Anyone who has seen the title of this post and is rubbing their hands in anticipation of some secondary/primary bashing is going to be disappointed. This post is about something which seems to be on the increase and which I observe every September – an increasing number of year 7 children who tell me that no one at primary school told them either how to hold a pencil or do joined up handwriting.
Now, I am well aware that the child’s memory may well be at fault, yet I have been teaching for a long time and it seems a relatively recent phenomenon. Year 7 children who struggled with handwriting used to say “they showed me and tried to get me to do it but I found it too hard.” Fair enough – for all my efforts to get pupils to master tense formation in foreign languages, I have some in my GCSE class who can’t conjugate verbs correctly in the present tense, let alone other tenses, so I know that, despite one’s best efforts, children can continue to struggle. Some of my year 7s who appear to have writing difficulties say that they were indeed shown, but over the past few years an increasing number claim, possibly wrongly, that they were left to find their own way, or told that they could use a keyboard instead. By the way, I am talking about able pupils with high CATs/FFT/KS2 test scores, not low achievers by any means.
It is almost tragic watching able pupils, who are quick to grasp grammar patterns in a foreign language and can read well, struggling to take notes or complete written work in class because they can’t hold a pencil properly or join up their letters. And much as I would like to keep them behind to practise handwriting, the children concerned have other lessons to go to and my intervention has to prioritise examination classes. The gap between pupils who can write fluently and those who cannot (despite being of similar ability) gets wider and by the end of the Easter term the pupils themselves are realising it. Some, belatedly, do try to practise writing differently, but the rest get annoyed at how quickly those who can hold pencils correctly and do joined up writing can take notes and write paragraphs. Yes, we can(and do) give them tablets, but GCSE and A level examinations are still handwritten and only those with SEN are allowed to use keyboards.
As I say, this is not a “let’s bash primary teachers” post. Children often claim they were never taught something and it is often untrue. Children who claim they were not taught pencil grip and joined up handwriting may well have been taught, but just have selective memories. However, just in case there are teachers who believe that pencil grip and joined up handwriting will all come naturally and that handwriting doesn’t matter in the age of the keyboard, I plead with you to think again.