Are failing handwriting skills a bad thing?

One of the big educational focus areas for my daughter (aged five) right now is handwriting: being able to write the alphabet and write words. She has fun learning, as do I with her. But in today’s computerised world, is the art of forming letters a means to an end, or an end in itself? And do failing standards in this area matter?

There was an article recently in the Sydney Morning Herald asking this very question. It tells of senior students who are unable to write quickly or fluently, and indicates that “the finger is being pointed at technology”.

I don’t like the blaming nature of this statement. Is this lack of ability a bad thing?

Occasionally in a work setting, I’ll stand up at a whiteboard and write some stuff. And I’ll occasionally write something down on a scrap of paper if I’m out of reach of my laptop. But otherwise, handwriting doesn’t feature in my day-to-day working life. Nor does it in that of most people I know. Outside of work, I’ll write some Christmas cards and the odd birthday card. And I probably write 15 cheques per year. But beyond that, there’s little writing going on.

My guess is that handwriting during the early years of education is important to help kids to recognise letters and to bring together the worlds of the spoken word and the written word (be it handwritten or typed). Yes, it’s a useful skill to have. But if it fails with lack of practice, I don’t see this as a bad thing. As long as that education serves as a useful platform for learning how to read and spell, then the job is served.

My guess is that during her formal education, handwriting will feature less and less with time. And typing will feature more and more. I would much rather she left school being able to type quickly and fluently than being able to handwrite similarly.

I’d be interested in how the average words-per-minute typing metric has changed over time, as opposed to looking purely at the falling standards of writing.

(As an aside, I’d be interested in understanding why children learn to write the letter “a” differently to its standard printed form.)

By Dan on 27 March, 2012 · Posted in General, Life

4 Comments | Post Comment

Becca says:

I have three children. My oldest is now 12 and in secondary school. All the way through primary he was criticised for having appalling handwriting, I encouraged him to print to make it more legible, but his teachers would mark down his work for not being in joined-up writing! We were told that the KS2 SATs actually contain marks for handwriting & that if his writing didn’t improve he’d be marked down and that would reflect on the school’s overall marks!
Being a bit stubborn, I told them to get stuffed! If his work was legible, contained the correct information and was well constructed, that should be what’s important. We locked heads for a while, I encouraged him to continue printing and he took the SATs, achieving over the average and over what he was predicted to achieve.
Now he’s at secondary school he rarely writes by hand. All homework and projects are done on a computer and there is no requirement at all for joined up handwriting.
My daughter is 6 and she too has dreadful writing. She knows all her letters, is an excellent speller and an avid reader, she just has crappy writing. Today is Parent’s Evening and I’m already girding my loins for the inevitable discussion….
Oddly, my handwriting is often complimented! But even I don’t write that much by hand so I really think that as long as a child can read, write (print neatly) and spell, that’s all they need.

Posted on March 28th, 2012

Nick Robinson says:

Couldn’t agree more; handwriting is now very nearly pointless and will quickly reach parity with chiseling cuneiform script as an important means of communication!

There may be one small argument in favour, perhaps around developing fine motor skills, but actually, why not just practice fine motor skills with Lego or Meccano or something in that case?

Incidentally, seeing as its a hobby-horse of mine, handwriting lessons at your daughter’s age
penalise young boys, who have less fine motor control…

Posted on March 28th, 2012

Ana Canhoto says:

I’ll have to disagree, I am afraid.

I am a university lecturer and, like you, I do most of my writing on a keyboard. Occasionally, I need to write on a whiteboard (for example, to capture a discussion in class), or I’ll write some comments on a student’s assignment. And guess what!? Students have complained about my handwriting. And they were right: we write to communicate. If people can not read what we write, then we are failing (at least on that aspect).

I feel the same when people send me messages with things like ‘cu’ (instead of ‘see you’). Again, it is a failure to communicate.

Posted on March 28th, 2012

Liz says:

It seems handwriting is a bugbear throughout teaching ages.

When I started school I could form letters but they were very small. I was forced to trace out large letters rather than little letters to ‘improve’ my handwriting. Later on at junior school I learnt calligraphy and suddenly small letters didn’t seem to matter. However my handwriting now varies from tiny neat script to quite scruffy larger letters, the former feeling natural and the latter just a sign of feeling in a hurry. And I now type a lot which I didn’t learn at school (unlike my Mum).

Posted on March 30th, 2012