Tips for Teaching Handwriting
What are the most effective methods for teaching handwriting to students with disabilities? – Alyson from Columbus, OH
Handwriting is often an overlooked aspect of instruction that is still so vital to students, so this is a great question Alyson! We’ve enlisted a past DLD President, Dr. Linda Mason of George Mason University, to help you determine the best tactics for teaching handwriting to your students. Thank you to Linda for her help! – Peggy & Alex, TeachingLD.org
Students with disabilities often have difficulty with handwriting (Graham, 1990). This less addressed domain of writing instruction is important, as handwriting difficulties interrupt composition processes, interfere with intended messages, and limit writing development (Graham et al., 2008). In addition, difficulties with handwriting may lead a student to avoid writing, and to believe they cannot write. Given the potential negative impact of poor handwriting skills, students with disabilities benefit from handwriting instruction that teaches ways for writing letters and words legibly and fluently
Handwriting instruction generally begins in kindergarten and continues through Grade 3. The following seven principles are recommended (Graham, 1999; Mason, Harris, & Graham, 2013).
Seven Principles of Handwriting Instruction
- Instruction should be individualized to meet a student’s needs. School systems vary on the type of script to be taught (e.g., manuscript straight or slated and/or cursive). Given the lack of research favoring a specific script, individual student benchmarks and goals should be developed based on the school’s curriculum and the student’s need for handwriting across subjects. Nevertheless, Graham (1999) suggests beginning with a traditional manuscript script when possible.
- Letter formation should be taught by a teacher or other expert overtly modeling how to form letters. Visual cues such as providing arrows to indicate the direction of writing are especially effective for students with memory difficulties. Instruction time should include discussion about common and uncommon letter features.
- For young children (e.g., pre-school and early kindergarten), handwriting is often integrated when teaching letter sounds. For older students, letter formation should be taught in isolation and quickly followed by application in context. Once a letter is introduced, students should be provided brief practice time with teacher support. Over-practicing a letter in one lesson is not considered best practice. Each letter learned should be reviewed and practiced in subsequent lessons.
- Handwriting should be taught in frequent and short lessons. Ten minutes of instruction and practice as noted above, twice weekly, followed by applied practice, has been found effective for improving students’ handwriting (see Berninger et al., 1997).
- Students should be taught how to independently evaluate and improve their handwriting. For example, students should be taught how to select the “best” letter they have written by circling letters or by drawing a smiley face, star, or check mark next to the letter. Students should also be taught to identify letters needing more writing practice.
- Facilitative supports, such as marks for paper placement on student desks and tripod grip molds for pencils, can be provided as needed. Although these adaptations may not change a student’s pencil grip over time, if used early, they may help a student avoid bad habits in holding a pencil or pen that result in fatigue and discomfort.
- It is expected that students with disabilities will write slower, with less legibility, than their non-disabled peers; therefore, fluency should be supported. Writing quickly, however, should not be at the expense of legibility. The most common recommendation for improving fluency is to provide opportunities for meaningful writing, across the school day and at home.
Berninger, V., Vaughn, K., Abbott, R., Abbott, S., Rogan, L., Brooks, A., Reed, E., & Graham,S. (1997). Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 652-666.
Graham, S. (1990). The role of production factors in learning disabled students’compositions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 781-791.
Graham, S. (1999). Handwriting and spelling instruction for students with learning disabilities: A review. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 22, 78-98.
Graham, S., Harris, K. R., Mason, L. H., Fink-Chorzempa, B., Moran, S., & Saddler, B. How do primary grade teachers teach handwriting? (2008). Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 49-69.
Mason, L. H., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2013). Strategies for improving student outcomes in written expression. D. Chard, B. Cook, & M. Tankersley (Eds.), Research-based strategies for improving outcomes in academics, pp. 83-94. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.