Writing bursts: How important are spelling accuracy and handwriting speed?

Writing bursts are defined as 30-120 minutes of writing broken up by long pauses or breaks. Writing bursts are highly associated with language skills. A study from the University of London compared children with language impairments with an age-matched group of typically developing children and a group of younger, language skill–matched children. Not surprisingly, researchers found that the role of writing bursts was a key factor in differentiating writing competence: children with language impairments produced a shorter number of words in each burst than the age-matched group but the same as the language skill–matched group. 

The researchers also found that spelling accuracy, handwriting speed, and frequent pausing for misspellings were significant predictors of children’s writing burst length and text quality. Due to working memory and difficulties with language skills, children’s language and transcription skills (e.g., copying material from a white board to paper) had a direct effect on the length of writing bursts. 

Children who experience difficulties with linguistic skills at a young age often learn to write within a limited working-memory system. Learning to write within a limited-memory system means that children must gradually automate low-level processes, such as handwriting and spelling, in order to make room for more cognitively demanding and complex processes such as translation processes. Handwriting and spelling often require a lot of practice before these skills become automated for children.

StepUp Summary

Handwriting intervention may help to address issues of speed, accuracy, and auditory processing of sounds. It’s important to automate as many of the other skills needed for writing as possible to support the relative weakness in language impairment. This will also help to improve writing bursts with children.

StepUp to Learn’s Listen, Talk and Write is a multi-sensory handwriting program. Children listen to auditory prompts and air write letters and numbers; then, they write the same sequences with pencil and paper. Listen, Talk and Write prompts students to say letter names out loud as they write. This reinforces the connection between the motor skill of writing the letter and the auditory skill of naming the letter.

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