Effects of Poor Handwriting
and Spelling (Graham, 1999)

Papers with poorer penmanship and/or poorer spelling are rated lower by teachers for composition quality

Difficulties with spelling or handwriting can interfere with execution of other composing processes

Handwriting/spelling problems can constrain development as a writer


"Natural" Approaches to Handwriting and Spelling

Theory: Skills are learned naturally through exposure to reading and writing for ‘real’ purposes

Empirical evidence does not support the idea that natural approaches are sufficient

"On the spot" skills instruction may address established or developing problems insufficiently for special needs students


Choice of Script for Handwriting

Traditional: Manuscript (k-1), cursive (2-3)

D’Nealian, used to help transition to cursive

Italics, to replace all other script

Which is best?

No empirical difference among manuscript-cursive in legibility or fluency, grades 4-9

No specific empirical support for D’Nealian, Italics

Manuscript may have advantage at k-1 level (students already know some, easier to write, closer to print)


Written Letters per Minute
by Grade Level (Graham et al., 1998)

Grade:     1     2       3      4       5      6        7        8         9

Boys      17    32     45    61    71    78       91   112     114 

Girls      21    36     50    66    75    91     109    118    121

Pencil Grip

Standard tripod grip: held between thumb and forefinger, resting on the middle finger

Most children modify this grip in some way

Variations do not affect legibility or speed

However, avoid "two-fingered death grip" or others that promote fatigue

Use large pencils, grip enhancers, tape, rubber band, practice golf ball for grip problems


Handwriting Evaluation




s pa c ing


line quality, speed & ease


upPer cAse and LOWer case LETter formATIONs

manuscript and cursive script styles



Handwriting problems are greatest among students who have academic difficulties

Students develop their own style of writing regardless of script style taught.

Successful handwriting instruction combines appropriate materials, direct instruction, distributed practice, self-monitoring


Beginning Handwriting

Free scribbling

Directionality exercises for l-r orientation

Basic strokes for straight lines, circles, curved lines, diagonal lines

Model procedures, use physical prompts, forms to copy, copy from memory

Chalkboard exercises


Handwriting Instruction

Emphasize accuracy (legibility) over fluency at first

Use wider lined paper

Provide models of the order, number, and direction of strokes for each new letter

Provide sufficient practice tracing, copying, and writing from memory

Use behavioral techniques such as cueing, shaping, and positive practice


Handwriting Instruction (2)

Promote distributed practice

Teach self-regulation behaviors such as self-verbalizations during tracing, copying, and writing from memory

Teach self-assessment as part of handwriting instruciton

Teach self-instruction and self-correction


Instructional Sequence for Cursive Letters


1. Point

2. Loop

3. Circle

4. Mound


i t

e l f

o p q g

m n


Left-Handed Writers

May be more at risk for handwriting problems

Place paper in front of student for manuscript; opposite slant for cursive

Hand position should be curved, with hand resting on little finger

Use hard lead to limit smudging

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