On the subject of writing, I have collected some diverse examples of things people do and simple ways they can improve their handwriting:
- Some people prefer to write in capital letters – in business, this is taken as shouting. Some put capital letters in the middle of a word.
- Some leave out the spaces between words.
- People with poor handwriting may believe there is something wrong with their hand, arm, elbow, brain etc. and there is nothing that can be done.
- Some write badly, consciously or unconsciously, to cover up bad spelling.
- Children with poor literacy will copy, one letter at a time from the board in school. This is slow, they lose their place, make mistakes and get a stiff neck too.
- In English, we have three sets of lettering; capitals, lower case and joined up. Different schools have different strategies about which to teach at what age.
Young children, who don’t develop the ability to visualise letters won’t know which way round they should be and may start to develop Dyslexic tendencies before the age of seven. They can only do this because they haven’t learnt to visualise them the right way round and keep them still. The lower case letters, p, q, b and d are all mirror images of exactly the same letter. Lucky children grow out of it while others never do. This really can’t be left to chance.
There are some interesting facts about capital letters worth considering, particularly so that you may understand more fully why some children, in fact, prefer capitals. When young people read cartoon books, it is often not just for the pictures, but because the speech bubbles are often in capital letters. Most keyboards are uppercase and many young people manage computers well. Capital letters are more distinct than lower case and, if you suffer from letters moving or shaking on the page, no capital letters can turn around and make another letter. Additionally, nearly half of them can flip around horizontally without causing problems e.g. A, H, I, X. Others turn around in the vertical plane, for example B and C. So even if the young person in question is in the habit of turning letters around, they would not notice the difference with these. Some people prefer joined up writing because that gives the word more stability and joined up letters don’t turn around. However, books aren’t normally written in joined up writing. There are hundreds of fonts and some have the letters formed completely differently, e.g. a and a. My strategy is to let people start, at least initially, with whatever form of writing they prefer, in order to help them gain confidence.
To begin improving a child’s handwriting, first look at the physiology of the child. If they are looking down, maybe collapsed on the desk, they will be in their emotions and internal dialogue, probably telling themselves “your handwriting is terrible”. Confirming how bad they are at writing will create poor handwriting; we do like to be right! Next help them learn this “magical” skill:
- Hold up a card with good clear writing on it and ask the young person to copy down the words, without looking at the paper on which they’re writing.
- You want it written exactly the same as on the card, not converted into their own handwriting. Once their brain gets what you are requesting, they will probably produce better handwriting than normal, even without looking at the paper!
- This is an ideal skill to assist with copying down from the board and improving handwriting. It is fast, causes less stress and, with a little practice, should produce neat results. I personally used this strategy all through school and University. The non-writing hand can be used as a marker, moving down the page as the individual writes to keep lines even. By copying what is seen, writing will dramatically improve.
- The next step is to visualise a word and write it, again without looking at the paper. Prior to this, the individual needs to get grounded and be sitting still, so the words are seen clearly – slouching means images can’t be seen easily. With practice and increased confidence, the individual should be able to look up and down as they wish, knowing where to find those words which are causing uncertainty.
- You can, of course, add in some BrainGym[i] exercises such as lazy 8 or alphabet 8 to improve the fluency of writing and brain integration.
- Remember: Look up. See the word. Write it down.
If you struggle to get words on paper, but really know what you want to say, check what is actually happening. Some people construct a sentence in their head, then realise that they can’t spell a few words, so make another sentence and discover another couple of words they can’t spell. Doing this rapidly creates a “brain freeze” where you are unable to put any words on paper. We had a post-graduate student explain that this is what used to happen before she learnt to spell visually. Now she is a successful lecturer and her literacy difficulties belong to the past. As your spelling and writing improves brain freezes will disappear too.
This is an extract from Bridges to Success – How to Transform Learning Difficulties, available in physical form or on Kindle at www.tiahl.org/booksandmaterials
[i] Dennison, Paul E. and Gail E., Brain Gym, Edu-Kinesthetics Inc, 1992