Teaching Fully Cursive Writing in Reception
I write as a teacher with more than forty years of experience in primary classrooms, subject leadership and management. Many of those years have been with the youngest children in school, including Nursery. I have been involved in literacy education at local, national and international levels and have a particular passion for the teaching of handwriting. This includes providing training for schools on behalf of the NHA and as an independent consultant. I also support some individual children with handwriting problems within a London primary school. The impetus for this article is my concerns with the practice adopted in some schools of introducing the teaching of ‘fully cursive’ handwriting with ‘lead in’ or ‘entry’ strokes from the beginning of the Reception year (ages 4–5 years).
In England, the curriculum begins with the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) 0–5 years, followed by the National Curriculum which is divided into Key Stages 1–4. The National Curriculum for English (2014) places high importance on teaching handwriting and confirms the importance of achieving automaticity, so that the child’s higher processes of thinking can be released to work on compositional skills, rather than be consumed by the motor, sensory and perception demands of transcription.
Good early practice in handwriting teaching seeks to establish secure foundations from the beginning then to practise, refine and extend skills. Continuity and consistency are essential factors in helping children retain movement patterns. Those advocating the early teaching of fully cursive with ‘lead in’ or ‘entry’ strokes (see Fig. 1 below), wish to establish this practice from school entry (Reception) so that children do not have to alter movement patterns at a later stage. Whilst this model sounds plausible and is successful with some children, my concern is that it is unsupported pedagogically, is unnecessary and creates failure in some of the youngest and most vulnerable children. I will proceed to outline my reasons:
Some children will be already reading and writing letters when they start Reception, including those attending Nursery classes in the same school. The letters they use, and those in the wider print environment, are not likely to have entry strokes. What are the implications for continuity and consistency?
There are no requirements to teach fully cursive writing either in the EYFS or in the National Curriculum. Indeed, the National Curriculum for English places emphasis on the acquisition of letter shape, space and size before joins are taught and delivers clear messages that some letters are best left un-joined.
For Year 2 pupils (6–7 years), the requirements include the following:
Year 2 Statutory guidance
In writing, pupils should be able to form individual letters correctly, so establishing good handwriting habits from the beginning.
Pupils should be taught to:
• form lower-case letters of the correct size relative to one another
• start using some of the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters and understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left un-joined.
Year 2 Notes and guidance: non–statutory
Pupils should revise and practise correct letter formation frequently.
They should be taught to write with a joined style as soon as they can securely form letters with the correct orientation.
And for Years 3–4 (ages 7–9)
Lower Key Stage 2 Programme of Study (Statutory requirements)
Pupils should be taught to:
• use the diagonal and horizontal strokes that are needed to join letters and
• understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left un-joined.
The National Curriculum reflects the position that there is no evidence supporting the notion that schemes which use ‘lead in’ strokes and fully cursive writing are in any way superior to those in which letters start at the top and join with an exit stroke. Although ‘lead in strokes’ are taught widely in other European countries, there is an important age difference for when formal writing is introduced, i.e. at around 7 years of age, as opposed to 4–5 years in England.
Fig. 1. Example of cursive letterforms with entry and exit strokes
Handwriting is a complex perceptual–motor skill that is dependent upon the maturation and integration of a number of cognitive, perceptual and motor skills (see Fig. 2 below). Achievement demands the orchestration of multiple skills involving the eyes, arms, hands, memory, posture and body control as well as managing pencil, paper and following instructions.
Fig. 2. Areas of development underpinning handwriting (Michelle van Rooyen)
This is no easy task for the very young, especially those ‘summer born’ children who are still only 4 years of age for most of their Reception year. At the end of that year, the Early Learning Goals set demanding benchmarks of attainment. Assessment of handwriting is to be found in Goals 4 and 10, which include these requirements:
Early Learning Goal 4 Writing:
• They also write some irregular common words.
• They write sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.
• They use key features of narrative in their own writing.
Early Learning Goal 10 Physical: Moving and handling
Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements.
