Handwriting is an important but often overlooked aspect of English assessment. In this week’s post, Insight writer and English teacher Melanie Flower outlines why it is important to improve your handwriting, and gives some pointers on how to do it.
While it is true that electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous in many classrooms, there is still an undeniable need for students to have neat, legible handwriting. The most obvious reason is that VCE examinations are still handwritten, and will be for the foreseeable future. Your ability to write quickly and neatly throughout each exam is therefore crucial to your success.
There is also evidence that handwriting engages more of the brain than typing, making it a more effective learning tool. Research carried out in the United States suggests that students who take handwritten notes are more likely to understand and recall information than those who type notes directly onto their laptops (see https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/).
In addition, students who write fluently, legibly and comfortably are able to think at a deeper level, because for them writing has become an automatic process. Students who struggle to write neatly often put more thought into the physical act of handwriting, leaving less brainpower for complex analysis. It makes sense, then, to practise writing until it becomes an automatic skill.
You spend a lot of time analysing texts, developing insights, extracting evidence and forming interpretations of the material in preparation for your SACs and examinations. All of that hard work and thoughtful analysis deserves to be acknowledged and rewarded, but this can be challenging if the assessor cannot read your handwriting. Illegible writing can make it difficult, if not impossible, for a reader to follow your line of argument, or to determine whether your evidence is accurate. This, in turn, will reduce the impact of your essay, and mean that it will not address the criteria as effectively as it would if your handwriting was easy to read.
Legibility is not only important during exams – how often have you gone back over hastily scribbled class notes and struggled to read your own writing?
Finding a comfortable grip is the first step in developing stamina. If you are holding a pen comfortably and without tension in your hand, you are more likely to be able to continue writing for an extended period of time (for example, during a three-hour English examination). The most commonly recommended grip is the basic tripod – there are plenty of images online if you want to investigate this further.
It is also important that you find a pen that you like to write with and that is the right size for your hand. Use the same type of pen regularly and make sure you have a good supply on hand.
Creativity and self-expression
Developing your own distinctive handwriting style provides you with an opportunity for self-expression. It is easy to dismiss writing as nothing but a purely functional activity, but your individual flourishes and quirks are highly personal. Instead of seeing handwriting as a chore, look at it as an opportunity to express your unique personality, as well as your unique perspective on the texts you are analysing.
How can you improve?
The best way to improve your stamina as well as the legibility of your handwriting is through practice. Take up all possible opportunities to write by hand – you can write notes, essays, shopping lists and letters to friends, or even take up journalling. There are also online courses that focus on developing handwriting, starting from the basics of single strokes and progressing to a comprehensive approach to letter and word formation.
You can also write more quickly and easily if you are accomplished at cursive writing: the ‘joined-up’ writing style you probably learned in primary school. Cursive is smoother and less physically demanding than printing. When writing in cursive script, the pen is raised at the end of each word, whereas when printing, you need to lift your pen after each letter. This is only a small movement, but over a page of writing there is a significant cumulative effect in terms of both time spent and fatigue. Having said that, if your natural handwriting style is printing, or a blend of printing and cursive, do not despair – practice will still help you to write more legibly and for longer periods of time.
Improving your handwriting will allow you to focus your mental energy on ideas, instead of worrying about legibility. With practice, your writing can become fluent, readable and effortless, while also reflecting your personality and individuality. Handwriting may not be explicitly taught beyond primary school, but this should not mean that we stop developing this skill.
Looking for a resource that helps you build your writing skills? Insight’s Guide to Writing: A student toolkit is aimed at middle-years students and designed to equip them with the tools they need to become capable and confident writers.
Guide to Writing: A student toolkit will be available in mid-2021 and is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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