POOR HANDWRITING PROBLEMS AND ITS NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT OF CHILDREN WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
Education is a necessary factor in the economic development as it is regarded as the bedrock of sustainable development in any nation. It equips the individual with the information necessary for high level of human functioning. Education is expected to train the mind of its recipient for effective performance. Adequate and proper acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills in school subjects and disciplines of study are invariably functions of quality education (Okara, 2012). To be regarded as educated person an individual needs to know how to read coherently and write legibly.
Unfortunately, Children with learning disability are not doing well in school as a result of poor handwriting which has to do with the problem of expressing though in writing form. Berninger (2008) refers to handwriting as language by hand which is a useful reminder of its context and purpose. Oche (2014) posited that handwriting is not an isolated activity; neither can it be seen solely as a motor activity. It is part of a language activity. There is handwriting that is clear and easy to read, and then there is handwriting that is hard to read. Bad handwriting sometimes includes sentences that are poorly punctuated, misuse of upper and lower case letter for examples writing b in place of d, p in place of q etc., words with incorrect spacing, and sentences that do not make sense. Thus poor handwriting may make the written work of children with learning disability to be difficult to decipher leading to distortion in the communication process. This might result in subsequent failure, underachievement and loss of motivation for academic activities.
Richards (2009) opined that poor handwriting can have negative impact on the success of the students (learning disabilities students) in schools. Many learning disabilities children with poor handwriting are not able to write symbols well, and they cannot put their thought together coherently or write legibly in examination and as such it affects their overall performance in examination. A good handwriting skill is an essential part of teaching and learning, however, this has been ignored in many schools currently in Nigeria. In fact, the neglect by school authority to properly supervise children with learning disabilities handwriting is one of the contributory factors to their poor academic achievement in schools.
In Nigeria, a large number of children with learning disabilities complete primary school unable to write sufficiently well. The reason is that they are not taught appropriately on how to write good handwriting. A student with learning disabilities who has difficulty with handwriting spends more time thinking about letter formation when he or she should be thinking of words or contents to be written. Handwriting difficulty becomes a serious problem for children with learning disabilities as they will not be able to express themselves accurately and legibly in a written form. However, it was on this instance that this seminar work on poor handwriting problems and its negative impact on the academic achievement of children with learning disabilities are very important so as to help improve the handwriting performance of children with learning disabilities and in turn improve their academic achievement.
Literature Review on Poor Handwriting Problems and Its Negative Impact on the Academic Achievement of Children with Learning Disabilities
Concept of Poor Handwriting (Dysgraphia)
Poor handwriting is a deficiency in the ability to write, primarily handwriting, but also coherence (Chivers, 1999). Poor handwriting is a transcription disability, meaning that it is a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding (orthography, the storing process of written words and processing the letters in those words), and finger sequencing (the movement of muscles required to write) (Berninger, 2009). It often overlaps with other learning disabilities such as speech impairment, attention deficit disorder, or developmental coordination disorder (Nicolson and Fawcett, 2011).
Children with poor handwriting/dysgraphia can often write on some level and may experience difficulty with other fine motor skills, such as tying shoes. However, poor handwriting does not affect all fine motor skills. Children with poor handwriting often have unusual difficulty with handwriting and spelling which in turn can cause writing fatigue. They may lack basic grammar and spelling skills (for example, having difficulties with the letters p, q, b, and d), and often will write the wrong word when trying to formulate their thoughts on paper. The disorder generally emerges when the child is first introduced to writing. Adults, teenagers, and children alike are all subject to poor handwriting (NCLD, 2010).
Children with Learning Disabilities
Learning disability is a classification that includes several areas of functioning in which a child has difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually caused by an unknown factor or factors which affect their writing ability and in turn affect their academic achievement. Given the “difficulty learning in a typical manner”, this does not exclude the ability to learn in a different manner. Therefore, some children can be more accurately described as having a “Learning Difference”, thus avoiding any misconception of being disabled with a lack of ability to learn and possible negative stereotyping.
However, learning disability, learning disorder and learning difficulty are often used interchangeably, they differ in many ways. Disorder refers to significant learning problems in an academic area. These problems, however, are not enough to warrant an official diagnosis. Learning disability on the other hand, is an official clinical diagnosis, whereby the individual meets certain criteria, as determined by a professional (psychologist, pediatrician, etc.). The difference is in degree, frequency, and intensity of reported symptoms and problems, and thus the two should not be confused. When the term “learning disorder” is used, it describes a group of disorders characterized by inadequate development of specific academic, language, and speech skills (Thomson, 2008). Types of learning disorders include reading (dyslexia), mathematics (dyscalculia) and writing (dysgraphia) (Thomson, 2008).
