boy writingspacerHandwriting is an important part of Progressive Phonics, and for good reason: many educators are returning to basics -- reading AND writing -- as the key to literacy.  Simply put, when children write what they learn, they learn it better .

The underlying reason has roots in physiology:  when we write, we activate kinesthetic (motion) memory, which is the earliest, strongest and some say the most reliable memory channel. Furthermore, writing takes more time than reading a word, giving the brain ten to twenty times more exposure to a word.

Whatever the reason or theory, concurrent writing and reading instruction has four important benefits:

-- Reinforces memory of words
-- Trains the left-to-right and up-to-down patterns that are necessary for fluent reading of English.
-- Helps build a child's "word bank" of words that he/she can recognize and read instantly.
-- Helps children recognize and retain patterns and relationships in words and spellings.

To illustrate the point, here are some excerpts from Susan Bowen's article, Handwriting: A Key to Literacy, reprinted here with permission:

"Much of the education research now being conducted by universities focuses on technology and literacy—with little regard given to the interrelationship of handwriting development and reading, spelling and composition.  The prevailing theory today is that children should be taught to read through a structured and protracted process in which they are made aware of sounds and the symbols that represent them, and then learn to apply these skills automatically. What is not usually addressed in these studies is the role of learning to write, also a structured process that must become automatic in order for the student to progress with reading, note-taking and composition. The ease and speed of a child’s handwriting have a major impact on how he performs throughout his academic career and beyond.

"Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys, says that educators should be more concerned about the link between problems with the mechanics of handwriting and overall lifetime literacy. She also notes that boys are more likely to have handwriting problems than girls.

"Those who study handwriting issues maintain that the handwriting process offers powerful advantages to children and that time spent on handwriting development improves students’ abilities across the curriculum. Although the research on handwriting is woefully inadequate, anecdotal evidence based on some teachers’ experiences supports the notion that early consistent teaching of handwriting is crucial to success in school. Ignoring handwriting has been shown to retard fine motor coordination and produce less detail-oriented students.

"Libby Rhoden, a veteran schoolteacher at Kruse Elementary School in the Houston-area Pasadena Independent School District, took the initiative a few years ago to put her kindergarteners on the positive path to writing and reading. She introduced what she calls the “magical sixth element”—writing fluency instruction—into her reading program. She soon discovered a powerful correlation between printing fluency and reading ability. When the children reached a printing speed of 18–20 words a minute, their reading took off and so did their comprehension. By the middle of the school year, most students were printing an average of 39 words per minute, and by the end of kindergarten, more than one-third of the students were reading above first-grade level and nearly another third were above kindergarten level. This magical element is all the more powerful, given that her students are almost entirely from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Most of them come from non-English-speaking homes and often have no exposure to books or pencils prior to entering school. Her former students who are now in first and second grade consistently outperform students who have not participated in her handwriting fluency program.

"She attributes her success to creating a stress-free and fail-proof environment for her students and to a kinesthetic or hands-on approach to learning. 'By writing, the images are burned in their brains,' she explains. Rhoden encourages other teachers to implement her writing program. 'Skill-building is so important,' she says. 'Any child can bang on a piano, but it takes consistent training and practice to become a musician. It’s the same way with learning to write.'"