Poor Pencil grip – the elephant in the room!
Have you read the recent article ‘Why handwriting still matters’ in The Spectator?
This interesting article concludes that ‘those responsible for our national curriculum should consider raising their expectations.’
Whilst I agree with this conclusion, it is the elephant in the room that concerns me the most. Take a closer look at the stock image used in the Spectator article. The writer has a poor pencil grip.
I am seeing a worrying trend where stock images illustrate a poor pencil grip. In fact, there appears to be a tsunami of poor pencil grip in many of the stock images available online.
As a handwriting expert and advisor with over 16 years experiences of teaching handwriting to what must by now be tens of thousands of children and teenagers, I have seen a massive decline in the correction of poor pencil grip. So what has caused these poor pencil grips?
The National Curriculum
The finger of blame can be pointed directly at the poorly written national curriculum fuelled by misinformation spread by special needs groups. This has driven the focus on to teaching cursive from the start with a lead-in stroke rather than working on pre-writing skills that are critical for ensuring a good, pain-free pencil grip.
Our current national curriculum offers no guidance to schools for supporting human development in order for a child to pick up a pencil to write. Likewise, it offers no incentive to raise the standard of poor pencil grips, offering only a reward through assessments that focus on the aesthetics of handwriting rather than legibility. In short, writing in cursive has been prioritised over how we learn to write using the correct pencil grip.
Shockingly, there is still no statutory requirement in the national curriculum for any specific teaching for left-handers. Yet, teaching a left-hander how to hold a pencil correctly and prevent a ‘hooked hand’ is critical for their academic achievement.
An ambiguous national curriculum has left us with a whole generation of children who struggle with to hold their pencils correctly.
Why should we correct a poor pencil grip?
Handwriting should be speedy and fluent so the writer can quickly get their thoughts and ideas down onto paper. This is especially important during exams. Gripping a pencil too tightly will cause the writer pain and it will slow them down. This could make the difference between a child achieving their academic potential and failing in exams.
There has been progress. In July 2021 the Department for Education (DfE) announced the following in the new Reading Framework for Teaching Literacy:
- practise a correct pencil grip
- be taught the correct start and exit points for each letter, which should not
include ‘lead-in’ strokes from the line.
- the teaching of joined-up handwriting should be delayed
Time for change
Officials at the DfE need to go much further than these statements. They must ensure all children receive comprehensive and continual correction of their pencil grip throughout their education from EYFS and primary through into secondary school to prevent painful and slow handwriting.
Finally, all educators must be taught the science behind how we learn to write so that poor pencil grip can be relegated to the history books.