Discovering the Potential of the Student through Handwriting

Teaching is certainly the occupation where knowledge of  handwriting analysis is most useful.   Each year, teachers are likely to see before them a great number of specimens of handwriting of a relatively homogeneous population (age, language, penmanship, upbringing, etc). Over time, without knowing it, many teachers develop “intuitive” graphological knowledge that is primarily based on the association between academic success and general handwriting features.

With the arrival of computers the disappearance of handwriting was predicted, but experience showed that more paper than ever is used and that the act of handwriting is, and will always remain, an essential behaviour that goes well beyond simple communication.

As Vaudoiset (1999) says so well “Handwriting is the first instrument of autonomy and the relationship to others, both at the same time. It would even seem that it is the first mark of “humanitude”, the tattoo of man’s destiny. It is free in itself. It is free of charge. It is produced in abundance. It adorns the stones of all civilisations. It is newly born for me to use, the day of my birth. It stays with me until I die. It is my freedom!”

While writing, we do more than simply reproduce the copybook to represent our thoughts, our states of mind.  We leave an impression of what we, ourselves, are and nobody else. Our writing reveals our deepest hopes, our pace, our codes, our barriers and our prisons since our energy is channeled in a form and a movement which is personal for us and which expresses itself in our script. When we write, the letters that we have just written already form part of the past, those which we are in the process of writing are the realisation of the present, those right under our pen announce the future: the act of handwriting is truly the experience of the here and now, “immortalised” on paper.

To observe, decode, understand, to experience, to feel… our writing gives us, first and foremost, a whole tool of self-knowledge.   How would you describe your writing? Is it harmonious, jerky, soaring, wide, squeezed, inflated, straightened, narrow? Does it change according to your mood? What do you feel while writing: pleasure, embarrassment, obligation? Are there letters that you avoid? What do you find it hard to form, what do you consider ugly? Which handwritings do you like? Which do you hate?   While answering these questions, you will understand at which point handwriting is an intimate gesture that gives light to the darkness.

Let us now see how knowledge of the handwritten gesture can help the teacher, at whatever age his pupils might be.

Pre-school 

The child’s drawing is a message, just like handwriting. At the same time it is a spontaneous language and a free act by which the child tells and explains everything that he cannot express in words. The scribbles and drawings contain the same symbolic features as those studied in handwriting (i.e.) pressure, movement, speed, form, dimension, use of space, etc.

The parents of young children and or playgroup leaders can only gain from a better knowledge of the symbolic language children use in their drawings. The fundamental interest of the comprehension of the symbolic system of the layout and the colours enables us to be close to the child and to be able to bring answers to the questions to him that he does not manage to express.

It is important to observe the child whilst he draws. How is the paper positioned (vertical or horizontal)? Does the child rotate the sheet? Use of space (balance between black and white)? Does he have difficulty in starting the task? Are there accelerations? Predominance of features (curved or straight)? Choice of instrument (pencil, chalk, felt-tipped pen, brush)? How does he hold the instrument? Colour preference? What is his mood when he draws? (slack, contracted, anxious, angry, merry, loquacious, patient…)  Does he give a commentary?

When drawing, the child structures his Ego, he experiments with all of life’s questions. He speaks freely and fully through such great symbols as the sun, water, the tree or the house. When he draws a person, it is first and foremost a self-representation; it says to us how he feels, how he’s getting on in his environment.

It is therefore important to warmly receive the child’s drawing, since by giving it to us, he delivers a message to us, he reveals himself to us in a gesture of love. A negligent glance or disinterest can deeply wound the child.

Knowing how to decipher this message, which is unique each time, makes it possible for us to enrich our relationship with the child and to help him to develop his potential. To read the drawing therefore makes it possible to love the child more and be involved as an educator.

