31 SES 06 B, Developing Skills In Writing: Textual, generative, and multilingual perspectives
Although handwriting is very much at risk in today’s technological world, there is overwhelming evidence for its important for learning to write and facilitating composing. In this paper we report research to develop a handwriting automaticity intervention for primary aged children, which aims to improve the ability to produce meaningful written text in both narrative and expository genres (composition), of a large proportion of primary school children.
Effective composition is the goal of writing teaching, and empowers many aspects of both children’s and adults’ lives. Existing research suggests that handwriting makes an unexpectedly large contribution to composing. A number of studies suggest that handwriting is critical to the generation of creative and well-structured written text and has an impact not only on fluency but also on quality in writing. Lack of automaticity in orthographic-motor integration can seriously affect young children’s ability to express ideas in text (Graham, 1990). For example Graham et al., (1997) suggest that in grade 4-6 handwriting fluency accounts for 42% of the variability in quality of children’s writing. Our research has showed that automatic letter generation accounted for 21.5% of the variance in children’s composition for English 11 year old children and 34% of the variance in composition for children aged 7 (Medwell and Wray, 2009). The ability to generate letters automatically has been found to be crucial to composing ability, although it is un-assessed and overlooked in schools (Medwell and Wray, 2008). These effects have been noted internationally across languages (Meybroeck and Michiels, 2018)
There is international evidence that many children are slow to develop automatic letter generation, particularly boys (Jones and Christensen, 1999; Berninger, Mitokawa and Bragg, 1991). Our research showed that automatic letter generation accounted for 21.5% of the variance in children’s composition for English 11 year old children and 34% of the variance in composition for children aged 7 (Medwell and Wray, 2009). Letter generation makes cognitive demands on children taking up working memory capacity that is, therefore, not available for higher level composing tasks. We have investigated the level of handwriting automaticity at which children struggle to achieve expected levels of composition (Medwell and Wray, 2014).
Small-scale studies have suggested that intervention to teach key aspects of handwriting can improve written composition (e.g. Jones and Christiansen, 1999), although the intervention activities used have usually been focused on letter formation. The study reported in this paper sought to evaluate a specific intervention to improve writing automaticity, in ways that traditional handwriting practice does not do. This innovative intervention involved 15-minute interventions with children identified as having poor handwriting automaticity. The sessions involved novel handwriting tasks featuring time pressure, multiple cues and self-assessment. The paper will focus on these techniques (Medwell and Wray, in press).
There is surprisingly little research about this topic. Santangelo and Graham (2016) reviewed the available studies and found only 20 studies that investigated interventions of all types. Most of the studies reviewed by Graham and Santangelo were not conducted with students experiencing difficulties with handwriting and a key feature of this study was focus on children in mainstream schools who were already struggling with handwriting. The study did not offer additional instruction, but changed the nature of the instruction offered to these children.
The study reported in this paper sought to evaluate a specific intervention to improve writing automaticity, in ways that traditional handwriting practice does not do. This innovative intervention took place in two schools, in five classes, over eight weeks, and involved, 15-minute, fast-paced teaching sessions with children identified as having poor handwriting automaticity. The use of time pressured, game based tasks was an important feature of the programme. The project involved: The collection of pre-test data from Grade 3 and 3 children children in two very different schools in the midlands of England. Including: a. A measure of automatic letter generation (the alphabet letter task), b. A measure of handwriting neatness and legibility (using standard SAT criteria), c. A measure of composition ability, d. Social measures, e.g. FSM, gender, ethnicity. Using cut off points identified in our earlier research, we identified children in each school with poor handwriting automaticity who were also at at risk of underachievement in writing composition. The children undertook one of two types of teaching • Orthographic-motor handwriting training, involving game-based, short, handwriting tasks. The sessions involved novel handwriting tasks featuring time pressure, multiple cues and self-assessment. • Traditional handwriting training using a published programme The children teaching lasted 15 minutes three times per week for 8 weeks, in groups of up to six (because this was the standard duration and intensity of handwriting teaching for these classes). At the end of the programmes all pre-test measures were administered to the children and these tests were administered the following term to the same children.. Also interviewed teachers and students involved about their experiences.
All the children in the studies all showed gain in handwriting automaticity although not in handwriting neatness. The level of gain in handwriting automaticity was much higher for the children in the intervention groups than for the children undertaking their regular programme. Gains in handwriting automaticity dropped slightly overall following the three month school holidays. Children in the intervention group showed a greater drop in handwriting automaticity over the holidays but still maintained an improvement over starting levels of handwriting automaticity. They showed gains in handwriting neatness over this period. The children in the non intervention group also showed small drops in handwriting automaticity and neatness. The measures of composition did not present clear patterns. Although some children showed a clear improvement in composition quality (rated by two independent raters on a standard task) many did not. This was assessed by two rates and inter-rater reliability was high. The gains in handwriting automaticity, demonstrate that, in the short term, this important aspect of writing can be improved. This is an important step in developing a simple intervention that can help all children to write automatically and, therefore, compose more freely. The importance of this research is that such an intervention has the potential to help improve the written composition of many children, particularly boys, who traditionally struggle with writing and are disproportionately disadvantaged by poor automaticity in their handwriting (Medwell and Wray, 2014).
•Berninger, V. (1999). Coordinating transcription and text generation in working memory during composing: Automatic and constructive processes. Learning Disability Quarterly,22, 99–112. •Berninger, V., Mizokawa, D., & Bragg, R. (1991). Theory-based diagnosis and remediation of writing disabilities. Journal of School Psychology, 29, 57–79. •Graham, S. (1990) The role of production factors in learning disabled students’ compositions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 781–791 •Graham, S. (2018). A writer(s) within community model of writing. In C. Bazerman, V. Berninger, D. Brandt, S. Graham, J. Langer, S. Murphy, P. Matsuda, D. Rowe, & M. Schleppegrell (Eds.), The lifespan development of writing (pp. 271–325). Urbana, IL: National Council of English. •Graham, S., Berninger, V., Weintraub, N., & Schafer, W. (1998). The development of handwriting fluency and legibility in grades l through 9. Journal of Educational Research,92, 42–52. •Graham, S., & Rijlaarsdam, G. (2016). Writing education around the globe: Introduction and call for a new global analysis. Reading & Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29, 781–792 •Jones, D. and Christensen, C. (1999) The relationship between automaticity in handwriting and students’ ability to generate written text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 44-49 •Lichtsteiner, S., Wicki, W., and Falmann P. (2018) Impact of handwriting training on fluency, spelling and text quality among third graders Reading and Writing 31:1295–1318 •Meybroeck and Michiels, (2018) Finger-writing intervention impacts the spelling and handwriting skills of children with developmental language disorder: a multiple single-case study Read Writ (2018) 31:1319–1341 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9845-6 •Medwell, J. & Wray, D. (2007) Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know? Literacy 41, 10-16 •Wray, D. & Medwell, J. (2008) ‘Progression in writing: a review of research’, in Journal of Reading, Writing and Literacy, Vol. 3 (2), pp. 72-124 •Medwell, J., Strand, S. & Wray, D. (2009) The links between handwriting and composing for Y6 children Cambridge Journal of Education •Medwell, J. & Wray, D. (2014) ‘Handwriting automaticity: the search for performance thresholds’, Language and Education. Vol. 28 (1), pp 34-51 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09500782.2013.763819 •Santangelo, T., & Graham, S. (2016). A comprehensive meta-analysis of handwriting instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 28, 225–265.
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