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I started to write my blog this week about why there are so many students in middle and upper school who cannot write legibly. I was going to place the blame on lack of instruction, too little practice, or poor pencil grip. Lack of instruction is a problem since most elementary schools do not devote the same amount of time teaching handwriting as they once did. Too little practice is also a problem, since there are fewer times when we need to write by hand these days. Even if a student could once write legibly, they forget how when they don’t use it enough. It turns out though that poor pencil grip is probably not the cause of poor handwriting!
I read some of the latest research on pencil grip and found that most experts agree that how a person holds his pencil is generally not the cause of illegible handwriting. If a student in middle or upper school is comfortable when writing but cannot write legibly, the focus of instruction should be on letter formation. Once students know the proper form for each letter (both lower and upper case) and can reproduce it without much thought, the focus then should be on increasing speed.
On the other hand, if a student is uncomfortable when writing by hand, the pencil grip should be explored. There are four basic grips that have been shown by research to be efficient and produce legible handwriting. Most people choose one of these four grips. Even if they choose something more unusual, it is OK as long as they can write legibly and their hand does not hurt as they write.
During summer is a great time to practice handwriting skills. It takes a lot of practice to get to an automatic level with handwriting, but it is worth the effort. There is research to suggest that people remember more of what they write by hand as opposed to what they type on a computer. I believe there is a strong case for encouraging most students to write notes by hand. For this to be possible, they need to be able to write legibly and quickly. The time spent practicing this summer might pay off with better grades in classes where students take notes by hand.