Primary Education

With the first cycle of the primary education, the child finally starts to learn how to write. For a long time he has dreamt of the day when he will write messages like adults. Learning handwriting is a long process since it is a complex act which brings into play many neurological structures in addition to the muscles, bones and joints, of the hand, arm and of the shoulder. Handwriting requires a physiological maturity that children acquire gradually and can largely be dependent on age.  (see Serratrice et al 1993 where these neurologists describe in detail all facets which come into play in the production of handwriting.)

“The handwritten act is seldom mastered before 14 years of age; one notes at this age a lack of control and regularity associated with the adult, resulting from good coordination of the movements of writing and progression.” (Peugeot 1997)

In Quebec, in order to facilitate penmanship, first of all the child learns how to write in script. He learns how to recognise and reproduce simple forms, made up of juxtapositions of curved and straight features. Thus letter “a” is formed by a circle to which is added a straight line. The letter “b”, is a long stick to which is added to a half-circle and so on. It thus does not have continuity in the movement. All the features are discontinuous; the child must lift the pen each time the stroke changes.

The child’s concentration involves slowness and tension that results in a heavy and static handwriting. Clenching is related to fear, worry and aggression appear primarily in the pressure exerted on the pencil. Pressure plays a dual role: it acts both as a discharge and as a brake. While pushing deeply into the paper, the stroke is “paralysed” preventing easy progression towards the right. Moreover, handwriting script with prevalence of vertical ” sticks “, blocks the natural movement towards the other letter.

The easy progression of handwriting is only achieved when fear is overcome.   A good way of overcoming this fear is to allow movement to come into play as soon as possible. Simple exercises like those in Figure 1 can easily make the child confident by making him “feel” the ease of movement.

These exercises just as easily be done in mid-air by making strokes with the right and left arms. This “dance of the letters” which involves all the body thus becomes a moment of relaxation and pleasure in addition to allowing cursive letters to be learnt.

Figure 1. Examples of handwriting exercises allowing the release of movement, necessary for the progression of the handwriting.

It is fascinating to see at which point children (even pre school) easily and naturally integrate these ” drawings ” into their handwritings. For example, Annabelle, 5 years, spontaneously used the letters ” elle” from the first exercise in her name.

During the second cycle of the primary education, the child learns how to connect letters thus allowing a more natural progression of handwriting.   With ease the tension and the pressure diminish thereby leaving more room for movement.

Persistence from too strong a pressure involves bumpings of the curved strokes (for example in the letters: a, b, c, d, g, o, p, q, u), tremors and smudges which give a “dirty” aspect to the handwriting. This element disappears quickly, it rarely persists beyond the 8 year old except in dysgraphic children.

A defective pressure must alert the teacher as it indicates a greater vulnerability of the child. It is important however, before concluding too quickly, to check if the pen hold (too near or too far away from the point) or the instrument itself (ball point pen of small gauge, or badly sharpened pencil) are not to blame. Good pressure, neither too strong, nor too weak, is always a positive indicator for the child.

In addition to movement and pressure there is the control of size, form, spacing, slant and layout. The masterful harmonious control of these features, together, results in a flexible layout at the same time faithful to the model and of course personal to the pupil.

Self-esteem is a fundamental feature in the development of the child. Handwriting and drawing are remarkable indicators of self-esteem. To know how to decode them adequately is very useful for any teacher. Moreover, swift action to correct bad habits (pen-hold, body posture, letter shape etc) and early monitoring of problems (dysgraphia, dyslexia) can make all the difference between the pleasure and the displeasure of writing…and of living!

Secondary Education

Adolescence is marked, of course, by significant changes at both a psychological level and a physiological level.  Teachers of pupils aged 14-15 years know that this period is particularly difficult for many. The torments, both inside (crisis of identity) and outside (parent/child relationship) are frequently translated in handwriting by irregularities mainly of the slant.  Many feel themselves trapped between the unconscious desire to stay “little” and irresistible call of independence and autonomy of ” grown-ups “.

Visual Representation of “torments” by Singer (1969), with the following caption:  “Change of the slant:  oscillation of social attitude, tearing, opposition between slant, between tendencies.”

