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Following the pen trends

From Talking to Handwriting, By Daphne Tasker, John Murray Pounds 12.99, 0 7195 7134 0.

See it, say it, write it, read it" is the theme the author follows to enable teachers to help children understand these skills in producing well-structured, legible handwriting.

The book consists of a brief and vaguely argued case for making the connection between: Seeing - the shape of letters (visual); Hearing - the sounds of letters (auditory); Recognition - the recognition of letters (perceptual); Speaking - the vocalising of letters (oral).

In order to classify shapes children should be encouraged to verbalise their ideas of letter shape and form. This process may be developed partly by example and partly by definite guidance. Understanding these skills will "provide the means of acquiring a basic 'hand' which can be adapted later to a child's individual requirements and characteristics so that a personal handwriting style will evolve".

The question of "How?" is largely developed through the presentation of a series of (photocopiable) worksheets derived from the experience of a project with children on "Letters of the alphabet." No details are given about the extent of the sample from which the conclusions were drawn. The connection and data relating to "improving their reading skills" is not included, apart from indicating a stress in the worksheets on "the importance of a phonetic approach".

I found the concept of the book extremely limited on rationale, coherence and practicality. The scheme took no responsibility for the remedial or unlearning aspects of "what children bring to school" from the pre-school stage and it wavered alarmingly between the ideal: "No matter how effective a programme may be, it is of no avail without the co-operation of the pupil. This can only be gained by constant and unremitting encouragement", and the reality of: "Sloppy work should be rejected and repeated, preferably in the pupil's own time". (Exit the clumsy child!) This book will add very little to the debate on handwriting that schools need to address. It will certainly not be convincing to those who have studied Cox and Cripps, 1989 (Joining the ABC), Sassoon, 1990 (Handwriting - the Way to Teach it), or even Norma Mudd, 1994 (Effective Spelling).

Finally, photocopied material will not be a substitute for sensitive teaching or for the progression which is required by the national curriculum.

Charlie Naylor is Tutor in Education at the University of Leeds.

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