Strategies for Improving Speed and Legibility of Handwriting for Secondary Students

Jane Aarons, AHTA Accredited Hand Therapist,

 

With the widespread use of laptops and touch screens in the classroom and at home, students are losing the ability to write neatly and quickly as writing is performed less and less. Writing is a complex sensory-motor activity, that demands more of your brain than typing.  This means that writing is taking longer to become automatic for students than it once was.

Writing for three hours in an exam is an endurance activity. Just as you would train for a marathon race you also need to train for an exam.  Practice writing everyday for 20 minutes. 

Did you know those with poor handwriting use more parts of the brain, more physical energy and are less efficient than legible writers?  You are less able to concentrate on other aspects of the task if you are thinking about your writing, i.e. Creative thinking and comprehension will be hindered.

You are more likely to fidget and ‘slump’ if your writing is poor.

  • After the age of 8 years you are unlikely to be able to change the established motor pattern of your handwriting.  Your only option is to compensate.
  •  In an exam you are more likely to be ‘marked down’ if your handwriting is poor even if the content you are writing is the same as a more legible piece.

Checklist:

-           Have you had an eye test in the last 3 years?

-           Use a 2B pencil or felt tip pen when you are able. The softer tip will slow your writing down and improve legibility.  Less pressure is also required.

  • To relax the grip, increase the thickness of the pen.
  •  Don’t press harder than you need. You are wasting muscle endurance
  •  Lean on a soft surface.
  •  Angle your paper at 30` away from your writing hand and stabilise with your other hand.
  •  Make sure you are leaning on the ‘writers’ muscle on the little finger side of your hand for support.
  •  You need a strong and stable shoulder to be able to write for long periods, such as in exam conditions.  To strengthen your shoulder, practice writing on the shower screen or the mirror with your hand at shoulder height.

  • Those who have ‘bendy thumbs’ (hypermobility) will fatigue faster due to lack of stability of pinch grip.  Practice making a perfect ‘O’ with the tip of your thumb and index finger.  Then when you are able to do this, practice keeping this ‘O’ while you tear a tissue or open a ziplock bag.  This will help stability of your thumb in writing.
  • Good handwriting endurance starts with good posture, i.e. good core  strength to sit upright, hips, knees and elbows at 90°.  Feet must be supported flat on the floor or a foot stool.
  • If your writing has poor legibility or you fatigue quickly when you write or you don’t have adequate endurance you need to PRACTICE!.. 20 minutes a day  for 20 weeks
  • To strengthen your fingers, you can tape an AA battery to the top of your pencil during class time or homework.  This increases the demand on the stabilising muscles of your thumb and will improve your endurance.  Remove battery for exams!

 

There are many other strategies and specific exercises for which an Accredited Hand Therapist can assist you with your handwriting and being exam ready.

 

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