They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.
• They hold paper in position and use their preferred hand for writing, using a correct pencil grip.
• They are beginning to be able to write on lines and control letter size
Fig. 3. Extracts from Early Learning Goals 4 and 10
There is, quite simply, enough to do without adding extra requirements. The importance of the Foundation stage is in the name! Foundation skills in handwriting should be focused on all of the areas outlined in Fig. 2. Practitioners need to be fully aware that the premature rush to get children ‘joining their writing’ when prerequisite skills are immature, may leave a legacy of handwriting problems that will be difficult to reverse at a later stage. The development of the right oblique stroke necessary for entry strokes is emerging between the ages of 4 and 5. Children with delayed development are likely to struggle to achieve this movement and experience frustration.
Fig. 4. From VMI Administration, Scoring and Teaching Manual. 6th Edition (Beery, 2010) (summarised by Michelle van Rooyen)
For many children in our schools and their teachers, the writing demands of EYFS pose a huge challenge. The letterforms used need to be as simple and fail-proof as possible, with letters taught in ‘formation families’ which reflect the motor patterns required to write them. Moreover, these letters are similar to those found in texts, unlike those with entry strokes which can look quite different. Joining, whenever it is seen to be desirable, can be taught quite simply using the exit strokes of these letter forms.
Fig. 5. Letter formation families (from Penpals for Handwriting, Cambridge, 2010)
Children with Special Educational Needs
The requirement to join at 4 to 5 years places a heavy burden on children who may already be struggling to establish basic handwriting skills, especially some of the ‘summer born’ and those with developmental coordination difficulties. Such children may want to be doing the same as their peers and will create their own joined script. Below is one example of writing by a child with such problems at the end of Year 1. He has received considerable support and encouragement in both years, but the demands of joining before he was developmentally ready has left a legacy of confusion.
Fig 6. Example of writing by a child at the end of Year 1 showing confusions with joining
Handwriting teaching in many English schools is a subject of concern. There is a widespread lack of professional development in this field. Newly qualified teachers often start with little or no knowledge of the subject and there is inadequate understanding of the skills that underpin sustained development.
In this climate, it is all too easy for practitioners to ‘fast forward’ to what appears to be accelerated progress and ignore signs of un-readiness. The focus of the Reception year should be to foster and strengthen the areas of development which provide the basis for long-term success in handwriting and to identify those children who need extra provision to strengthen their skills. There is a pressing need for teachers to ‘hurry slowly’ when growing
Beery, K. E., & Beery, N. A. (2010). The Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration: Administration, Scoring, and Teaching Manual (6th Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: NCS Pearson.
Handwriting in the National Curriculum
Handwriting may seem an outdated skill, but it’s still important in the primary school classroom. We take a look at what’s expected of our children.
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Handwriting today often seems a dying art. Computers, tablets and smartphones are now so prevalent that many of us rarely need to put pen to paper.
But despite the fact that technology is eclipsing handwriting, primary school children are still expected to learn to write legibly and fluently, with the National Curriculum setting out targets for every school year.
Why handwriting matters
The new National Curriculum for primary schools, introduced in 2014, gives more weight to handwriting than the previous curriculum. But why does it matter, when typing is almost always an option?
Professor Jane Medwell is a leading academic in the field of handwriting, and supports the Write Your Future campaign, which is raising awareness of the importance of handwriting for children.
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‘Handwriting is vital,’ she says. ‘It helps children learn in a way that typing doesn’t. In the early years, the process of forming letters helps children master phonic awareness, while later in primary school, it’s important for note-taking, and helps information enter the brain far more effectively than copying and pasting on the computer.’
Children who write by hand are better connected to their work and more engaged in learning. There’s also a clear link between a child’s handwriting and the quality of the content of their written work.
Handwriting and the National Curriculum
The National Curriculum specifies that primary school children should work towards mastering handwriting that is fluent, legible and, eventually, speedy.
There are specific targets for each year group.