Concept of Academic Achievement
Academic achievement or (academic) performance is the outcome of education — the extent to which a student and most especially learning disabilities students, teacher or institution has achieved their educational goals (Wikipedia, 2015). Academic achievement of children with learning disabilities therefore consists of scores obtained from teacher-made test or examination. A number of factors have been identified as affecting children with learning disabilities academic achievement. Some of these include: poor handwriting, students’ family background, parental discipline (Aremu, 2000), degree of self-efficacy and (Aremu & Adika, 2000), school location etc. Another emerging factor of academic achievement is the school the learner attends (Sentamu, 2003).
Bossaert, (2011) defines academic achievement as children with learning disabilities success in meeting short or long term goals in education in the big picture according to the authors, academic achievement means completing high school or earning a college degree. Lassiter (1995) looks at children with learning disabilities academic achievement as referring to a students’ strong performance in a given academic area. A student who earns good grades or awards in a particular subject for example in handwriting has achieved in the academic field of that subjects. He further stated that education associations and schools monitor the overall level of student academic achievement to decide what, if any challenges, need to be made in the educational system.
Classification of Poor Handwriting (Dysgraphia) Among Children with Learning Disabilities
Poor handwriting (Dysgraphia) among children with learning disabilities is nearly always accompanied by other learning differences such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder, (Berninger, 2011) and this can impact the type of dysgraphia a person might have. There are three principal subtypes of poor handwriting (dysgraphia) that are recognized. There is little information available about different types of poor handwriting and there are likely more subtypes than the ones listed below. Some children may have a combination of two or more of these, and individual symptoms may vary in presentation from what is described here. Most common presentation is a motor dysgraphia/agraphia resulting from damage to some part of the motor cortex in the parietal lobes.
Learning disabilities children with dyslexic dysgraphia have illegible spontaneously written work. Their copied work is fairly good, but their spelling is usually poor. Their finger tapping speed (a method for identifying fine motor problems) is normal, indicating that the deficit does not likely stem from cerebella damage.
Motor dysgraphia is due to deficient fine motor skills, poor dexterity, poor muscle tone, or unspecified motor clumsiness. Letter formation may be acceptable in very short samples of writing, but this requires extreme effort and an unreasonable amount of time to accomplish, and it cannot be sustained for a significant length of time, as it can cause arthritis-like tensing of the hand. Overall, their written work is poor to illegible even if copied by sight from another document, and drawing is difficult. Oral spelling for these individuals is normal, and their finger tapping speed is below normal. This shows that there are problems within the fine motor skills of these children. Learning disabilities children with developmental coordination disorder may be dysgraphic. Writing is often slanted due to holding a pen or pencil incorrectly.
Learning disabilities children with spatial dysgraphia has a defect in the understanding of space. They will have illegible spontaneously written work, illegible copied work, and problems with drawing abilities. They have normal spelling and normal finger tapping speed, suggesting that this subtype is not fine motor based.
Signs and Symptoms of Poor Handwriting (Dysgraphia) Among Children with Learning Disabilities
The symptoms to poor handwriting (dysgraphia) are often overlooked or attributed to children with learning disabilities being lazy, unmotivated, not caring, or having delayed visual-motor processing. In order to be diagnosed with dysgraphia, one must have a cluster, but not necessarily all, of the following symptoms:
• Cramping of fingers while writing short entries
• Odd wrist, arm, body, or paper orientations such as bending an arm into an L shape
• Excessive erasures
• Makin reversals for example ‘b’ for ‘d’, “p for ‘q’, “d” for; g;, ‘s’ for ‘z’
• Mixed upper case and lower case letters
• Inconsistent form and size of letters, or unfinished letters
• Misuse of lines and margins
• Inappropriate upper case / lower case letter mixed for example mixing capital letters with small letters bOY, BaG, dOG, CHAir and so on cAKe, Pen, bOok and so on.
