Handwriting Research. My Go-to Handwriting Resources

There are mountains of handwriting research and resources by different people.  As those practising in the field we rely on this research to ensure we are following best practise when it comes to handwriting intervention. I am an on-the-ground clinician whose skill is to find activities that inherently address the movements and skills we are looking for.  My other skill is to take the complicated research of these giants and find how it applies into every-day treatment.  We cannot all be handwriting research academics.  And we cannot all be on-the-ground clinicians. The two have to co-exist so we can be sure we are offering our children the very best of the best when it comes to fine motor and handwriting interventions.

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I have read a truck load of journal articles about handwriting.  And there is something to be applied in every single one of them.  However, I do have some favourites, some whose work just seems to resonate with me.  I am going share just 3 of these giants with you today.

Handwriting research and resources: Mary Benbow

Mary Benbow, an occupational therapist who qualified as an OT before I was even born, has shaped so much of the handwriting intervention practised by occupational therapists.  She seemed to have the rare ability to have an inherent understanding of the anatomy and biomenchanics of the hand, as well as being able to apply it into practice.  She would certainly make it into my top 10 to have a chat about handwriting over a cup of tea!

Her handwriting research publications are rare jewels that need to be read over and over to appreciate the depth of thinking and understanding she had on the subject.  Mary Benbow has some real gems that I have kept with me for years and on which I have based so much of the work I do.

One of my favourite Mary Benbow quotes is:

Adults should not assume that children somehow know the best way to hold a pencil, or that they will acquire it through incidental experience.

Mary Benbow, Occupational Therapist.

We teach our children to walk, and we teach them to talk.  And we need to teach them how to hold a pencil: but it in accordance with these principles!

Another of my Mary Benbow favourites is:  “one of the single biggest indications that bilateral integration is established is that a child will stabilise the page.”

If you want to find practical foundations to spark ideas to implement with your children, Mary Benbow’s handwriting research and resources are a must!  You can take her course at Clinician’s View.

Meet some of the handwriting research greats here:

Research on handwriting: Steve Graham

Professor Steve Graham holds a position at the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University.  Like Mary Benbow, he was way before my time having completed his undergraduate degree the same year I started primary school!  He is has published extensively in the field of handwriting research and has a wealth of knowledge he shares so freely, and on which we can draw.

This is one of my favourite articles by Steve Graham.  It is jam-packed with nuggets of knowledge, each with so much depth and potential for us to apply.  I have to be honest that I don’t agree with everything in the paper.  I have always believed we need to be discriminating when it comes to reading research.  We have to read it critically and in the light of other research on the same subject.  I don’t agree with his teaching order of letters, preferring the practise of teaching them in letter groupings.  He also seems to defer the tilting of the page for right handers until they commence with cursive, whereas I prefer to jump in with the Crocodile Mouth® from the get-go.  But apart from that, immerse yourself in this treasure trove of information!

My favourite quote from Steve Graham is:

There is little evidence that children will ‘catch’ handwriting skills!  …If handwriting – a skill which is best taught through explicit instruction – is only emphasised when the students have failed to “catch” the skill, students are likely to fall behind early and develop poor habits that require remediation.” (Graham, 1999)

If you will excuse the comparison at this hectic time in our world, It’s not like the flu. Children need to be taught handwriting.

Handwriting research articles: Virginia Berninger

Virginia Berninger boasts a mind-blowing bio!  If you take a quick scroll through it, you realise you are in the presence of greatness.  She is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.  She has published extensively in the field covering, but not limited to, written language including: handwriting, writing and, amongst many other topics, dyslexia.

I have loved her research on how the action of the discrete finger movements during handwriting activate the memory centres in the brain!  This is not the same with typing, where the key is depressed by a single movement.  WOW!  She hasn’t guessed or postulated this, she has actually researched it with the aid of functional MRI scans which show which parts of the brain are activated and working while we do different things.  Handwriting helps memory!  And our children need that!

This brings me to one of my favourite quotes by her on technology

Virginia Berninger on handwriting and keyboarding:

We need to overcome this mentality of it’s either or; it’s both and all of the above.

To me this is such sensible thinking!  It has to be both.  We don’t need to make a choice between handwriting and keyboarding.  We just need to find creative ways to include both for our children.  Research by Karin James and Laura Dinehart have shown that early grapho-motor, or pre-writing skills, play a critical role in priming the brain circuitry for learning to read.  If this is so, then why would we even begin to consider ditching handwriting?  Even if we don’t like handwriting and think it is redundant, we cannot get rid of something that plays a critical role in laying the foundation for learning to read.

In closing about handwriting research and resources

These are three handwriting researchers whose work you can explore. There are many more but if you are looking for a place to start, these are 3 of my go-to resources.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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