letters (phonics), and then matching those sounds to symbols on the page – letters. Recognising letters quickly and accurately forms a very important foundation of reading.
Many preschools use the see-and-say method to teach letters, usually starting at age 4. As the name suggests, in this method, children are shown a letter and told its name, and then they are asked to repeat it. However, this alone is not as effective as when a child produces the shape (or contours) of the letter along with see-and-say. It is only once a child produces the letter by hand that the regions in the brain associated with recognising the letter became active. Writing the letters therefore is an indispensable step in learning to read the letter!
We use the visual system of our brain to recognise letters, and we use the motor system of our brain for movements. When we practise writing letters by hand, the visual system of our brain communicates with the motor system. The more a child practises writing letters, the easier it becomes for the brain to recognise letters.
Children and even adults learn letters better if they write them by hand – better than by just seeing them, hearing them or typing them!
What kind of handwriting practice is needed to create these networks?
Many of us may have vivid memories of tracing practice in kindergarten – long pages of lowercase and uppercase letters, written in grey or as dotted lines, that we had to spend hours tracing as homework. While tracing definitely has its benefits – as it gives children motor practice in forming the complex shapes of letters – it is not enough. Only when children produce the letter from memory or by copying does the brain activate and use the networks in the brain needed for letter recognition!
What this means is that it is important to balance out tracing practice with free-writing practice – writing letters in multi-sensory material like sand and gel, creating letters with manipulatives like blocks and beans, copying letters onto blank sheets, and writing letters from memory.
We may also often worry that free-writing will lead to improper letter formation. This, in fact, is very beneficial in learning to read! When young children hand-write, their letters don't look the same all the time. This improves young children's ability to recognise different forms of the same letter. After all, the real world is full of a variety of fonts – and giving the brain enough practice in recognising the overall form of the letter through such exercises is important.
In short, learning how to write by hand in the early years contributes greatly to developing a “literate brain.”
We will continue our Foundational Learning Series over the next few months, covering several topics in Early Childhood Education (ECE), Foundational Literacy, Foundational Numeracy, and Foundational Science.
The Early Writing Programme by Things Education
Our Early Writing Programme takes into consideration all the relevant research around handwriting and how children learn this skill, to make them fluent and confident readers and writers. Here are its key features:
Created for Pre-K, Lower KG and Upper KG
Provides fine motor activities for all classes
Recommends the right writing instruments for different stages
Includes practice of the right writing grips
Includes ample multi-sensory pre-writing activities for Pre-K
Aligned with systematic phonics instruction for LKG and UKG
Complemented by weekly Holistic Progress Cards for progress tracking
Comes with teacher support
Reply to this email or call us at +91 9898469961 to find out how you can implement this programme in your school.
In the second edition of our newsletter, we wrote about why students are struggling to read and what we can do about it.
In this blog, John Walker, director of the Sounds-Write programme, writes about the role of good phonics teaching as part of handwriting instruction.
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