Handwriting Assessment

Handwriting Speed and Legibility.

Handwriting Speed and legibility has been the focus of much research over the past 5 years or so, with one researcher showing that messy essays were marked down by one grade, while the same thing happened to those essays that did not use cursive handwriting.  So an A grade essay could end up as a C or worse. Exam markers are now aware of this marker bias and are striving to make sure it no longer happens.

A bigger issue is that of handwriting speed.

If you are an average student with an average speed of handwriting you have every chance of reaching the end of the exam paper before the exam ends and all being well achieving a C grade. But what if you do not have an average speed of handwriting?   Do you know what your handwriting speed is?  And what about your children?

Exam boards provide extra time for those students who have difficulty in writing and there are other concessions available such as scribes or the use of word processors. However in order to access this you need to know if there is a problem with the writing speed or legibility, or indeed in the case of those with dyslexia, grammatical illegibilty, well before the exam.

Some schools will apply a writing speed test in Year 6 prior to Key Stage Tests and the 11+ test, but this may not be enough to qualify for extra time. While schools can allow additonal time or other concessions for internal tests they have to fulfil exam board requirements and this often includes ‘the child’s normal way of working’. If extra time or use of a scribe is not the normal way of working it may not be allowed except in exceptional circumstances, such as a late diagnosis of an additional educational need. There are standardised tests available for students age 9+

However a much better way is to monitor the acquisition of handwriting in children right from the start.  It is very easy to praise a child for picking up a pen to make random marks on paper, but harder to know when it is appropriate to comment on the problems that begin to emerge.  It is acknowledged that children cannot tie shoelaces before the age of & and yet at the same time they are expected to draw a cursive letter ‘k’ or b’, a task with a similar level of difficulty when they are 5. No wonder some children struggle to write.

Reasons for poor writing:

  • Motor skill problems - this can happen to anyone and I have seen a growing number of children with hypermobile joints (double jointed) with handwriting difficulties – spiky, wobbly writing, an inability to keep letters on the lines and incomplete letter shapes.  For these children it is hard to hold a pencil correctly, and their hand tires easily. In younger children it is difficulty colouring in and stay within the lines. Later they cannot draw a straight line or complete a circle without overlapping. The letters vary in size from sentance to sentance.
  • Visual issues – this can be seen by successive sentances moving away from the margin, with letters of varying sizes or not on the lines. Children who are long sighted often write with very small even sized letters.  Focussing issues can make it difficult to look at, or copy from,  the board and then on a piece of work. A visit to an optometrist rather than the more usual optician can rule problems out.
  • Dyslexia – this gives rise to problems forming a letter in the right sequence. The left/right problems seen elsewhere make it difficult to know if ‘o’ is drawn clockwise, anticlockwise or both and the resulting letter is messy or confused with the letter ‘a’.  Letters are often reversed, most often b/d/p errors and learning cursive writing properly can eliminate this problem.
  • Lack of appropriate teaching – sometimes this need to be presented in a different way before some people can learn. The motivation may not have been there in the past, but now there is need for neat or cursive writing – maybe for a job application or a love letter.

There are lots of reasons why not everyone has acquired joined up writing or has a neat printed style. Even in these days of typed text there is still room for learning a new skill.

Schools have very different policies on when, or if, cursive writing is taught.  Many teachers lack confidence in teaching this valuable skill and recent research shows that teaching as a profession has now beaten doctors to become top of the list of those with poor handwriting.

Even if your child is lucky enough to be at a school with a great whole school policy and confident teachers they may still struggle to acquire cursive handwriting.  Many children with dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD need to be taught in different way in order to acquire a legible hand.  To this end I am a  member of the National Handwriting Association and along with them try to encourage the good teaching of cursive handwriting. Additionally I can provide a different approach, and one that makes it easier for those with additional educational needs.

Handwriting Assessment Reports

A one hour individual assessment and report for a child age 7+ for £60 and this provides a range of writing speed scored in different situations – individual letters, sequences, recalled text, copied work, dictation and typed passages.  These can show up any processing or motor difficulties as well as showing the child’s areas of strength or weakness.  The scores are a combination of formal standerdised tests and informal ones.  There are recommendations included for home and school situations.

Handwriting Support

Mild problems often require only some practice in a specific area, the use of ICT to practice or some exercise for a specific issue.

One option for supporting bigger motor skills issues or slow writing is an 8 week programme which can be undertaken by a parent at home or a TA in a classroom at a cost of around £20.  For those who would like to be a little less hands on I can arrange an  afterschool club for children with similiar handwriting issues and at a cost of £50 per child.  The support is based on a very successful programme designed by an occupational therapist called “Speed Up” which can improve both the look and/or speed of handwriting and incorporating my own cursive writing programme to help children make the move from printing to cursive writing.

One of handwriting and/or dyslexia support is £30 from September 2012.

I am happy to help advise teachers and provide exercises for the whole class to try or can recommend a number of motor skills games for wet play to help everyone.

ICT for handwriting – Free Download for home use…………

Brilliant programme for home and school use – http://www.tthonline.co.uk/contact.php

What is it like to have dyslexia?