• Inefficient speed of copying
• Inattentiveness over details when writing
• Frequent need of verbal cues
• Relies heavily on vision to write
• Difficulty visualizing letter formation beforehand
• Poor legibility
• Poor spatial planning on paper
• Difficulty writing and thinking at the same time (creative writing, taking notes)
• Handwriting abilities that may interfere with spelling and written composition
• Difficulty understanding homophones and what spelling to use
• Having a hard time translating ideas to writing, sometimes using the wrong words altogether
• May feel pain while writing (cramps in fingers, wrist and palms)
Causes of poor handwriting (Dysgraphia) among children with learning disabilities
Poor handwriting (Dysgraphia) is a biologically based disorder with genetic and brain bases. More specifically, it is a working memory problem. In dysgraphia, children with learning disabilities fail to develop normal connections among different brain regions needed for writing. Learning disabilities children with poor handwriting (dysgraphia) have difficulty in automatically remembering and mastering the sequence of motor movements required to write letters or numbers. Poor handwriting (Dysgraphia) is also in part due to underlying problems in orthographic coding, the orthographic loop, and graphmotor output (the movements that result in writing) by one’s hands, fingers and executive functions involved in letter writing. The orthographic loop is when written words are stored in the mind’s eye, connected through sequential finger movement for motor output through the hand with feedback from the eye.
Poor Handwriting Effect and Its Negative Impact on Academic Achievement of Children with Learning Disabilities
A student who has poor handwriting may experience any of the following problems: Studies well but not completing his or her examination as expected, able to read well but not able to write neatly and legibly, has good eye sight but is unable to copy from the blackboard fast, slow in writing, teacher is not able to decipher what the student writes, student’s intelligent quotient is normal but he is still unable to get proper letter formation, the student writes with little or no space between words and letters, the student is getting less mark in examinations because of his illegible writing (Graham, Weinstein, & Berninger, 2007).
If students cannot write signs well, it may ultimately result in their inabilities to copy information legibly in their notebooks and this could possibly slow down their academic progress. A noticeable slow academic progress can lead to disappointment and low self-esteem which could trigger a feeling of unfriendliness with educational system. Handwriting difficulties can therefore disturb and interfere with educational progress of student. Poor handwriting can also affect students negatively in terms of completing daily academic assignment and the ability to take note during lessons and frequency of writing. In a conventional learning environment, time in school is spent up in writing notes and copying from board so that lack of legible handwriting could lead to a loss of motivation and evading of school work. Poor handwriting can lead teachers to misunderstand what is written and prompt them to give low marks to students and most especially those with learning disabilities in examinations (Graham, Weinstein, & Berninger, 2007).
Stainthorp (2008) maintained that unless children with learning disabilities learn to write legibly and at a reasonable speed, their educational achievements may be reduced and their self-esteem affected. Even in an era when elementary school students and most especially those with learning disabilities are skilled at ‘mousing’ and teenagers are fiends at ‘text-messaging’ some experts, say that writing with a pen is still the backbone for teaching people (children with learning disabilities) how to read and learn facts. Handwriting difficulties can therefore weaken educational progress and interfere with learning of children with learning disabilities.
The evidence from various studies suggested that handwriting quality and quantity are strongly associated with examination achievement (Cahill, 2010). Hence, it is expedient on the parts of students and most especially those with learning disabilities to develop their handwriting skills at elementary school before proceeding to high school to ensure they get better marks. A few marks more due to good handwriting can catapult ones success rate in life. However, research indicates that handwriting is tied to academic achievement. Poor handwriting often frustrates teachers and results in lower grades. Everyone has their own handwriting style, some neat and others barely legible. Research has shown that different handwriting styles have effects on how a paper is graded and the mark a student and most especially those with learning disabilities receives. A teacher who is frustrated tends to be biased when marking essay scripts. Essays that are harder to decipher require more time and effort. Some essays may be misinterpreted entirely, simply because the teacher misunderstood a word or a sentence poorly written. Sometimes the teacher might even give up as he tries to understand what a student with learning disabilities has written. Poor handwriting is considered to be a sign of a poor quality paper.
Hence, it can be inferred that students (learning disabilities students) achieving higher marks tend to write better handwriting style than those who perennially exhibit under achievement. From a teacher’s perspective, poor handwriting may reflect a lack of interest or understanding. No teacher is entirely without bias when grading an essay work and this may emanate from the effect of poor handwriting. Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between the quality of handwriting and scores given to essays. These studies have consistently found that essays get higher grades when written in good handwriting than when written in poor handwriting (Connelly, Dockrell & Barnett, 2005).
Markham (1999) investigated the influences of handwriting quality on teacher evaluation of written work and reported that papers with better handwriting consistently received higher scores than did those with poor handwriting regardless of quality of content. According to her, the analysis of variance indicated that the variation in scores explained by handwriting was significant. Moreover, multiple classification analysis indicated that neither the teacher characteristics of age, experience, level taught, and degrees held, nor the student (learning disabilities students) teacher characteristic of level taught had a significant influence on the score given to a paper.