It is also the period of self-affirmation that often passes by a legitimate need for dispute and confrontation.  The curve then gives way to the angle in the layout which takes the allure of a hedgehog then.  One defies the authority by not complying with more the rules of layout (margins, spacing, subparagraphs).

The “evil being” also writes in the shape of certain letters which twist under the effect of pain.  Tensions, hesitations, over-writing, smudges are some signs revealing of the difficulties of living and of adequately expressing emotions. The personal pronoun I and the signature are personalised in search of identity.  What form do they take?  Small and stunted?  Long and frayed?  Round and plump?

The ways of thinking are solidified:  logic, reasoning, analysis, intuition, synthesis, etc and express themselves in particular by the shape, stroke quality, control, the organisation of space, dimension, etc.  Originality, creativity, curiosity all develop and express themselves by distancing handwriting from the copybook and by the addition of inventive combinations of letters or features.

The teacher who is attentive to the sudden changes of a pupil’s handwriting will have an important tool for monitoring and will thus be able to collaborate more effectively with the other professionals at the school. It is at the secondary school when handwriting “moves” the most.  In many cases, a remedial handwriting exercises, supervised by a qualified professional, can make all the difference between liking oneself through self-respect and hating oneself by self-isolation.

College-University

The handwriting of the young adult becomes stable. The graphic gesture is normally personalised, less attention is paid to the form.  One is now more able to distinguish the personal and individual characteristics of the writer. The writer’s occupational aptitudes, his strengths and vulnerabilities are recorded in the whole handwriting.

At this age, the temperaments, the syndromes and the fields of strength are usually so well in place that they are evident in the handwriting such that we can distinguish the introvert from extravert, the manual worker from the intellectual, the leader from the subordinate, the victim from the torturer, the ” flyé” from the “straight “, the doer from the planner, the cicada from the ant.

Now handwriting plays also more and more its role of instrument of communication which makes it possible to structure the thought.  The abstract thought expresses itself more freely through philosophy, mathematics, the literature, arts, etc.

It is otherwise particularly interesting to note at which point handwriting reveals the mental age of the writer and not his biological age as  the example below shows.

Large writing, left slanted, rounded with immature features.  Although it could be easily associated with a teenager, it is in fact of the handwriting of a man aged over 45 years!

As an adult, vocabulary, semantics, pauses, now deserve more detailed attention when studying the handwriting.  In addition to stroke quality and symbolism of space, the study of the choice of the words or the absence of certain letters becomes more valuable (see Vaudoiset 1999).

Conclusion

” Teaching handwriting is much more than simply training the writer:  its importance in teaching deserves reflection.  The effort required by handwriting, the conflict which  it opposes to the copybook, the need for its economic execution justify a revalidation of its teaching.  If handwriting expresses the personality of the writer, can’t his education have an effect in turn?  Would the effort, the discipline, required by good penmanship have no effect on the development of handwriting of the child, the adolescent, and even of the adult?

Why is handwriting a drama for so many people?  It puts to work intellectual and psychomotor mechanisms whose harmonious play should be gratifying.  It is true that for some people to write is a pleasure, whilst others may only discover it long after their penmanship ends, when personal development made handwriting the balanced synthesis of his ends:  means pleasant and personal to thus communicate a thought which s.élabore in its expression even. Without considering of atteindre, before qu.une general maturation does not allow it, such a result, it from the beginning remains possible to promote a real satisfaction, at least in the sensory plan, in the well synchronised play of the mechanisms of the writer, as a private individual in the ” relief ” which translates, with a released, ” elastic ” pressure, the flexibility and psychomotor the correct operation. ” (from Olivaux 1991)

As you can note, the field of study of the graphologist is vast. Knowledge of the genesis of handwriting up to its symbolic interpretation while passing by monitoring, remedial penmanship and the graphotherapy, there is no shortage of subjects to study! Basic concepts in graphology, albeit summaries, can thus be very useful for anyone operating in an educational setting. The basics are particularly important for teachers at all levels.


Copyright 2001 by Graziella Pettinati

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*