So what is the right way to teach handwriting in schools today? When I was at the Education Show recently, the same comments kept cropping up time and time again: “We have a real problem with handwriting in our class. We’ve tried a few handwriting schemes and they sort of work, but then they don’t – they’re not changing our children’s handwriting. We haven’t been taught how to teach handwriting and there isn’t one consistent way of teaching the subject in our school. I wasn’t taught handwriting either. I don’t even know how to hold a pencil correctly myself. Nothing’s working. What do we do? ”
In my experience the answer is what I’ve been working on for the last five years. It’s a combination of using the right assessment (to assess the problem and understand what’s going wrong), with the right method (a back-to-basics approach that works within a child’s limited attention span), with the right tools (pens and pencils specifically created for each handwriting stage). The culmination for Start-Bee was the development of a step-by-step scheme designed to effectively bring a handwriting specialist into the classroom by delivering prepared lessons via the web. All the hard work has been done for the teacher so that each lesson is simply facilitated by them or their LSA, freeing them up to guide and direct the pupils rather than teach the class. In this way handwriting is taught consistently throughout the school and by anyone – regardless of their experience of handwriting as a child learning to write, a student or fully qualified teacher.
As you know, for the last couple of months I’ve been honing our scheme with two trials schools, thanks to sponsorship from BiC and it’s really working.
But don’t take my word for it; I’d prefer it for the results and the teachers Start-Bee’s been working with to speak for themselves. Take it away, Down Hall Primary School.
Thanks to BiC sponsorship, our Start-Bee trial began for KS1 on the 21st January and, for Early Years on, 1st February and we have been running the lessons, three times a week for eight and six weeks respectively (as of w/c 14th March). The children love it and so do the teachers as it’s very easy to use and very simple to follow the onscreen instructions. The systematic approach develops a child’s handwriting/fine motor skills whilst making it a fun session for the children; as a result, right now, where we have seen the most improvement so far is in handwriting posture and improved pencil grip. That said, in just a relatively short period of time, improvement with Start-Bee has been rapid. Bec Wakefield, Early Years Teacher and English subject leader at Down Hall Primary school
After Start-Bee’s initial Match Fit AssessmentTM issues, like banana grip and grips that wouldn’t develop stamina for writing which would make writing over extended periods of time a problem, became more apparent. The inclusion of a song that prompts the children how to hold a pencil correctly is a clever way to keep remindig them of how to do it as it’s the song they are remembering first and then the grip. I now see the children stopping themselves to correct their pencil grip when they are writing in other subjects too like history, science and English; you can see they’re checking they have the right pencil grip.
I’ve noticed that using Start-Bee has impacted on other subjects too, especially history and science, where the children are having to write the whole afternoon. By improving the children’s handwriting stamina levels, thanks to Start-Bee’s intervention, the children are better able to cope. With Start-Bee we have been able to push the children to deliver more handwriting each day and their presentation of work has improved too even in the short time we’ve been using the scheme. Mr Iain Jude Years 1 and 2 Teacher, Down Hall Primary School, Rayleigh
There is a girl in my class who has made a big difference to her writing through Start-Bee. Now she’s already started joining up more of her letters and her words. We have a reward system here at Down Hall, where those children who can write well are awarded a pen licence which allows them to move on from using a pencil to a pen. This girl is now very close to achieving her pen licence because of Start-Bee; she’s already started joining up more of her letters and her words. As a result, other children in my class are aspiring to her level because they know she is very close to gaining what is a highly prized reward for a child. Mr Shaun Purvis Years 1 and 2 Teacher, Down Hall Primary School, Rayleigh
The children’s work has improved quite dramatically, literally overnight in some instances. We can look at a child’s work and turn back a few pages to see the huge improvement in the way the handwriting has been produced on the page.
From what I hear from staff around the school in KS1 and EYFS the handwriting that’s been taught through Start-Bee has really had a massive impact and that the children are showing much more confidence in what they are doing and handwriting standard has improved no end. As a result, I’m sure that the handwriting work we are doing here at Down Hall will unlock their true potential and they will be producing the work they are truly capable of. Paul Richards, Deputy Head and Years 3 & 4 teacher, Down Hall Primary School, Rayleigh
H’s Story: Getting it ‘write’ with autism
Five-year-old ‘H’ has an ECHP for severe autism and showed little or no interest in mark making activities. He was undecided as to which hand to use and made no attempt to grip the pencil, simply holding it in his fist. That was then, but now, after only seven of Start-Bee’s handwriting sessions H is able to follow the onscreen instructions and copy the Start-Bee patterns. He happily attempts to copy his name and is starting to recall the letter shapes he needs to make. H is now choosing to mark make and colour at the writing areas. This has delighted his teacher, Miss Bec Wakefield and his parents. Miss Wakefield says, “Since starting our Start-Bee sessions, H has become happier to mark make. He is now being consistent when selecting which hand to use and pays close attention to the onscreen lessons, recalling how to complete the patterns independently.”
