Beyond presentation effects: Understanding the role of language by hand in the holistic rating of young students’ writing in Grade 4

  • Hetty Roessingh University of Calgary
  • David Nordstokke Werklund School of Education University of Calgary
  • Mitch Colp Werklund School of Education University of Calgary
Keywords: written literacy, handwriting, compositional fluency, quality writing outcome


The goal of this study is to glean research insights into the role of handwriting on the holistic rating of young students’ expository writing samples in Grade 4. We focus on the interaction of compositional fluency—the total number of words (TNW) generated, the quality of the handwriting, the style of handwriting, and the holistic rating of writing outcomes on an expository prompt. We observed a relationship between fluency, quality of handwriting, and holistic rating of the writing samples, suggesting the need for sustained instructional attention to handwriting to achieve academic literacy in Grade 4. More than merely “looking pretty on the page,” the quality of the handwriting is reflective of the neuro-motor control required to develop fluency or productivity for the academic requirements of upper elementary writing tasks. Samples of Grade 4 handwriting are provided to illustrate and support the quantitative findings of this inquiry.

L’objectif de cette étude est d’obtenir un aperçu du rôle de l’écriture dans l’évaluation globale de récits par de jeunes élèves en 4e année. Nous nous penchons sur la fluidité du texte—le nombre total de mots rédigés, la qualité de l’écriture, le style de l’écriture et l’évaluation globale du récit sur un sujet donné. Nous avons noté un lien entre la fluidité, la qualité de l’écriture et l’évaluation globale des récits, ce qui suggère le besoin d’une attention pédagogique soutenue à l’écriture, de sorte à ce que les élèves atteignent une littératie académique en 4e année. La valeur d’une belle écriture dépasse le sens esthétique : la qualité de l’écriture reflète la régulation neuromotrice nécessaire au développement de la fluidité et au rendement qu’exigent les travaux de rédaction dans les années scolaires subséquentes. Des échantillons de rédactions par les élèves en 4e année viennent illustrer et appuyer nos résultats quantitatifs.

Mots clés : littératie écrite; écriture; fluidité textuelle; qualité du récit


Author Biographies

Hetty Roessingh, University of Calgary

Hetty Roessingh is a Professor in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Her research continues to focus on the role of vocabulary knowledge in literacy development over time, noting patterns in different learner profiles that can inform classroom instruction, assessment practices and policy.

David Nordstokke, Werklund School of Education University of Calgary
Dr. Nordstokke is an Associate Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. He received his PhD in 2009 from the University of British Columbia in Measurement, Evaluation and Research Methodology. He teaches courses in the area of measurement, research design and statistical analysis. Dr. Nordstokke conducts research across a variety of educational and psychological contexts. Much of Dr. Nordstokke's current research revolves around youth transition/youth mental health and factors (e.g., resilience) that are related to successful transition and positive life and mental health outcomes. Many projects that Dr. Nordstokke engage in are interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature and his typical role in this type of research has him focusing on designing sound research studies, selecting valid measurement strategies, and applying statistical models to data that are gathered across a number of disciplines. Another part of Dr. Nordstokke’s research is focused on applied methods that include: (1) the design of research studies, (2) the collection and statistical analysis of data, and (3) the interpretation and dissemination of results.
Mitch Colp, Werklund School of Education University of Calgary

Mitch Colp is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. He does psychological assessments and research in a private practice.