In Year 1, pupils should be taught to:
- Sit correctly at the table, holding a pencil comfortably and correctly.
- Begin to form lower case letters in the correct direction, starting and finishing in the right place.
- Form capital letters.
- Form the digits 0 to 9.
- Understand which letters belong to which handwriting ‘family’ (a group of letters that are formed in the same way).
In Year 2, pupils are expected to:
- Form lower case letters of the correct size, relative to one another.
- Start using some of the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters, and understand which letters are best left unjoined.
- Write capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another.
- Use spacing between words that is appropriate for the size of the letters.
In Years 3 and 4, children should:
- Continue to develop their joined-up handwriting.
- Increase the legibility, consistency and quality of their handwriting – for example, ensuring that downstrokes of letters are straight and parallel, not sloping.
In Years 5 and 6, children are taught to:
- Write with increasing legibility, fluency and speed.
- Choose which shape of a letter to use, and decide whether or not to join specific letters.
- Choose the writing implement that is best suited for a task.
Handwriting and SATs
When it comes to KS2 SATs, handwriting in itself may seem to play a minor role. ‘A very small percentage of marks is allocated to handwriting, and that is assessed purely on neatness,’ Jane says.
However, good handwriting matters – and can affect your child’s SATs results – for two main reasons.
Firstly, children whose handwriting has become automatic are likely to produce a greater volume of higher quality work, and accordingly get better marks for their written work.
‘Children who can write with automaticity produce far better compositions,’ Jane explains. ‘This is because when handwriting is automatic, they don’t have to devote cognitive attention to it, which allows them to focus on the content of their work.’
Automaticity means your child can produce letters without having to think about the process. One way to test this is to get them to write out the alphabet in the correct sequence. ‘We expect seven-year-olds to produce 12 letters a minute, and 11-year olds to produce 22,’ says Jane.
Secondly, if your child’s handwriting isn’t legible, they stand to lose marks in their SATs because their answers are unclear. For example, the examiner may not be able to tell if they have capitalised a word or not, or even whether they’ve spelt it correctly.
This is a very real concern: in 2017, teachers expressed their dismay when a number of children lost marks in their spelling, punctuation and grammar test for not forming commas and semi-colons accurately enough.
Handwriting and teacher assessment
Writing in KS2 is assessed by teachers rather than by test. From 2018, there is a specific requirement for children to produce joined-up handwriting to meet the expected standard for Year 6.
This doesn’t mean that every single letter has to be joined. ‘By Year 5 or 6 we see children dropping the joins that feel unnatural, and this is completely acceptable,’ Jane says.
Your child’s teacher will assess their handwriting based on their independent writing. They can take into account handwriting books and exercises, but these aren’t sufficient on their own.
Handwriting and special educational needs
If your child is physically unable to write, they will be allowed to use a computer for their SATs and for teacher-assessed writing.
If they are physically able to write but have special educational needs that affect their handwriting, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, they may be allowed to use a computer for some of their writing.
When a child uses a computer for assessed writing, the spelling and grammar check functions should be switched off to get an accurate picture of their abilities in these areas.
5 tips to help your child with handwriting
You can help your child develop automaticity with their handwriting, and keep up with the expectations of the National Curriculum.
1. Practise little and often. ‘Handwriting is best practised in short bursts, so it doesn’t become boring,’ Jane says. ‘Just five minutes a night is enough.’
2. Use different writing implements. ‘One of the best things children can do is write using lots of different media: not just pens and pencils, but chalks and their finger in sand,’ Jane explains. ‘This gives them lots of experience, and getting to use different tools is a good incentive to practise.’
3. Concentrate on letter shapes. When your child is learning to write, focus on them forming their letter shapes correctly (for example, writing the letter c with an anticlockwise movement from top to bottom). ‘Size and orientation follow on much later,’ Jane says.
4. Keep up the momentum. ‘There is often a big push on handwriting in KSt1, then we move on and give it little attention, but many children aren’t writing automatically by this stage,’ says Jane. Keep doing short handwriting exercises as your child moves through KS2 to help them develop speed and fluency.
