Joined-up letters, at a stroke

How they teach... handwriting; In our monthly series, Diana Hinds visits three schools where children learn the art of writing

Otford County Primary School

Otford, Kent

For the children of , learning the correct way to form their letters begins before they join the reception class. At meetings for pre-school parents, Otford explains its approach to handwriting and gives out sheets on letter formation - partly to discourage children from writing capitals.

"Capital letters are a problem because they don't flow," says Rowena Linn, the headteacher. "We are trying to get handwriting flowing from the start, and children who have learnt capitals almost have to unlearn them and begin again."

Even before Otford children first join their letters - usually at about six - they are preparing for joined-up, or "cursive", script by practising each letter with its curved exit stroke, or "flick-up".

Until three years ago, this school, like many others, taught its infant children "ball and stick" printing, and then switched to a very different kind of letter formation when they got to seven or eight and started proper joined-up writing.

But "ball and stick" printing is fast disappearing from primary schools. The national curriculum says that children should be beginning to join letters by seven, and more and more schools are finding, like Otford, that encouraging a more flowing letter formation makes the transition to joined-up writing much easier and less abrupt.

With advice from Rosemary Sassoon, a handwriting specialist, Otford School devised a new handwriting policy and has never looked back. Its youngest children now practise writing their letters for 15 minutes every day, beginning the letter in the right place and ending with the exit stroke. Six-year-olds are taught to join letters; seven-year-olds use a fountain or cartridge pen, and by 10 or 11 they are encouraged to develop a style of their own. All the children use lined paper, or line guides, and a careful eye is kept on their posture, pencil grip and the position of their paper.

Already the school is getting better results in national curriculum handwriting tests, Mrs Linn says, and she is also beginning to detect an improvement in writing content. "The whole point is to help the children to communicate easily in writing. We want them to be able to write beautifully, and legibly, at speed. As their handwriting becomes more confident, they are freed from worrying about how to write and can concentrate more on what they want to say."

Putney High School for Girls

South-west London

Junior Department

Encouraging early joined-up writing has long been the approach favoured by the junior department of Putney High, an independent school. But when Gwen Dornan, a former primary teacher, became the school's part-time handwriting teacher six years ago, she introduced italic handwriting for the first time. Not, she insists, a funny sort of italic demanding a special pen but a "simple, modern hand", based on the italic tradition and suited to writing at speed.

From when they join the school at four, the girls are taught that their writing should be slightly sloped forwards, for right-handers, and that their o's should always be oval. Left-handers - whose status has been enhanced by Mrs Dornan's special left-handers' club - may not be able to slope their writing forwards, but are encouraged at least not to slope backwards - "because people don't so much like the look of that," she says.

They all begin in the reception class by practising forming letters, which are grouped in families according to the movement of the hand: for example, c a d g q o e, and i l t v y j. A handwriting session, of about 20 minutes a week, may involve drawing letters in sand, or repeated pattern work, such as joining c's or o's; and this is then reinforced by the class teacher. By the end of the reception year, some girls will be starting to join their letters. Formal practice continues, linked to spelling patterns, and by the end of the following year, almost all of them will be doing joined-up writing virtually all the time.

A few, Mrs Dornan admits, never master the italic style, and persist with their circular o's or backward slope. But she still prefers to have a handwriting model they all follow, and believes this one allows sufficient room for individuality.

"Having this italic model makes it easier to create a good, consistent style - and consistency is important because good handwriting has a series of patterns within it. I'm trying to get the girls to aim high and to have an attractiveness to their writing, although attractiveness is not my priority. I want them to start secondary school able to write legibly and quickly. Handwriting should be like walking - something you do without having to think about it."

Stonesfield County Primary School

Stonesfield, near Witney, Oxfordshire

Here children do not begin to join their letters until the teacher is satisfied that they have fulfilled three criteria in reading and writing.

They need, first, to be writing and spelling some words confidently (such as "and", "went", "the", "sister"). Second, they should be forming letters correctly, finishing with the exit stroke or flick. And third, in their reading they need to be tackling simple texts easily, and more difficult ones with support, demonstrating that they can picture words in their head.

Some children may meet these requirements as early as their second term in school; others may not be ready until they are rising seven. But when their teacher feels the time is right, a small group of about six to nine, drawn from across the infant classes, will undergo an intensive bout of joined-up writing.

For three weeks, for half an hour every morning after playtime, this group has the undivided attention of a class teacher as they work through the alphabet and practise joining.

Joining letters is linked to word-building - for instance, they may start with "at" and then add different consonants in front - to help them transfer their joined-up to their own independent writing. They begin on plain paper, because staff feel lines can be off-putting, but move on to lined later. Examples of joined-up writing around the classroom, including in some of their reading books, act as encouragement.

At the end of three weeks, the joining principle is pretty much in place; at the end of three months, with weekly practice, it is firmly established.

"I think our approach works because we are teaching the children who are ready to learn that skill, so they take to it quickly," says Julia Fletcher, deputy head. "It can be a bit tedious for the children at first, and sometimes they say their wrists hurt, but they find it exciting because they see it as very grown-up. When it is less successful with a child, it is because they haven't fully met our three criteria when they start."

Until three years ago, Stonesfield children did not begin to join until seven or eight. But Mrs Fletcher found some were going on to secondary school and reverting to print, because they were not sufficiently comfortable or quick with a joined hand. "It felt like a waste of what we had been teaching them. We hope now that by introducing children to joining earlier, it will become properly established as the way they always write."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor...

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Practitioner - Faringdon

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunity for you to jo...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea