Newswise — Many of today's students reach for a keyboard rather than a pencil to communicate their thoughts. But they just might be typing their way to the back of the class, according to Vanderbilt writing expert Steve Graham.
"Handwriting is one of the basic building blocks of good writing and plays a critical role in learning," Graham, Currey Ingram Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, said. "Young children who have difficulty mastering this skill often avoid writing and their writing development may be arrested. They also may have trouble taking notes and following along in class, which will further impede their development."
Graham suggests that a return to consistent handwriting instruction, with an understanding of the challenges different children face, would not only result in more legible papers but also support overall learning across subjects.
"Teachers need to continue to teach their students how to properly form and join letters. We found that this sort of instruction takes place for 10 minutes or less a day in most schools, down from two hours a week in the 1950s," Graham said. "At home, there are many things that parents can do to help their young children improve their penmanship. Activities such as identifying and tracing letters, forming letters from memory, copying words and playing timed games to see how quickly they can accurately produce written letters and words all go toward building this skill."
Graham can discuss effective writing practices for students, particularly those who struggle with writing, how writing is taught, and the effects of handwriting and spelling instruction on the writing performance of struggling students.
Graham is an author of Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School, a report released in October 2006 by the Alliance for Excellent Education that offered 11 strategies for improving writing instruction. He is the editor of Exceptional Children and the former editor of Contemporary Educational Psychology. He is author or co-author of two books and more than 135 articles, many of which reflect his scholarship in learning disabilities and the writing process.