ABSTRACT: This study set out to find if it was possible to identify a cohort of ‘slow writers’ in Primary school. A Whole Class Handwriting Assessment was compiled and refined on small groups of students from Y3-6. This helped to adjust both the content and length of some tests in order to maximise data the results of which were used to select groups of learners with particular difficulties, such as spiky writing with heavy pen pressure, or to support those using slow print to acquire cursive writing.
Stemming the tide of increasing difficulties seen in handwriting.
Aim: The aim of this study was to see if it is possible to identify ‘slow writers’, separate them into motor and/or processing difficulties in order to refine support programmes to improve writing speed and/or acquire cursive writing at the Primary stage, where previous conventional instruction has failed.
Conclusion: The study found that is was possible to identify ‘slow writers’ in Primary school using a specially designed Whole Class Handwriting Assessment although further refinements to the tests could be made. It was also seen to be possible to use the results to refine support programmes to include more exercise or cursive writing, to improve overall legibility, increase writing speed, or sometimes a mixture of the above. More importantly it highlights the need for continuous informal and formal monitoring of these areas throughout Primary school if children are to quickly and effectively grasp the lower order writing skills essential to pass on to higher writing skills.
Whole Class Handwriting Assessment –
What does it consist of? How long does it take?
Pupils need pencil and lined paper and the teacher needs access to a stopwatch or a range of sandtimers 1, 2 & 5 minute.
The test are short but together equal 10 minutes of writing plus 5 minutes of free writing. The combination of processing free test scores indicate physical speed of handwriting, while free writing represents processing and speed combined.
Test begins with a processing free element for one minute such as writing one word over and over, and usually the child’s own name. Other tests add in factors such as sequencing, copying and finally recall & write, before moving to the final free-writing element.
Scoring is the area that takes most time so it is best to get the students to score their own work. This involves counting individual letters and writing this in the margin. This additional work means the test takes around 30 minutes.
The teacher is then left to calculate word per minute scores and as well as using their own judgement in the area of content of the Free Writing. Some tests are standardised making it possible to compare peers, while other are not, but remain invaluable not only for baseline, but monitoring of support. The scores can be compared to each other to highlight the areas of strength and weakness for each child. Overall the scores can be used to monitor over time including those groups not receiving support, or in order to check that what has been learned in the support groups is transferred to day to day use.
As the acquisition of neat and correct handwriting is not IQ dependent it follows that students should be in the average to top bands for many elements. However free writing and other processing based tests can be affected by IQ and these should be commensurate with the child’s IQ, and is one of the areas in which it is possible to identify students with SpLD dyslexia.
An individual’s scores are plotted to an Excel sheet which highlights the top and bottom 10% as green or red respectively, while scores in the wide average range are orange. Problem areas such as likely SpLd or negative aspects of the handwriting also flag up as red. This enables class teachers and SENco’s to not only to put appropriate support in place and monitor results, but also to refer on or arrange additional assesment or testing for children with more serious issues.
In addition to being available for individual student’s handwriting assesment I can be contacted in regard to Whole Class Handwriting Assesment. In the past I have tested a class, instructed teachers how to test a class and worked to put appropriate support in place. I have run support groups based around a well known OT support programme, and also instructed Teaching Assistants how to operate similar groups for children with motor skills and writing issues. The course takes around 8-10 hours over a term. This enables a school to run its own handwriting assessment and support programme year on year.
Alternatively it is possible to look isolated and support individual areas of weakness in individuals. This can be done by transferring, or asking them to transfer letters from a piece of existing work on to the Handwriting Assess sheet.
Handwriting Assess – A sheet to assess individual letters as well as overall positioning of pen/paper and body to desk seating arrangement. Mark pen grip, handedness and overall legibility. Information on body and paper positioning can be found in the document below.
Occupational Therapy Input
NHS North Staffs OT department has produced a thorough document outlining pre-writing skills and later points of development that would be useful for teachers and parents alike to avoid a lot of the handwriting problems that I see.