Study backs return of formal writing drill

27th October 2000 at 01:00

FAILURE to teach traditional handwriting skills increases the likelihood of pupils struggling with academic work, according to a Canadian study.

The finding questions the state system's adoption of "whole language" instruction three decades ago, which abolished the teaching and testing of penmanship.

The study, directed by Professor Marvin L Simner of the University of Western Ontario, compared two groups - 9 to 10-year-olds and 13 to 14-year-olds - from a state and a private school.

It found that private-school students - who had received specific handwriting instruction - scored an average of 5.1 out of 9 on a test of writing legibility as against 3.5 for state students.

State-school students in the upper grades were also 33 per cent slower at taking notes, producing pproximately one fewer full sentence per minute. Professor Simner said this meant their notes were probably less accurate as there was more time to forget what the teacher had said as they were writing.

He said: "These findings support the claims of other researchers that formal instruction in handwriting is necessary for the proper development of the writing process and higher-order writing skills such as planning or coming up with ideas of what to write about." Students with poor handwriting were less likely to want to write and spent more time on the mechanics of writing, which may cause the writer to forget plans and ideas. Professor Simner said: "Our study shows traditional penmanship - which is not taught in schools - is one of the foundations of creative and competent writing."

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