1) Ascertaining Children’s Self perceptions of the their hand-writing prowess
The task involved gathering data from children which reflected their self-perceptions of their own hand-writing. Next, teacher perceptions of the same pupils’ hand-writing were collected. Finally, both sets of perceptions of pupil hand-writing would be compared against the standardised data provided by administering the DASH (a valid measure of a child’s handwriting speed and designed for ages 9-16 years).
Initially, a small scale qualitative investigation of children’s perceptions of their own handwriting was conducted. This was managed through a series of structured interviews with two children from each year group.
By using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, it was hoped a deeper understanding of children’s experiences of handwriting would become known. Yet, admittedly, studies of handwriting embedded in the experimental paradigm take little account of the actual lived experience of children in the classroom.
Sixty-five girls from an Independent Blank primary girls’ day-school took part in this study. Permission was sought from the headmistress who agreed to act in ‘loco parentis’ for the collection of the DASH data. The participants were from Years 4-6. English was the first language of all the participants, indicative of the homogenous nature of the group.
The materials for this investigation consisted to a copy of the DASH manual as
well as prepared Likert scales for each child to be given to teachers for handwriting ratings (see appendix…) Additionally, five sheets of A4 lined writing paper bound with treasury tags were used, with the top copy containing a photocopied Likert scale for each child to rate their handwriting speed and legibility (see appendix …). Twenty-five copies of the sentence ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ cut up for individual children were taken from the photocopy materials in the DASH kit. Sixty-five copies of the My Life sheet (enough for each child) were photocopied from the DASH kit. Timer, issued in the DASH kit, showing seconds and minutes was used, while students use their normal writing pen.
Before the Dash was carried out teachers were asked to rate the fluency and legibility of each child’s handwriting on a five point Likert scale. The children will also be asked to rate the fluency and legibility of their own handwriting using the same five point Likert scale as the teachers. The DASH consists of five tasks in order to include as many different aspects of handwriting speed skills as possible. The five tests consist of four writing tasks and one ‘purer’ measure of perceptual-motor competence (Barnett et al 2007). Only the first four tasks were used in this study and administered in direct accord with the manual. This included making best copy (copy best) for 2 minutes the sentence: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Task 2: copy quickly (copy fast) in 2 minutes the sentence: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Task 3: involved writing the alphabet in lower case letters continuously for 1 minute. Task 4: is a free-writing task lasting 10 minutes which involved children writing about the topic ‘My Life’, chosen to allow children to generate ideas easily.
Phase 2: Qualitative Interviews
In order to conduct the interviews, children were identified from the DASH scores and teacher ratings and invited to take part. If they were not willing to participate other children were invited in order to make up the desired number of 2 interviewees from each year group tested. Children taking part in the interviews were fully briefed on the nature of the conversation and asked if they are happy to take part. They were reassured that they could stop the conversation if they wanted to. A homogenous sample such as this was used since it is not necessary to acquire a random or representative sample in Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as there was no attempt to generalise beyond the selected group (Langdridge, 2007).
Semi-structured interviews were used in order to enable the children to articulate as much detail about their experiences of handwriting and taking the DASH as possible. IPA is ideally suited to investigate lived experience as its focus is on the embodied experience of individuals in relation to the phenomena being studied and recognises the reflexive role of the researcher in the production of knowledge’ (Horton-Salway, 2007, p. 55). This was especially important given that my close relationship with the two participants as colleagues and friends may have influenced the research. (See reflexive critique)
Seven children were selected to take part in the interview phase of this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two children from each year group after they had taken the DASH test and it had been marked. The interviews lasted no more than 10 minutes and were conducted in the children’s classrooms during the lunch hour to ensure that the interview was not disturbed and that it took place in a venue that both the participants and researcher were comfortable with. A pilot study with one child was carried out initially to assess the questions asked. The interview was split into two parts with one set of questions asking about the DASH and the second set asking about the child’s experiences of handwriting in general. The interviews were recorded using an Olympus VN-480PC digital voice recorder then downloaded onto a computer and transcribed. (The list of questions used in this study is shown in Appendix … )
The IPA analysis was as follows: Firstly, both interviews were transcribed making notes of themes or important points by listening to the interviews a number of times. Secondly, the transcripts were read several times and the left hand margins used to make notes of anything that appeared significant and of interest. The third stage involved returning to the transcripts using the right hand margins to convert initial notes and ideas into more specific themes or phrases. This detailed analysis examined the transcripts for spatiality, inter-subjectivity, temporality and embodiment identifying when and how these themes occurred (see Appendix …). At this stage of the analysis caution is essential since the researcher is part of the research process and therefore affects and influences it. As a result, in the phenomenological method epoché; bracketing of one’s own ‘natural attitude’ is required. Merleau-Ponty, among others, argued that this was not fully achievable since it is not possible to ‘transcend the noematic-noetic correlation’ as Husserl suggested and assume ‘a view from no-where’ (Ricoeur, Horton-Salway, 2007, p.57). The next stage consisted of further reducing the data by establishing the connections between the preliminary themes and grouping them appropriately. Finally, a table (See Appendix …) was produced to show each higher order theme and the sub themes which comprise it (Eatough and Smith, 2006).
