Regardless of the impact of technology on education, handwriting skills continue to be required for written communication in the majority of curriculum areas in education and in everyday living (Graham & Harris, 1997). Handwriting produces a visible language that permanently records functional difficulties (Sassoon, 1990a). Thus, some students with handwriting difficulties can express their thoughts and ideas verbally; however, they are unable to reproduce those ideas in written text. Frequently these students may be described as lazy. This results in low self-efficacy and anxiety about writing. Additionally, they may develop secondary behavioural difficulties in an effort to mask their failure (Levine, 1987, 1994).
The task of writing requires a student to synchronise the demands of ideation, planning, transcription, spelling, punctuation, grammar and self-monitoring, thus necessitating the simultaneous execution of cognitive, metacognitive, language and motor functioning (Graham & Weintraub, 1996; Hooper et al., 1994; Levine, 1994). Due to the cognitive demands of this complex skill, successful writers must be able to write letters and words at a level of automaticity in order to allocate attention to the higher level processes of composing and editing (Berninger, 1994; McCutchen, 1996). Research over the past decade has acknowledged that automaticity in handwriting influences the quantity
and quality of written language (Berninger, 1994; Berninger & Richards, 2002; Graham et al., 1997). Additionally, research indicates that the script style used in handwriting may influence the speed and legibility of writing (Graham, 1998; Graham, Berninger, Weintraub, & Schafer, 1998).
Study 1 investigated the relationship between handwriting and the ability to generate written language in a longitudinal study of students from Year 2 to Year 7. It also investigated this relationship in a cross-sectional study of 677 students entering their first year of secondary school. Data indicated that there was a consistent positive relationship between fluency in handwriting and the
ability to produce written language. Fluency in handwriting accounted for 63% of the variance in written language skills for Year 2 students through to 34% of variance for upper primary grades. A significant relationship between automaticity in handwriting and the quantity and quality of written language was also observed in the study of secondary school students. Girls outperformed boys in both measures of handwriting and written language for these primary and secondary school students. Students who used a mixture of script styles were slower in handwriting than students who used either print or cursive exclusively. In Year 7 and Year 8, more students used print for writing than students using cursive or mixed scripts.
Study 2 compared two instructional approaches for teaching young children to write. It involved 30 teachers and 381 students in the first year of formal schooling. Teachers were given a brief professional development program about handwriting and written language that focused on different instructional strategies. The experimental program focused on providing students with explicit instruction in handwriting to enable the production of written language regardless of individual fine motor skill development. The control program focused on traditional instructional methods that require individual skill development of precise fine motor control to learn to write accurate letter formations in appropriate line spaces. The results indicated that students in the experimental program produced handwriting that was significantly faster than students from the control program. The students in the experimental program who developed automaticity in handwriting were able to write more
words in a given time and used more accurate spelling. These students were also more able to produce handwritten language that communicated meaning. In the experimental program boys scored as well as girls in both measures of handwriting and written language, however in the control group, girls outperformed boys in both measures.