A study by Stainthorp (2008), investigated the joint effect of marker expectation and handwriting quality on essay grades. Fabricated essay responses to questions on test theory were copied out in both very poor handwriting and very good handwriting. These responses were given to graduate students for scoring. It has been found that good handwriting ensured better scoring. This clearly establishes the fact that an interaction exists between writer’s handwriting quality and achievement score.
Graves (2012) submitted thus: Make no mistake, if handwriting has a poor appearance, the writer is judged poorly by our culture and this won’t end tomorrow. Surface features will always attract far more attention than underlying structures. For a person (learning disabilities students) who has poor handwriting, the road ahead is difficult. In spite of the high quality of his ideas and information, the writer will bear a lifelong burden. But such a fate is unnecessary for those who know how writers develop their skill in handwriting. Some of the poor handwritings often exhibited by students (learning disabilities students) are wizard’s toe handwriting that looks as if a 200-year old wizard has written it with his toes (John, 2007). Others include chicken scratch handwriting which accord to Prinkess, (2009) is the type of handwriting that looks like something a chicken would scratch in the mud with its nails and is a learning disability where one has deficits in fine motor skills, visual special skills and social skills. In other words, chicken scratch handwriting is a nasty handwriting whereby the first letter of the word is 3–4 times bigger than the rest.
According to Cocinella (2010), the people who can decipher this kind of handwriting are extremely rare. In spite of the favorable learning condition such as availability of resource materials, well equipped laboratory, and provision of enough teaching aids and instructional materials, there are yet no much improvement in the performance of students and most especially those with learning disabilities and this problem has persisted over the years.
Treatment of Poor Handwriting (Dysgraphia) Among Children with Learning Disabilities
Treatment for poor handwriting (dysgraphia) varies among children with learning disabilities and may include treatment for motor disorders to help control writing movements. The use of occupational therapy can be effective in the school setting, and teachers should be well informed about dysgraphia to aid in carry-over of the occupational therapists interventions. Treatments may address impaired memory or other neurological problems. Some physicians recommend that learning disability children with poor handwriting (dysgraphia) use computers to avoid the problems of handwriting.
Poor handwriting can sometimes be partially overcome with appropriate and conscious effort and training (Berninger and Wolf (2009). The International Dyslexia Association suggests the use of kinesthetic memory through early training by having the child over learn how to write letters and to later practice writing with their eyes closed or averted to reinforce the feel of the letters being written. They also suggest teaching the children with learning disabilities cursive writing as it has fewer reversible letters and can help lessen spacing problems, at least within words, because cursive letters are generally attached within a word.
Diagnosing poor handwriting (dysgraphia) among children with learning disabilities can be challenging but can be done at facilities specializing in learning disabilities. It is suggested that those who believe they may have dysgraphia seek a qualified clinician to be tested. Clinicians will have the client self-generate written sentences and paragraphs, and copy age-appropriate text. They will assess the output of writing, as well as observe the client’s( children with learning disabilities with poor handwriting problem) posture while writing, their grip on the writing instrument, and will ask the client to either tap their finger or turn their wrists repeatedly to assess fine motor skills.
Poor handwriting have a pervasive effect on academic achievement of children with learning disabilities because handwriting is a basic tool used in taking notes, doing classroom work and assignment. Thus, children with learning disabilities have great difficulty with handwriting which in turn affects their education negatively if not adequately managed and controlled. Handwriting difficulty has becomes a serious problem for children with learning disabilities as they find it very difficult to express themselves accurately and legibly in a written form. Thus, proper correction should be put in place by special educators, teachers, parents and other concern body in order improves their handwriting skills and academic achievement in schools.
Children with learning disabilities who have difficulty with handwriting spend more time thinking about letter formation when he/she should be thinking of words or contents to be written. The following recommendations can therefore be made to correct the problem of poor handwriting in children with learning disabilities:
1. Adequate teacher preparation must be made in the teaching of handwriting.
2. Teacher must be interested in inculcating neat and legible handwriting in children with learning disabilities.
3. Students with learning disabilities must be taught by both parents and teachers not to write mixture of capitals and lower case letters, illegible script, a mixture of cursive and poorly formed letters, slopping in multiple directions, joining letters incorrectly, dis-uniform in size and too large or too small letter formations.
4. The awareness of children with learning disabilities should be raised by emphasizing the importance of a good handwriting as it was revealed in the findings that students who are not expose to various writing skill score below average mark while those that are properly guided on how to write score above average mark.
5. School authority should organized seminars on how to teach handwriting skills to children with learning disabilities.
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