Alice’s Story: From just about writing her name to writing lists, registers and making cards
Five-year-old Alice started Down Hall Primary School able to write her name. Her letter shapes were clear but not all the letters were correctly formed. With Start-Bee’s handwriting lessons, Alice learned how to form the letters correctly and how to grip her pencil effectively. As a result her handwriting has improved not only in appearance but in the amount she is writing too. So much so, that her parents revealed, at a recent parents’ evening, that Alice now writes constantly at home creating registers, lists and making cards. In class, her self-confidence has improved and Alice now helps others with their writing; she really enjoys the Start-Bee sessions.
Eli’s Story: Getting it right and writing more as a result
When Eli started Down Hall Primary School, like Alice, he too could write his name, but only in capitals and with a developing pencil grip. The five-year-old lacked confidence at times in his writing, becoming frustrated when he was unsure how to attempt to write letters. Now it’s a different story. Eli has shown a big improvement in his writing. His control and letter formation are consistently improving and Eli can see how his writing is changing. This is down to the fact that he loves to learn and get things right, that’s why Start-Bee has worked for him. Eli can immediately see if he has got the pattern correct or if he was written his name using the correct formation, this spurs him on to making further improvements. Eight weeks later Eli has grown in confidence and wants to write more and more as a result. He is thrilled with his work when completed and it’s a real joy to see.
Macey’s Story: From making uncontrolled shapes to happily writing unsupported, correct letter formations in just eight weeks
Four-year-old Macey started school able to make some letter shapes, but these were not necessarily formed correctly. Instead she tried to make the shape look like the letters in her name. Her pencil control was weak at times and she found some writing activities difficult. Despite all of that and the fact she needed adult support to attempt some letter, Macey was always willing to have go.
Learning with Start-Bee, Macey started to show progress quickly, particularly when writing her name. The way Start-Bee teaches letter formation has really helped Macey to write the letter in her name. The amount of control she has when using a pencil has greatly improved and this is evident in her writing which was once large and out of control. But thanks to learning the correct pencil grip and posture, her fine motor skills are developing and so is her confidence. Macey has become far more confident when writing letters, many of which she can now form correctly.
Today, Macey is always happy to attempt writing activities and also spends lots of time in our writing areas during free choice activities. She has become more confident and proudly shows off her achievements. She is keen to be first for any of these types of activity whereas perhaps before she would wait to see how her peers had performed before giving it a try.
Start-Bee’s systematic, fun and enjoyable approach means that Macey doesn’t think of it as a handwriting lesson – more a fun thing to do! Eight weeks later and Macey is so proud of her writing; she’s happily writing all the time now.
Phoebe’s Story: Getting the right grip creates an enthusiastic handwriting in seven lessons
Before Start-Bee’s handwriting lessons. four-year-old Phoebe’s handwriting was on the large size, her letters were not consistently formed being written on, under or above the line and her pencil grip was weak. Writing was a challenge for her as she developed letter formation and control as well as master holding a pencil correctly.
After only seven Start-Bee sessions, there has been a big change in Phoebe’s writing. Her pencil grip has improved and is stronger, her letters are now of a far more consistent size and her letter formation has also greatly improved as has the placement of her writing on the line.
Phoebe really enjoys the Start-Bee sessions and, as a result, is always keen to write; she has a very positive association to handwriting. Now, Phoebe is very proud of her writing and keen to show her friends and family the cards and lists she’s creating at the writing areas. Speaking of family, Phoebe’s parents were very impressed with her progress at a recent school drop in session. They could see how her writing has suddenly changed and said that she is very keen to write at home too. We’re all very proud of Phoebe.
Finola’s Story: From writing frustrations to correcting the family’s pencil grip
Like Macey, five-year-old Finola started school able to write some letters and make marks but her writing was on the big size and quite messy. Like her classmate, Finola would rewrite over the top of letters if they didn’t look quite right. Getting it wrong, at times, meant that Finola got frustrated with her writing, especially when writing particular letters, but this never stopped her having a go.
Now, eight weeks later, Finola’s writing has improved enormously thanks to her mastering the proper pencil grip. Her writing is of a more consistent size with letters having ascenders and descenders that are clear. Today, she takes much more care when writing the letters and is far more confident as a result as she becomes aware of her steady improvement.
Finola loves Start-Bee! She particularly loves the pencil grip song so much so that she has been teaching her family how to hold a pencil or pen correctly. In Finola’s case, adopting the proper pencil grip has made the biggest difference as Finola’s writing flows more, she is now less likely to overwrite letters and so her presentation is improved too. Her parents are delighted that she had taken to Start-Bee’s handwriting sessions so well and so are we.
There you have it. We are still in the process of tweaking and refining but if anything here has struck a chord, do get in touch. I am certain Start-Bee can make the #WriteResults happen for you too.