Helping Handwriting Shine
Helping Handwriting Shine (HHS) is a programme that adopts approaches used by occupational therapists to improve handwriting for use in the classroom by school staff. The programme aims to support pupils to produce fast, accurate and legible writing. In this trial, HHS was implemented as a universal approach in Year 2 (6-7 years) and a targeted approach in Year 5 (9-10 years). The Year 5 children eligible to receive the intervention were slow and effortful hand writers or those with legibility issues unable to read their own handwriting.
HHS is an eight-week programme with three 30-minute sessions per week. Each session follows a standard structure consisting of three elements: preparing for handwriting, a warm-up pencil control activity and an explicit handwriting activity. Sessions also integrate metacognitive approaches which encourage children to plan and evaluate their task.
Testing a way to improve children’s writing composition by improving handwriting
Language and literacy
Research suggests that slow or effortful handwriting (as well as spelling) takes most of children’s focus and limits the amount of thought that can be given to the content of their writing. Approaches that aim to support the accuracy and fluency of children’s handwriting have been shown to improve the presentation, quantity and quality of children’s writing. Additionally, studies show that poor handwriting can bias readers’ judgements of ideas in a text, which may lead to lower marks for writing composition.
This evaluation of HHS primarily looked at the impact of the programme on children’s overall writing ability around 24 weeks after the implementation of the 8-week intervention. The trial found that pupils in Year 2 who experienced the universal intervention made, on average, no additional progress in their overall writing ability, but children in Year 5 who experienced the targeted intervention made, on average, two months of additional progress compared with children in the usual practice control group. The results of the Year 2 universal intervention have a high security rating, whereas the results of the Year 5 targeted intervention have a moderate-to-high security rating. There is some uncertainty around the Year 5 result, as the range of possible impacts for the targeting programme are small negative effects of one month less progress and moderate positive effects of up to four months. Due to this variation within the result, the independent evaluation team do not consider this finding to constitute evidence of promise.
Exploratory analysis of the content of children’s writing and their handwriting speed suggested no difference in the composition or writing speed of pupils in schools who received the intervention, compared with control pupils. However, school staff suggested they noticed improvements in children’s handwriting (such as improvements in fine motor control, writing accuracy and presentation and writing fluency/speed), during the eight-week intervention but these were not sustained over the longer term. This suggests an assessment of handwriting speed immediately after the intervention may have potentially produced a different result. Additionally, assessments of handwriting legibility were not undertaken in the study.
The EEF continues to work to find approaches that support children’s transcription skills. We are also interested in further testing the underlying theory that secure transcription skills enables pupils to better focus on the content of their writing.
Children in the Helping Handwriting Shine schools who were in Year 2 and experienced the universal intervention made no additional progress, on average, in their overall writing ability compared to children in the control group. The range of possible impacts for the universal programme in Year 2 include small negative effects of two months less progress and small positive effects of up to one month’s progress. This result has a high security rating.
Children in the Helping Handwriting Shine schools who were in Year 5 and experienced the targeted intervention made the equivalent of two additional months’ progress in their overall writing ability compared to children in the control group. The range of possible impacts for the targeted programme in Year 5 include small negative effects of one month less progress and moderate positive effects of up to four months’ progress. This result has a moderate to high security rating.
Children in the Helping Handwriting Shine schools, either in Year 2 or Year 5, made, on average, no additional progress in writing composition. This result may have lower security than the overall findings. Exploratory analysis also suggests that it is unlikely the Helping Handwriting Shine programme increased or decreased children’s handwriting speed.
Adherence to the eight-week programme was, on average, medium to high. There were some potential limitations with the delivery logs meaning these findings should be viewed with caution.
Staff and pupils viewed the programme positively, noticing improvements in children’s handwriting during the eight-week intervention. Staff were of the opinion that the programme had improved their ability to teach handwriting and that it was relatively easy to implement.
Full project description
This project aimed to train primary teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) to use occupational therapy approaches, to support children’s handwriting, and evaluate whether the approach could improve the overall quality of children’s writing. The programme was designed and delivered by a team from the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds and the Bradford Institute of Health Research. In this trial, the programme was implemented as a universal approach in Year 2 (age six to seven) and a targeted approach in Year 5 (age nine to ten). The Year 5 children eligible to receive the intervention were slow and effortful hand writers or those with legibility issues unable to read their own handwriting.
The eight-week intervention was spread across two four-week blocks on either side of the Christmas break with three 30-minute sessions per week. Each session followed a standard structure consisting of three elements: preparing for handwriting, a warm-up pencil control activity, and an explicit handwriting activity. Sessions also integrated metacognitive approaches which encouraged children to plan and evaluate their work. Training for staff included one full day session (five to six hours), with follow-on support available based on individual school need. A second half day of training was added to support with embedding the approach between the end of the eight-week programme and post-testing at the end of the school year.
The research consisted of two randomised controlled efficacy trials in 103 schools: a Year 5 experiment where treatment and control pupils were within the same school (371 pupils) and a Year 2 experiment where the comparison group were drawn from different schools (3,854 pupils). The process evaluation involved case studies in twelve treatment schools (which used interviews and observations), observations of the training for staff, and analysis of intervention delivery logs. The trial took place in schools between June 2018 and July 2019.