Advertisement

Letter writing instruction for children: Case-sensitive letter frequencies in children’s handwriting workbooks

  • 87 Accesses

Abstract

Children’s ability to write letters automatically has been linked to academic achievement. Despite the importance of handwriting, handwriting instruction is often neglected and teachers use inconsistent practices to teach handwriting. Specifically, the frequency that children are presented opportunities to write individual block letters in handwriting workbooks has not been studied. Here, we provide the first case-sensitive letter frequency norms of handwriting workbooks for the English alphabet. We created these case-sensitive letter frequency norms by analyzing a corpus of 11 handwriting workbooks containing 31,164 letter requests. The results suggest that children’s handwriting workbooks may not be optimally designed to promote letter writing automaticity across the letters of the English alphabet. In particular, we found that not all letters are represented equally in workbooks (p < .001). Lowercase letters (n = 24,899) were more prevalent than uppercase letters (n = 6265) and varied by letter. Furthermore, children’s opportunities for writing letters in workbooks were related to letter frequencies in children’s picture books (.938 for lowercase, .638 for uppercase). The fact that a letter occurs less frequently than another one in the English language, however, does not mean that the development of automaticity in writing that letter is any less important. By not providing children with roughly equivalent amounts of practice with all letters of the alphabet, designers of children’s handwriting workbooks may have inadvertently provided children with too little practice with low frequency letters. Future research should more directly address how letter frequency influences the development of handwriting automaticity.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Appelman, I. B., & Mayzner, M. S. (1981). The letter-frequency effect and the generality of familiarity effects on perception. Perception and Psychophysics,30(5), 436–446. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03204839.

  2. Berninger, V. W., Abbott, R. D., Augsburger, A., & Garcia, N. (2009). Comparison of pen and keyboard transcription modes in children with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly,32(3), 123–141. https://doi.org/10.2307/27740364.

  3. Cameron, C. E., Cottone, E. A., Murrah, W. M., & Grissmer, D. W. (2016). How are motor skills linked to children’s school performance and academic achievement? Child Development Perspectives,10(2), 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12168.

  4. Coker, D. L., Farley-Ripple, E., Jackson, A. F., Wen, H., MacArthur, C. A., & Jennings, A. S. (2016). Writing instruction in first grade: An observational study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,29, 793–832. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9596-6.

  5. Edwards, L. (2003). Writing instruction in kindergarten. Journal of Learning Disabilities,36(2), 136–148. https://doi.org/10.1177/002221940303600206.

  6. Fears, N. E., & Lockman, J. J. (2018). How beginning handwriting is influenced by letter knowledge: Visual–motor coordination during children’s form copying. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,171, 55–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2018.01.017.

  7. Feng, L., Lindner, A., Ji, X. R., & Joshi, R. M. (2019). The roles of handwriting and keyboarding in writing: A meta-analytic review. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,32, 33–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9749-x.

  8. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., Mason, L., Fink-Chorzempa, B., Moran, S., & Saddler, B. (2008). How do primary grade teachers teach handwriting? A national survey. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,21, 49–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-007-9064-z.

  9. Hess, C. W., Sefton, K. M., & Landry, R. G. (1986). Sample size and type-token ratios for oral language of preschool children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research,29(1), 129–134. https://doi.org/10.1044/jshr.2901.129.

  10. James, K. H. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science,13(2), 279–288. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00883.x.

  11. James, K. H., & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education,1(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001.

  12. Johnson, L. B. (1965). Johnson’s remarks on signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. LBJ Presidential Library. Retrieved from http://www.lbjlibrary.org/lyndon-baines-johnson/timeline/johnsons-remarks-on-signing-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act. Accessed 20 Dec 2018.

  13. Jones, D., & Christensen, C. A. (1999). Relationship between automaticity in handwriting and students’ ability to generate written text. Journal of Educational Psychology,91(1), 44–49. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.91.1.44.

  14. Jones, M. N., & Mewhort, D. J. K. (2004). Case-sensitive letter and bigram frequency counts from large-scale English corpora. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers : A Journal of the Psychonomic Society Inc,36(3), 388–396. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03195586.

  15. Kersey, A. J., & James, K. H. (2013). Brain activation patterns resulting from learning letter forms through active self-production and passive observation in young children. Frontiers in Psychology,4, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00567.

  16. Li, J. X., & James, K. H. (2016). Handwriting generates variable visual output to facilitate symbol learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,145(3), 298–313. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000134.

