Is handwriting essentially dead? Children click, tap, poke and swipe these days and many can type faster than they can write. Pencils are for chewing when you have to think or when you are bored and children are addicted to tablets they don’t swallow.
Well handwriting isn’t a relic as its still on the National Curriculum unless of course you live in Finland where teaching of cursive handwriting has been ceremoniously been dumped.
There is no argument that fluent typing skills are important but handwriting is too and the well- known quote from the National Curriculum is true as Coventry blue: ‘Pupils who do not learn to read and write fluently and confidently are, in every sense, disenfranchised’. Those that don’t learn handwriting quite simply fade and short-circuit. Imagine not being able to write your name?
An aim of every school should arguably be to teach each child to write legibly, fluently and at reasonable speed. Teaching materials for practical handwriting abounds in the UK and the competition between publishers is fierce.
As my Aunty Joan used to say, “If you are going to have one, have a big un” which is why you might want to turn to one of the heavyweight publishers for inspiration.
Well Nelson Handwriting have a handwriting programme and it’s an awesome resource that ticks all the boxes and thankfully there isn’t an ‘apptivity’ in sight.
Nelson Handwriting bends over backwards to make the teaching, learning and assessment as smooth as possible which isn’t an easy task given that handwriting is a road full of twists, turns, red lights, speed cameras, pot holes, and occasional sink holes.
What it does is provide a clear, practical framework for implementing and developing a whole-school handwriting policy full of enjoyable activities that bring handwriting to life tailor-made for the new curriculum.
It provides full coverage of the technical aspects of writing (including letter formation, basic joins, printing, speedwriting and slant) and these are taught in purposeful and curriculum-relevant contexts, principally in the areas of phonics, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary.
The Nelson programme goes from Reception through to Year 6 and includes a trolley full of resources including pupils books, teacher’s books, resources and assessment books, workbooks, friezes and flashcards and online software.
I always head for the Teacher’s book first because that is the font of all knowledge and advice. I poured over the book for Y3-6 and I was mightily impressed with its contents.
There are techniques for teaching letter formation, the language of letter formation, the joins, linking handwriting, phonics and spelling and teaching methods and organisation. It’s easy to see where you are going with scope and sequence charts as these point you in the right direction regarding the focus of a lesson, the pupil books to use and software.
There is unit by unit guidance with clear objectives, focussed activities, extras and extensions along with ideas for resources and assessment and teaching software. Follow a unit plan and you can’t really put a foot wrong. Whilst the units may be a little too prescriptive they still have scope for going your own way and responding to individual children as a lesson unfolds.
The Teacher’s book extends further help by providing sections on the writing process, advice for helping left-handed writers, specific handwriting difficulties, assessment, and a handwriting policy. As a supporting resource, the Teacher’s books give pretty much all the ammunition and kit you need for front-line teaching.
Another book that you will use frequently is the Resources and Assessment book because it contains all the placement tests, general assessments, focus and extension resources and words to practise lists.
Combined with fantastic teaching software and you really do feel quite pampered as this enables you to make your own resources, produce displays, prepare sheets of patterns to practise, create labels, captions, and writing frames.
The Nelson Handwriting Font is made up of print, precursive, cursive, slanting text, dotted text, grey text with start dots, tramlines and print and cursive f and k options. You can even convert text from other websites into the Nelson font.
Of course to bring all this to life the real clincher is having pupil books that engage the children so they want to do handwriting rather than have it imposed upon them.
The Nelson books are colourful with fun and quirky cartoon pictures throughout so there are plenty of engagement hooks to capture children’s attention. The content is really well matched to each Year group with meaningful and fun activities offered at three levels of differentiation. Combine these with the pupil workbooks and you have got heaps of practice children will actually want to do and not moan at.
One thing is a non-negotiable and that is a school needs to develop a ‘whole school approach’ to handwriting so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet and all teachers are giving the same advice to parents.
I taught at a school once that managed to combine three different models after a quick succession of staff departures meant three new literacy subject leaders introduced new resources that left staff and children in chaos and despair.
Is this the definitive course for developing a fluent and legible handwriting style?
Quite possibly. It would be difficult to find something with the same gravitas, diversity and support that teaches, promotes and fosters good practice.
It’s a joined up programme commendably equipped for a whole school handwriting plan.