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by Steve Graham, Ed.D.
We all love to play with letters, making and remaking words with them through anagrams, crossword puzzles, and games such as Scrabble®. Kids love to play with letters, too, as illustrated by the three childhood jokes below (from Lederer, 1998).
While letters can be fun, they are also serious business. The space probe Mariner 1, bound for Venus, never reached its destination because of a single character missing from its programming code.
Letters bedevil more than just computer programmers. At some point, one or more letters probably got the best of you. They have certainly taken me down a time or two. Just recently, one of my students asked about a comment I had made on her paper. After studying it, I finally deciphered my cryptic note: “I can’t read your writing – please write more legibly.”
I am glad to say that I was able to see the humor in this situation, even though I was a little embarrassed by it. With any luck, my “stumble with letters” will be forgotten, leaving no visible imprint or consequences.
With children, letters cannot be treated lightly or forgotten— they are very serious business. How legibly and quickly students write letters influences their success in school.
One way that handwriting exerts its influence is through students’ grades. Writing is one of the primary ways teachers evaluate students’ learning. You ask students to write answers to homework assignments, take written tests, and prepare reports to demonstrate what they know. A lower grade is inevitable if part or all of a writing assignment or test response is unreadable. Even when students produce legible writing, handwriting still influences the grade assigned. Higher grades are assigned to a more legible version of the same paper than a less legible copy of it. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in scientific experiments.