The experience at Istituto Comprensivo (elementary and middle school) in Terranuova Bracciolini. (Arezzo)

We started working together in 2008 with a short handwriting course for the fifth year elementary school students. From there, we came up with the idea of launching a pilot project to introduce a new handwriting model, starting with the children in their first years of schooling. The project was approved by the school headmaster, Alberto Riboletti, and involved the teachers Sabrina Martinelli, Antonia Romano, Patrizia Briano, and Sira Margiacchi. The town council of Terranuova Bracciolini provided financial backing. 

In 2012, at the end of their third year, the children whose classes had taken part had achieved highly satisfactory results. However, I maintain that extending the course until the end of the last year of middle school would be useful, if not essential, because writing requires that continuous attention be paid to the structure of the letters and the gestures/movements needed to make them. For writing to become well-structured, mature and rapid takes years.

First Year. 
The project was started in November 2009, when the school year was already underway. Four classes with their above mentioned teachers took part. The teachers had already taught capital letters and were about to introduce the standard lower case. Some of the teachers had already decided to work in exercise books with squared paper.

We decided to start by giving each class one hourly lesson a week. During this hour, which we called the calligraphy hour, I began by introducing Italic-style lower case letters. Luckily, the model was relatively similar to the standard one the teachers would have taught; however, the a was different and most of the letters were written with a single pen stroke. I showed the children cursive during the calligraphy hour, even though it wouldn’t be used in class until their second year. So as to make lively connections between writing and drawing, writing and artistic expression, the children were asked to create special books for their calligraphy exercises. They worked with coloured felt pens on fifth year format lined, not squared paper and, at the end of the year, they made a cover for their book on special unlined paper and decorated it with letters and drawings. 

Second Year.Thanks to the introductory lessons they had received during their first year, the children were able to make the transition to cursive writing practically with out any trouble. In the classes, there were some children with dyslexia or limited attention spans. Naturally there were also left-handed children. In addition, every child held his or her pen differently. While the height of the desks allowed the children to have their feet flat on the floor, it didn’t necessarily facilitate the best posture for writing. Because most of these problems were not in my field, we quickly took the decision to involve Laura Bravar, a technical assistant in the neuropsychiatric department for children and adolescents at the Burlo Garofolo institute for scientific research and cure (Unità Operativa di Neuropsichiatria dell’Infanzia e dell’Adolescenza dell’IRCCS Burlo Garofolo) in Trieste. It should be stated that this Italic model of handwriting is also ideal for children with difficulties. Because of its clarity and simplicity – the lower case script letters become cursive simply by adding joining elements between them; there are no additional letter forms or cursive capital letters in this alphabet - it encourages children to be attentive to their writing, which is also used in other subjects such as mathematics.

Third Year.By this point, most of the children were able to write clearly and rhythmically. Some of them, who wanted to write smaller, were having problems writing clearly within the lines; for example, the bodies of the letters were poorly defined in contrast to the ascendants and descendants. So some of the classes decided to continue using the fifth year format exercise book, which has wider spaced lines, instead of the third year format with its narrow spacing. In some cases, just the children who needed the exercise books with the wider spaced lines were given them. Writing too small makes it difficult to form the letters correctly. Small writing also camouflages the fact that children are having difficulties writing properly. So it is wiser to encourage medium-sized writing, at least until the learners can write correctly and fluidly.

Esempi di lavori eseguiti da bambini della classe prima dell'Istituto Comprensivo di Terranuova Bracciolini.

Difficulties we encountered.
It became patently clear that a meeting was needed with parents who complained that they did not know anything about the new proposed form of handwriting. The meeting was very useful because not only did the parents now understand what the new form was about, they also became enthusiastic and wanted to be involved. The lesson we learned was that parents should be informed right from the start, before a project gets underway and that they too might enjoy lessons to help them learn and understand better how the new model works. 

From the beginning there was the problem of textbooks that did not contain examples of Italic handwriting. For the whole of the school year I wrote examples of Italic cursive writing and sent them to the teachers who photocopied them for the children; however it was abundantly clear that a digital font would have to be created so the teachers could easily produce texts for the children to learn from. Some children’s erroneous writing habits can be traced back to mistakes that teachers make in their handwriting and which the children copy. Therefore it is wise to check both the children’s and the teachers’ handwriting regularly.

The teachers’ point of view
"I was very curious about the pilot project that was going to introduce a new handwriting model. At the beginning I was a bit sceptical, but I changed my opinion - I actually liked it! During the calligraphy hour I noticed that the children worked very contentedly; they had fun and everything seemed so easy. It was we, the adults who seemed more scared of the new model. What surprised me the most was that the children were able to write in cursive naturally, without any trouble at all, just by adding the joins between the single lower case script letters. I couldn’t believe it! My biggest worry had been cursive writing, especially the capitals. Have you ever tried to write a capital H or K in traditional cursive? Learning this model, even if I’m not perfect at it, has improved my handwriting. It was a really great experience, not only for the children but also for the teachers.” Antonia Romano, teacher.

"The children were excited about writing and practicing with the felt pens. They learned to write cursive naturally, without any trouble. By just adding simple joins to the script, they manage to write cursive without changing or deforming the letters. We only have to teach them one single alphabet.” Sabrina Martinelli, teacher.

pdf  Scritture Bambini: correzioni e commenti