This study followed the ethical guidelines laid down by the BPS. Efforts were made to minimise the risk of mental and emotional harm in this study. Ethical clearance was granted by the university and the ‘gatekeeper’ ion this case the headmistress agreed to act in ‘loco parentis’ for the collection of the DASH data. No negative effects are anticipated in the administration of the DASH as undertaking a short test is something children normally do in school during the course of the school year. The test will be administered during the children’s normal spelling and handwriting lesson and, therefore, the children already expect a short test during this period in their weekly timetable.
As a teacher of 10 years, the last 7 of which I have taught in this school, I do not anticipate any problems with administrating the test. I am experienced at managing tests in a classroom environment and know the children to whom I will be administrating the test. In the unlikely event that any child becomes upset by the test, the test will be stopped until the child feels able to continue or withdrawn from the test environment completely. Sensitivity towards the children will be maintained at all times. Informed consent from the parents of the seven children involved in the interview was obtained. At the end of both the interview and the DASH test itself the children were fully debriefed and asked about their experience.
It was emphasised that none of the questions during the interview phase needed to be answered if the children did not feel comfortable with them, so no undue distress was caused. The children, as well as their parents, were informed that they had the right to withdraw from the interview at any time. As soon as is practical, the names of the children will be deleted from the handwriting scripts and participant numbers will be used instead. Numbers will be recorded on the transcripts. It will not be possible for parents or teachers to have access to individual children’s results. Children involved in the interviews will be referred to by pseudo-names, which will be used in the final report, in order to protect their anonymity. The recordings of the interviews will be destroyed as soon as practically possible after the end of the study. The transcribed copies will be password protected whilst on the computer and hardcopies of the scripts will be given to my tutor to be kept in a locked cabinet at blank. Once completed, a summary of the report will be made available to the school in both hard copy and on their intranet system.
The teacher speed rating indicated estimates that the majority of students in the cohort were either average or fast in their writing speed, (indicated by the tally of 77.2% combined on the table below). This was a more inflated estimate than the one provided by the students themselves, who viewed their handwriting speed as predominantly average or fast in the main (83.3%), yet more clustered around the average level than the teachers’ perceptions indicated. This distinction may indicate that students’ self-expectations are shaped by extraneous pressures, such as the linkage to the grades they may receive, while teachers may have in mind broader comparative measures, such as their sense of writing speed demonstrated by previous or other age similar students they teach. Certainly, the teachers’ and students estimates are on a par only placing 1 student in the very slow speed category, so it will be of interest to see how such perceptions of the low end of writing fluency align with the DASH results. These findings are verified by the cross tabulation chart and the bar graph below.
The administration of the first four sub-tests of the DASH to 65 pupils, noted in the case processing summary, incorporated copy best, alphabet standard, copy fast standard and free writing standard.
The results indicate (as shown in the table titled ‘Report’ that in year 4, all participants registered below their reading age on the four DASH sub-tests, doing best in the free writing standard component. Instructively, in year 5 at school, the mean scores on all 4 DASH sub-tests had closed the gap against mean cohort reading age, and had surpassed it on the free writing standard. That the year 6 pupils’ mean scores either matched (alphabet standard) or were below the mean reading age, is indicative of the variations in school pupils’ handwriting fluency, and the variability across year levels. This variability witnessed in the DASH scores across year levels 4-6 indicates the level of uncertainty about pupil output efficiency in learning tasks. It suggests students’ academic attainment may have been curtailed through hand-writing problems, which have not been uniformly corrected. These variable results also indicate that hand-writing fluency may be impacted by individual differences and educational experiences linked to instructional methods used by prior teachers. These composite findings suggest the value of utilising the DASH to get reliable data on student hand writing speed and signal hand writing difficulties. The fact that reading age is normally rated higher is of some concern, since the foregoing evidence cited in the literature establishes a link between hand writing fluency and academic attainment, rendering hand-writing arguably as significant as reading proficiency.
The composite group scores on the DASH across years 4-6 were lowest for copy best standard and highest for alphabet standard at a mean of 8.2923 and 10.8308 respectively.
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