5. Ask for help if you’re concerned. ‘If you’re worried about your child’s handwriting, talk to their teacher. Explain your concerns, ask to see their work, and be persistent,’ Jane advises. ‘If there’s an underlying problem like dyslexia, dyspraxia or dysgraphia, help is available, but what your child needs is individual to them.’
Write Your Future is an initiative by Berol and Papermate.
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The transition to the national curriculum will be completed by 2025 — News of Uzbekistan — Gazeta.
uz To do this, it will be necessary to change the teaching methods and form a school of authors capable of writing new textbooks. Director of the RCO Shukhrat Sattorov spoke about this on Monday at a press conference on changes in the content of education.
According to the center, 246 experts were involved in the development of curricula in 22 subjects, including school teachers, methodologists, professors and university lecturers, as well as international experts from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Shukhrat Sattorov reported that the biggest problems in school education were outdated content, as well as textbooks aimed at memorizing theoretical knowledge and written in academic language.
National curricula, which began development in 2020, define the skills students need to develop in the 21st century, he said.
For example, within the framework of the native language, emphasis will be placed on the development of oral and written speech and understanding of various texts, the subject of «mathematics» — the development of mathematical thinking, logical thinking and problem solving, the natural sciences — research skills and the formation of a careful attitude to the environment, history — the ability to compare historical periods and identify cause-and-effect relationships of historical events , fine arts — the development of creative thinking, and within the framework of computer science — the skills of creating digital content. Also each item is sent for the development of students’ cognitive skills, critical and creative thinking and polyliteracy.
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Another important difference of the national curriculum is the transition from a linear approach to a spiral one, noted Shukhrat Sattorov. With this approach, topics learned in previous classes will be repeated and deepened in subsequent classes.
According to the national curriculum, the weekly load in all disciplines is 114 hours. Excessive study load is also one of the factors hindering quality education, therefore, measures will be taken to gradually reduce this load, the head of the center said. For example, in Finland, students study less compared to other countries, but at the same time, Finnish students show higher results in international studies, he cited an example.
Based on the national curriculum, with the participation of 154 authors selected on a competitive basis, 326 textbooks, workbooks and teaching aids for grades 1 and 2 for the 2021-2022 academic year were created.
The phased implementation of the National Curriculum in schools is planned to be completed by 2025. For this, 431 titles of educational and methodical literature for grades 3, 6, 7 and 10 will be prepared for the next academic year, and further — 582 titles for grades 4, 5, 8, 9-th and 11th grades.
As part of a project to improve education in Uzbekistan, together with USAID, textbooks on computer science and information technology for grades 5-11 and English for grades 1-11 published by Cambridge University Press were selected and localized. From the 2022-2023 academic year, these textbooks will be introduced in all schools.
Russian language textbooks for schools with a non-Russian language of instruction were created jointly with Russian specialists on the basis of the Russian as a foreign language methodology.
Answering a question from a Gazeta.uz correspondent about plans to localize and introduce foreign textbooks in other disciplines (for example, natural and exact sciences), Shukhrat Sattorov noted that negotiations are underway on the localization of French and German textbooks by the leading publishing houses of France and Germany. However, he considers the formation of a school of local authors to be a priority task.
According to Shukhrat Sattorov, in Uzbekistan it is necessary to form a school of authors in order to switch to the creation of textbooks by publishers, and not by the ministry, as is done in other countries. In the future, it will be achieved that not the ministry, but publishers prepare textbooks.
In order for the quality of education to reach a new level, it is necessary to achieve the academic independence of teachers, that is, the teacher should not be tied to one textbook, but should be able to organize the educational process based on educational standards using their own developments, the head of the RCO emphasized.
Commenting on the issue of complaints about the complexity of the textbook «Mother tongue and reading literacy» for the 2nd grade, he emphasized that these textbooks were tested before replication, and the methodological approach laid down in the textbook differs from previous textbooks aimed at memorizing grammar rules.