Handwriting Speed 10-7-21

How do we know our students are lagging behind their peers when they write?

We ask the teachers, ask the students AND assess.

Dr. Steve Graham collected normative data separated by gender on handwriting speeds.* He also explains any easy way to test.  We’ve recently included this information in our criterion-referenced checklist in the Schoodles membership, and you can find it here.

Before we proceed with intervention, we need to make sure the student,

  •  Has legible handwriting
  •   Has automated handwriting
  •  Is motivated to increase speed (crucial!)

Dr. Graham, author of “Want To Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting’ article here explains that the way to facilitate handwriting fluency is to ask students write frequently and create self-competition on timed grade level copying exercises.

We found several sources for grade-level writing samples to copy, but the source we like the best is Newsela. You have to join, but you can adjust articles by grade-level reading and change the language!

Handwriting Speed Cont. 10-19-21

The inability to keep up with peers is often identified as a need area by classroom teachers.  Low cognition or a learning disability might be part of this often complex puzzle.

Research suggests some students with learning disabilities are doubly challenged as they try to produce (sometimes unautomated) handwritten text AND ideas. Legibility and speed can suffer even if the student has adequate fine motor skills.

By presenting students with handwriting tasks that sort out motor skills from cognitive skills you can clearly see this problem.  See the example below.

The pressure of generating content slowed the writing speed of this 6th-grade student. It became almost illegible as he tried to come up with ideas and spell words. There is some consistency in letter shape which may indicate some automation, but the sizing, spacing, and capitalization fell apart.  

This student CAN produce legible writing when it’s copied, so we need to check on letter automation, make further observations, and consult with other providers to confirm what we see. We might even conclude this student will not benefit from occupational therapy intervention.

Handwriting Automation 11-9-21

Happy November!

In this newsletter, we’ll focus on handwriting automation.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much about handwriting automation years ago when I began my career as a school-based OT.  But it is something I should have considered.

Automated handwriting allows students to write and compose without taking time to think about how each letter is formed. 

Medwell and Wray (2014) state that ‘handwriting is important in writing as a language act, rather than just a motor act used to record writing. It may, therefore, be that focusing exclusively upon letter formation, neatness, and even speed may be dealing with only a small part of the importance of handwriting in writing.’


Focusing on handwriting automation in our practice helps us expand handwriting assessment and intervention into this essential component of literacy.

Medwell and Wray assessed handwriting automation by asking students to write all of the lower case letters in order from memory for one minute. They were then to move on to the upper case letters if they had time. Omissions, reversals, transpositions (of letter case), and substitutions did not count towards students’ scores. More info here.

We’ve included Medwell and Wray’s interpolations of threshold scores for automation for 7-11 year-olds in our criterion-referenced checklist along with over 25 other skills needed for fine motor success.