  17. Longcamp, M., Zerbato-Poudou, M.-T., & Velay, J.-L. (2005). The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children: A comparison between handwriting and typing. Acta Psychologica,119(1), 67–79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2004.10.019.

  18. McCutchen, D., Covill, A., Hoyne, S. H., & Mildes, K. (1994). Individual differences in writing: Implications of translating fluency. Journal of Educational Psychology,86(2), 256–266. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.86.2.256.

  19. Montag, J. L., Jones, M. N., & Smith, L. B. (2015). The words children hear: Picture books and the statistics for language learning. Psychological Science,26(9), 1489–1496. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615594361.

  20. National Center for Educational Statistics. (2014). Program for assessment of adult competencies (PIACC). Washington DC. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/results/summary.aspx. Accessed 20 Dec 2018.

  21. Pollo, T. C., Kessler, B., & Treiman, R. (2009). Statistical patterns in children’s early writing. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,104(4), 410–426. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2009.07.003.

  22. Puranik, C. S., Al Otaiba, S., Sidler, J. F., & Greulich, L. (2014a). Exploring the amount and type of writing instruction during language arts instruction in kindergarten classrooms. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,27(2), 213–236. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-013-9441-8.

  23. Puranik, C. S., Petscher, Y., & Lonigan, C. J. (2013). Dimensionality and reliability of letter writing in 3- to 5-year-old preschool children. Learning and Individual Differences,28, 133–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2012.06.011.

  24. Puranik, C. S., Petscher, Y., & Lonigan, C. J. (2014b). Learning to write letters: Examination of student and letter factors. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,128, 152–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2014.07.009.

  25. Richards, B. (1987). Type/token ratios: What do they really tell us? Journal of Child Language,14(2), 201–209. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000900012885.

  26. Stevenson, N. C., & Just, C. (2014). In early education, why teach handwriting before keyboarding? Early Childhood Education Journal,42(1), 49–56. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-012-0565-2.

  27. Tinker, M. A. (1928). The relative legibility of the letters, the digits, and of certain mathematical signs. Journal of General Psychology,1, 472–496. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221309.1928.9918022.

  28. Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (2014). How children learn to write words. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

  29. Treiman, R., Kessler, B., & Pollo, T. C. (2006). Learning about the letter name subset of the vocabulary: Evidence from US and Brazilian preschoolers. Applied Psycholinguistics,27(2), 211–227. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716406060255.

  30. Troia, G. A., & Graham, S. (2003). Effective writing instruction across the grades: What every educational consultant should know. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation,14(1), 75–89. https://doi.org/10.1207/S1532768XJEPC1401_04.

  31. Tucha, O., Tucha, L., & Lange, K. W. (2008). Graphonomics, automaticity and handwriting assessment. Literacy,42(3), 145–155. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-4369.2008.00494.x.

  32. Vander Hart, N., Fitzpatrick, P., & Cortesa, C. (2010). In-depth analysis of handwriting curriculum and instruction in four kindergarten classrooms. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,23, 673–699. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-009-9178-6.

  33. Vinci-Booher, S. A., & James, K. H. (2016). Neural substrates of sensorimotor processes: Letter writing and letter perception. Journal of Neurophysiology,115(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.01042.2014.

  34. Fears, N. E., & Lockman, J. J. (under review). Case- and form-sensitive letter frequencies in children’s picture books.

  35. Zemlock, D., Vinci-Booher, S., & James, K. H. (2018). Visual–motor symbol production facilitates letter recognition in young children. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,31, 1255–1271. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9831-z.

  36. Zeno, S. M., Ivens, S. H., Millard, R. T., & Duvvuri, R. (1995). The educator’s word frequency guide. Brewster, NY: Touchstone Applied Science Associates.

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the teachers, occupational therapists, and undergraduate research assistants that provided advice and support in the completion of this project. This work was supported by the William P. Dunlop Memorial Research Fund and The Murphy Institute Center for Ethics and Public Affairs.

Author information

Correspondence to Nicholas E. Fears.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fears, N.E., Walsh, L.E. & Lockman, J.J. Letter writing instruction for children: Case-sensitive letter frequencies in children’s handwriting workbooks. Read Writ 33, 171–185 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-019-09954-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Automaticity
  • Emergent literacy
  • Handwriting
  • Letter frequency
  • Letter recognition