The Point of Penmanship

Neat handwriting is something I will never have. Never.  I say “never,” not because I am incapable of learning how to write neatly, but because it will never be important enough for me to give penmanship the focus and attention it requires for me to write neatly. To me, it’s the thinking behind the writing that is my priority. 

When I was in elementary school, my 2nd-grade teacher would call my writing “chicken scratch.” And all through upper el, I earned D’s in Handwriting and 4’s in” Works Neatly” (on a 1-5 scale). I distinctly remember the relief I felt when I arrived in high school and realized no one cared what my penmanship looked like, as long as my teachers could read it.  

Experts say proper letter formation is an essential foundational skill for students to learn how to compose their thoughts in writing, which means when children are first learning how to write their ABCs and 123s, they need to be monitored by an adult, constantly! It is imperative there is a grown-up watching the student correctly form the letters when practicing, or else you run a very high risk of the child practicing the incorrect way to form their letters. Incorrect practice will quickly lead to incorrect motor memory, This will instantly form a bad habit, making it a lot harder to ever learn proper letter formation.  

Students need to practice writing their letters enough to master the skill of letter formation to the point that they can write without thinking about how to form the letters. Having automatic recall of letter formation frees up the brain’s working memory, allowing it to focus on composition. When the brain is tied down trying to remember how to form specific letters, it often forgets what it was trying to say in the first place. This is a significant barrier for struggling learners from elementary school through high school. Being able to write letters accurately and quickly enables students to focus on creating quality compositions.  

Because I didn’t receive the practice I needed when I was young (nor the accountability for applying what I learned), my writing is still a hot mess. As a child, I was not fluent in printing before I was taught cursive, and the result is I write in a mixture of the two. I write very fast, in a combination of print and cursive, and frequently need to stop and fix my letter formation so I can read it later.  This causes me to be rather inefficient in my approach to writing tasks, however, I compensate by writing very quickly (and messily). As a teacher, when I’m working with students, I am intentional to slow down and carefully form my letters, to model correct letter formation, however when I’m just writing naturally, it’s not a pretty sight.  Fortunately for me, I learned to type very fast, enabling me to capture all of my ideas quickly and neatly. But for parents, always remember when your child is learning to write, students need to practice under the guidance of an adult to ensure they are properly forming their letters.

Are you proud of your penmanship or did you not get enough practice (like me)? Leave a comment below and be sure to share and subscribe!

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michele DeLuca

A delightful and insightful commentary on a lost art! I am applauding.