being a student, writing

Reclaiming Handwriting

Every year it seems as if spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have become a little harder for students to master.  Despite the great lessons they have had before.  Despite the repeated instruction, reminders, and opportunities in previous year’s classes, the fundamentals of writing just seem harder to master.

Some might say that it is not a big deal.  That most written work doesn’t require handwriting anyway.  That handwritten work is slowly dying and so why waste time worrying about things that can be auto-corrected.  And sure, computers are definitely the way of the future, the way much of our society already is, and yet, there is still a place for handwriting.  For sitting down with a paper and pen(cil) and doing the work.  Even if kids choose to not do so on their own.  And while, I am a fan of spellcheck, Grammarly, and all of the autocorrections Google Docs does for us, we kept wondering as a team whether these tools were part of the problem.  Perhaps because we have moved so much of our writing to the computer, kids are not naturally noticing their own patterns?  Not noticing when they don’t capitalize on their own name, the beginnings of sentences, proper nouns because the computer does it for them?  Perhaps punctuation is being added at the end because it is easy to do on a computer and so it is missed while writing?    The only way to find out was to try to integrate more handwriting, see if it would make a difference.

So this year, every single time we do our free writes in our writer’s notebook, they are by hand.  Typing is no longer a choice unless it is a required component of an IEP.  Kids are asked to grab a pencil, we have plenty, and to formulate their thoughts on paper.  In the beginning, there were groans, complaints of how their hand hurt, which I get, how they preferred to type.  But we stuck with it.  Asking them to create in pencil, revise in pen, get a smelly sticker if you put in the effort (whatever they think effort might be).

And slowly, we are seeing a change.  More punctuation, for sure.  A greater awareness when sentences don’t make sense.  More capitalization.  The small components that seem to be needed as students grow as better writers.  Better letter formation as kids realize that they can control their handwriting because they need to.  We don’t assess their free writes, they are for them to play with writing, not for us to create a grade, but we do ask them to pay attention to the basics:  Does it make sense?  Did you capitalize?  Did you use punctuation?  But that is not the only change.  We are seeing more writing.  More ideas coming quicker.  Better ideas being developed.  Kids wanting to share their stories, their thoughts.  Kids experimenting with the way they write and what they write about.  An added bonus, but an important one, as we tackle all of the emotions that sometimes stop kids from feeling like writers.

Typed writing is still a part of our class.  When we do large projects, when we research and such.  And yet, there needs to be a space for the written word by hand as well.  As more and more districts race toward one-to-one, I worry about the effect of eyesight with the increase in screen time, I worry about the lost instructional time every time a child has to log in, find the website, and the internet is slow.  I worry about how kids share that sometimes staring at a blank document is more overwhelming for some of our kids than a blank piece of paper.  So as my students tell me time and time again; everything in moderation, and that includes working on a computer.

For now, we will continue to sharpen our pencils every day, share a prompt, and ask the kids to fall into their writing.  To simply try to write something, even if it is not very good.  To focus on reclaiming this part of themselves that they may have become disconnected from in rush to computers.  Settle in, settle down, get to writing…

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

11 thoughts on “Reclaiming Handwriting”

  1. I completely agree! I have lots of groans when I tell my 8th graders that it’s paper and pencil time. I will have those that still grumble but most will find that it slows them down. They realize what is being put down on their paper and they a lot more thinking.

  2. In total agreement. I teach 5th grade and we have 1st grade buddies that we work with on their writing. This helps me to see that these skills were in place for my students at an early stage in their school careers. So why aren’t they doing this in their own writing. I blame social media for part of it—I too, shorthand some of my texting, tweeting, etc. However, time and place are considerations. When meeting with my 5th grade team this week, we decided to “lay down the law.” S’s are required to write across the curriculum and they should be putting these, as I like to call them, “non-negotiables” in place in ALL of their writing. We are instituting this policy with the start of our 2nd trimester from here on out or our S’s will see some re-do’s in their future. Sounds harsh I know, but in the real world they may be required to write reports, summaries, etc. for their jobs and we want to make sure they have the writing skills to do so. My 2 cents . . .

  3. I’m old. I suspect it’s the kids don’t have enough upper body strength. I see them sitting slouched at tables and rocking back on their chairs. All signs of weak upper body strength. Im not talking biceps, but the strength to hold them selves upright. I switched out chairs for balls and saw an improvement (after some silliness) in writing. I’m a middle school librarian.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this. As an adult, I notice that I make many more errors in my typed writing than I do in my handwritten work. Yes, I can type faster and with greater ease than I can hand write, but I also know the rules and know when I have broken them. Typing quickly allows me to make errors that I might not notice. There is great value in slowing down with a pen or pencil and paying closer attention to what is being written on the page.

  5. Great article, I am proponent for the kids being tech savvy but just as you said they are losing these important skills because of the autocorrect culture. I am noticing these problems with my kid who is in 3rd Grade and I am making an effort to get him to write more with pencil and paper.

  6. Hey Pernille! It is so interesting how we see the pendulum swing. I think that with experience and reflection, we realize that very few things in education are all bad or all good and that the best place to explore is the space in between. There are numerous fine motor benefits of handwriting as well (for example… with arthritis in my hands, I have a very difficult time printing but can use cursive for longer periods). Awesome reflection!

  7. I love this post, Pernille! Not to mention the mind/hand connection with writing by hand that research says happens in a way with writing that DOES not happen with “typing” or keyboarding…thanks for bringing this up in your post! I allow students to put rough drafts in Google docs but they MUST edit by hand after printing it. Fixing it on the doc doesn’t seem to work; they don’t catch errors like they do when they see it on paper.

  8. Pernille, I’m wondering what you do for your informational writing unit? What types of criteria do you want students to share when it comes to providing rich evidence? Any materials you’d be willing to share would be most appreciated!

    1. We did it as an inquiry-based project where students selected an area of study within either WWII, Syrian Refugee Crisis, or Castro’s Cuba. They were looking for evidence that would support and answer their question that they set forth, so there was a wide array of evidence that could be used. We looked for first-person sources or documented reliable evidence. We also looked for them to analyze and piece together the evidence in order to be able to answer, or attempt, to answer their inquiry question.

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