The pen is mightier than the sword Part 1


Handwriting is not dead. Despite reports to the contrary, despite a plethora of technologies for creating text, nothing yet matches the speed and immediacy of a quick note jotted down with a mark-making implement on a scrap of paper.

It’s probably not a stretch to suggest that a handwritten letter or card remains one of the most intimate means of non-verbal communication of thoughts, ideas and feelings. It is certainly true that the majority of students hand write the bulk of their work, at least at primary level. This will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future.

With this in mind, it is frustrating to witness students struggle to master basic ‘stylus skills’ (a non-gendered alternative to ‘penmanship’). In the UK, we are also in the unfortunate situation where handwriting quality has historically counted for only a few percentage points in Y6 English tests.

As with many things that we could do better in schools, a focus on improving handwriting sits comfortably with the concept of marginal gains, beyond the opportunity to clinch a couple of extra test points.

1. The physical act of writing something down makes a stronger memory than typing it. It improves learning

2. Fluent/neat writers are better able to keep pace with their own thoughts. Laborious writers struggle with this, leading to a loss of coherence, or a tendency to use simple, workaday language.

3. The fluent/neat writer generally suffers lower levels of muscle fatigue; they can sustain their effort for longer and produce more writing for a given time increment. How can a student demonstrate their abilities if they are not able to produce an adequate body of work.

4. The fluent/neat writer can create documents that are visually pleasing in and of themselves. Laborious writers can obviously see the gulf between such documents and their own, yet lack the skills to produce them.

As with any physically expressed skill, we are all at different points on a continuum, and as with any physically expressed skill, there are almost non of us who could not make improvements. There is no ‘just can’t’ get out clause. It will be difficult. It will take work and a certain amount of dedication, but improvements can be made and should be sought.

This is really a plea for systematic, properly taught, properly supported and properly resourced handwriting teaching for every child. More than this, it’s a plea for non-acceptance of bad handwriting.

This is part one of a two-part post.

2 responses to “The pen is mightier than the sword Part 1

  1. Hmm when I was at Grammar school in the 60’s there were two cults – one was sharpened steel combs and the other was expensive italic-nib ink pens. In my experience those students who were overly concerned with the quality of their writing were not the most academic – shall I write a blog post about that? I love the generalisations in this blog. I was brought up to write the latin mass in copperplate and it caused me to have the worst script for over five years until I took the radical step of redesigning my own handwriting.

  2. I’m happy to have a polite, purposeful discussion about anything that I blog, or even have a laugh. I don’t pre-moderate comments either, because I don’t like to do so.

    Despite choosing to post anonymously, I also try to conduct myself courteously online, even where I disagree strongly with people’s views.

    This is my second online interaction with you, the first having been on Twitter, where I used the synonym ‘made’ to describe the action of ‘combining two openly available elements’. I ignored your comment in that instance, since my initial tweet was so throwaway and inconsequential that to engage in further discussion..? Frankly, life’s too short.

    As for your comment here, I’m sure that you’re capable of disagreeing in a more civil way with someone you haven’t met, or even directly interacted with, but for some reason have chosen a distinctly different tone.

    I don’t expect to have my opinions universally endorsed, and people are welcome to disagree with me. I enjoy a heated exchange, but question the motives and substance of people who resort to rudeness, which your behaviour borders on.

    I see no point in any further interaction with you. Thanks for stopping by.

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