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European Innovative Teaching Award
Project

HandWritingTutorials - Practical Modules for Promoting Writing Skills

School: Schreibmotorik Institut e.V.

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Topic(s) addressed

Many children are often disadvantaged in their educational endeavours due not to a lack of motivation or low intellect, but as a result of particular motor difficulties in acquiring written language. Despite comprehensive compulsory education, 1 in every 5 adolescents, and approximately 75 million adults in Europe, have insufficient reading and writing skills. The European Commission (2018) indicates that with the help of specially trained teachers, such reading and writing difficulties could be overcome and later deficits prevented altogether – if handled at a young age. This is exactly what the HandWritingTutorials project is committed to: expanding the competence of teachers in kindergartens and schools, and providing them with the tools to prevent reading and writing deficits in children. With scientific evidence showing that the prerequisites for learning how to write are set at kindergarten age, the nominated project targeted both kindergarten and primary school population, as well as reinforced the cooperation between the two. Stronger collaboration between the two educational levels with regard to developing healthy writing skills in young children enable more fluent and competent support during critical ages. Furthermore, the project promoted cooperation and the transfer of information from teachers and decision-makers across the European education sector. A total of 12 innovative and practice-validated handouts were developed. These handouts targeted both kindergarten and school teachers, with the project having trained 67 multipliers to become competent spreaders of emerging knowledge in their countries of origin. We are proud to report that the original goals set for this project were exceeded; instead of the originally planned 6 tutorial videos, more than 30 were created and distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This enabled teachers to expand their knowledge and competence in the subject of assisting and preventing writing problems. The video tutorials were constructed and designed during the COVID-19 crisis in collaboration with skilled pedagogues, thus making them ideal for home-schooling as well.

Target groups

The main target groups in the HandWritingTutorials project were kindergarten and primary schools educators from Germany, Italy, and Austria, as well as, decision-makers in the European education sector. The indirect target group were kindergarten/primary school pupils and their parents. It is estimated that about 27,000 people benefited from the project’s intensive European, national, and regional activities (until 31st August 2020, e.g. projects for Handwriting Day, participation in training events, work-groups in regional school boards, promotion by the project website and the YouTube channel of the Institute for Writing Motor Skill during home-schooling, publications in primary school magazines, participation in the international symposium on handwriting skills 2019, etc.). Particularly noteworthy was the involvement of school authorities in all partner countries, which ensured the comprehensive and sustainable dissemination of the project’s results.  Additional distribution partners were, among others, News4Teacher and the foundation for education e.V.i.Gr. [German: Stiftung für Bildung e.V.i.Gr.].

Methodologies

All teaching and learning materials for teachers in kindergartens and primary schools were developed and implemented together with an ensemble of European experts from practices, school administrations and researchers. A multidisciplinary point of view was used for the preparation and implementation of all materials: insights concerning motor skills, neuroscientific-, linguistic-, and occupational-research were combined into the end product. The involvement of school authorities in partner countries ensured that the project’s results were widely and sustainably disseminated. The HandWritingTutorials provide, for the first time, a scientifically established yet easy-to-understand and practical source of information on the promotion of writing skills in young children. Feedback from teachers was extremely positive, with the handouts’ exercises being easy to implement and clearly demonstrated in video tutorials. The form chosen for the digital format (short videos tutorials) required minimal time expenditure from teachers and was highly suited to contemporary use during distant learning and home schooling. The project also developed a computer animation for children. The animation "What does Our Brain do When Writing by Hand?" offers the possibility to actively engage learners and involve them in the learning process. This digital learning option arouses subsequent thought processes in children, especially when they compare what they saw with how they write, their strengths, the motions they performed, and the mistakes they made.

Environments

Childhood experiences have changed significantly over the past few decades. Children now need increasing support with the development of their written motor skills, as they spend less and less time involved with physical play or games.  This necessitates increased cooperation between kindergartens and schools, as well as a stronger European teamwork. The teachers‘ handouts developed in this project along with the HandWritingTutorials were modular, and built using a uniform structure suitable for both kindergarten and primary school staff. This provided a common basis for knowledge exchange between staff from the two education levels, as it enabled collaborative events – even at the European level. Despite their uniform structure, the concept of the handouts for particular pedagogical areas was nonetheless age-appropriate and corresponded to the respective teaching practices. The video tutorials provided for an attractive digital learning possibility by increasing the flexibility of its target audience. Constructed during the COVID-19 crisis, these tutorials were designed to suit distance learning, with their advantages being twofold – parents could keep their kids busy during home schooling with simple and creative exercises while simultaneously aiding their learning process. The principle itself is extremely simple: have your everyday object ready, watch the video on the Institute for Writing Motor Skills’ YouTube channel, and then have fun, scribble, and write – it’s child’s play!

Teachers

Teachers from German, Austrian, and Italian kindergartens and primary schools were actively involved in the project, and participated in the project’s empirical assessments and the distribution of its results. In order to tailor the generated teaching and learning materials to existing needs, interviews with 56 early childhood education and care experts as well as an online survey of 292 primary school teachers were carried out at the beginning of the project. Among other things, these surveys reviewed the frequency of observed writing difficulties, their scope, the areas in which there exists a particular need for more information, and the methodological-didactic practices commonly used. The teachers involved in this project also played an important role in ensuring the effectiveness of created materials; furthermore, they served as evaluators of specific pre-chosen parameters such as practical relevance. The project trained 67 multipliers to be competent spreaders of emerging knowledge in their countries of origin. The training programmes received highly positive reviews from participants, and, among other things, the intensive exchange of information/experience and practical relevance were praised. The 32 educational videos that were generated during this project were prepared in cooperation with qualified teachers and filmed during the pandemic.

Impact

The aim of the HS-tutorials project was to put a spotlight on the learning of writing processes at the European level. Teachers and decision-makers in the education sector were sensitised to the importance of good handwriting skills in connection to the general chances of educational success and written language acquisition. The success of the project’s European, national, and regional activities was measured by the exceptionally-high number of people reached.   The effectiveness of materials generated by this project was assessed at both kindergartens and schools (approximately 20 teachers in each institution). Emerging results indicated that handouts had great practical relevance, were easy to implement, and offered solutions for all essential topics. Findings from this EU project confirm previous research dogma. Just one hour of special handwriting support per week is enough to significantly improve children’s writing motor skills. The implications of emerging results impressed all professionals involved: children’s writing speed and their motivation levels improved tremendously, necessitating less individual teacher support.  Copying from the blackboard, completing written assignments – everything now works faster! This project has great knowledge transfer potential at the European level, and beyond German-speaking areas. Esteemed scientists and practitioners from Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Norway also reported at the “International Symposium on Handwriting Skills (2015, 2017, and 2019) the current needs for such materials in their homelands.

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Stakeholders

Participants

IDEUM e.U

Address
Austria

Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano

Address
Italy

Regierung von Mittelfranken

Address
Germany