Primary schools preparing their children for this year’s Key Stage 2 writing assessments have to take into account new government changes made to the “Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 2 For use in the 2017 to 2018”.
Helen Ward’s TES article (05/02/18) “Sats: Most teachers say writing assessment will not produce accurate results” highlights some of the concerns and confusion teacher have following the changes.
“The changes mean that some of the elements of writing that children had to show last year are no longer necessary to meet the expected standard.
But, while children could meet the expected standard without neat handwriting last year, now they must “maintain legibility in joined handwriting when writing at speed”.” H. Ward (05/02/18)
Helen Ward: TES article (05/02/18) “Sats: Most teachers say writing assessment will not produce accurate results”: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/sats-most-teachers-say-writing-assessment-will-not-produce-accurate
Standard & Testing Agency 2017 “Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 2 For use in the 2017 to 2018”: Electronic version product code: STA/17/7957/e ISBN: 978-1-78644-414-1: download at www.gov.uk/government/publications.
Research in recent years by psychologists, educationalists and neuroscientists has found that older children, with better handwriting skills showed greater neural activity in areas associated with working memory (used for planning, ideas generation and composition skills for written work).
Due to the way that our working memory functions the handwriting process can impact on the quality of the work. For instance, those who have poor handwriting ability use a disproportionate amount of their working memory capacity in recalling and forming the letters, effectively blocking the higher level composition process (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).
This is because children with fluent handwriting skills have developed an automotive (instant, subconscious) ability to recall and reproduce letter patterns, making handwriting a lower level process within their working memory.
This would suggest that learning to handwrite with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility is a vital goal if we want our children to reach their true potential. Learning to join letters is therefore an important step to achieving this. Once handwriting has been mastered a child can focus more effectively on the composition and structure of the piece, which requires planning and logical thought processes, so that the plot or argument can be fully explored and presented.
Here at Teach Handwriting we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).
Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.
We would recommend the same approach to joining letters whether your child has learnt cursive or continuous cursive single letter fonts; teaching the joins in join type groups.
Teaching the join types in their groups helps a child to understand the directional push and pulls required to successfully join the different letter combinations.
There are 4 main groups of letter joins; bottom joins, bottom to “c” shape joins, “e” joins (top and bottom join strokes) and top joins.
Moving from Cursive Single Letters to Joining
There are seven join strokes to be taught Most children will find the bottom joins the easiest to achieve, as it only requires the extension of the exit stroke they already put on the letters. The bottom to “c” shape joins can be tricky at first but soon mastered. The joins that tend to cause the most confusion and difficulty are the “e” joiners and top exit joiners.
I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the ‘e’ joins and finally the top exit letter joins.
Moving from Continuous Cursive Single Letters to Joining
There are three join strokes to be taught. The easiest is the bottom exit letters (the majority of the letters), all a child has to do is write the letters closer together without lifting their pencil off the paper. Only the top to “e” and top joiners need to be taught for continuous cursive, as the nature of the font style means that the lead-in and exit strokes needed to join the majority of letter combinations have already been taught.
I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the top exit to ‘e’ join and finally the top exit letter joins.
For more information about the letter join type groups and links to supporting animations check out our ‘How to Join Letters of the Alphabet’: http://bit.ly/1y0Haf7
and ‘Tips For Teaching How to Join Letters When Handwriting’: http://bit.ly/1Iv1g5Q
Here at Teach Handwriting we believe that a child is only ready to start learning to join their handwriting when:
- They have learnt to form all 26 lower case letters correctly
- Letters are of a consistent and suitable size (not necessarily the perfect size, remember big is beautiful)
- Letters are positioned appropriately on the writing line as well as in relation to one another.
Children generally begin to join letters between the ages of 6 to 7 years old, depending on the handwriting font style being taught. Those taught a continuous cursive font style from the beginning tend to join much earlier due to the nature of this font (for some by the end of their Reception Year).
Children do not need to be able to remember how to correctly form all their capital letters before they are taught how to join their letters. This is because capital letters never join to the lower case letters in a word. However, for these children correct capital letter formation needs to be taught alongside the introduction of letter joins.
The ultimate aim is for a child to develop a good handwriting style; which means;
- They can produce and maintain a good speed
- Have a fluid hand movement that is comfortable
- Letters are of a consistent and appropriate size, positioned correctly
- Handwriting is legible (so others can read it easily).
For some children (mainly SEND pupils) this may mean that they will always print or use a single letter form of writing as learning to join is just not appropriate. But that does not mean they will not comply with the bullet points above.