Handwriting with Dr Angela Webb

Megan Dixon is Director of Literacy for the Aspire Educational Trust, a small, friendly MAT in Cheshire, also Head of Research and Development for Aspirer Teaching Alliance, Cheshire. Trained IoE, London. Taught in London and Cheshire all the way through from Rec to Y6. Master of Teaching, IoE/UCL, Master of Literacy Learning and Literacy Difficulties, IoE/UCL. Was a Nat Strat Consultant for a year.
Now, she teaches children and teachers. Love research!
Thoughts from a day with Dr Angela Webb – Chair of the National Handwriting AssociationPart 1.

Last week, our Teaching Alliance welcomed Angela to spend a day busting some myths about the teaching of handwriting. In this first post on the subject, I have tried to highlight some of the key messages I took from the day.

Why bother with handwriting?

Handwriting is the Cinderella of literacy; the research pool is small, but growing and recently there has been an explosion in interest. Handwriting is not a dying art; it supports and enhances cognitive development of children. Furthermore, children spend about 60% of each day in pen and pencil activities. Handwriting is the medium through which we test children and judge their ability (Santangelo and Graham, 2015, Graham et al, 2011). Children care about handwriting. This means we should care too. 

Writing by hand impacts on cognitive learning in all domains, in particular, embodied cognition. How we interact with the world in a physical sense impacts on our understanding and learning.

What we should know as teachers

In general, statistics seem to show that developmentally girls learn faster and control handwriting more quickly than boys. In schools, it seems that handwriting is seen as important in KS1, but not in KS2, but how the skill is perceived in school is important. The question is whether handwriting is considered an art form or a functional skill. It is great if the books look lovely, but we need to see handwriting as a functional skill.

The functions of handwriting are;

1. The obvious ones; Putting thoughts on paper, recording events, communicating ideas, demonstrating knowledge, supporting memory

2. Less obvious: Handwriting becomes a personal expression of yourself, it can relieve stress, and can promotes the flow of narrative, strengthening cognitive learning. The act of handwriting enables you to process ideas and understand them. For a successful writer, the thinking process and writing process are continuous. For those who are not successful, writing becomes a stop start process.

Karen James (2014) and Berninger et al, (1994) highlight the role handwriting plays in early reading development. When children have to conceptualise the letter forms, handwriting supports this learning. In addition andwriting support spelling; ALL FORMS of handwriting support spelling (not just joined or joined writing leading in from the line). The quantity of writing correlates to compositional quality at age 11years and 16years, therefore speed is important(Christiansen, 2005). This means it is important to have a continued focus on teaching handwriting all the way through the primary school.


In KS1, the focus of teaching should be on legibility, comfort and ease and fluency (joining letters with movement flow, spatial control and temporal flow). Teaching a dynamic cursive style (joining links, but not leading up from the line) is most effective.

In KS2 the focus alters towards be speed, (the nuts and bolts of letter formation should be under control) and legibility. This should be combined with a flexibility to write in different ways for different purposes (fast for narrative/story writing; slow for presentation)

Because handwriting is so complex, it has to be taught.​

Practice is REALLY important and the distribution and variablity of practice need considering. Once the letter formation is under control, it is better to practice whole alphabet every day, rather than individual letters.

In the EYFS, there should be a motor control development/handwriting activity everyday

In KS1 there should be 15 minutes of monitored practice every day. You have to watch them.

In KS2, 15 minutes 2/3 times a week , with a focus on speed and legibility, is enough.

More to follow, but until then, the National Handwriting Association is a treasure trove of information about developing handwriting. http://www.nha-handwriting.org.uk/

Or… dig out that old National Strategies book – Developing Early Writing, Part 3, Section 3 – according to Angela, its gold dust!



Berninger, V.W. and Swanson, H.L. (1994) Modifying Hayes and Flower’s model of skilled writing to explain beginning and developing writing. In E.C. Butterfield (ed.) Children’s Writing: Toward a Process Theory of the Development of Skilled Writing (pp. 57–81). Hampton Hill: JAI Press.

Christiansen, C (2005) The Critical Role Handwriting Plays in the Ability to Produce High Quality Written Text , http://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/langartelem/Core/Handwriting/CriticalRole.aspx

James, K (2012) The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211949312000038
Santangelo and Graham, 2015 A comprehension meta-analysis of handwriting instruction, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10648-015-9335-1#/page-1


One thought on “Handwriting with Dr Angela Webb

  1. Great to see this piece about handwriting – a subject very, very close to my heart and one in which professional development seems to be lacking.

    A look around every classroom will reveal an assortment of ways of holding the writing implement – most of them grotesque and obscuring the writing process. But then we have a generation of teachers who are in the same position.

    This site with free resources and guidance might be of interest to some people:


    It’s good to see Angela referring to the links between writing and reading – spot on – and handwriting should be, in my opinion, the ‘third core skill’ in phonics provision.

    For me, that would entail disposing of the mini whiteboard regimes for phonics which do untold damage to handwriting – and they don’t allow any intrinsic satisfaction for children of their efforts – and wiping all the writing away at the end of the lesson robs the teacher of monitoring letter formation per child.

    I could go on, but won’t – suffice to say I’m really pleased to find another handwriting advocate!

    I’ll re-post this article here:


    Warm regards,


    Liked by 1 person

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