Home | In The Classroom | Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 2

Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 2

Part 2 in this series on advancing handwriting, narrative writing and critical thinking with chalk will now introduce the reader to:


In terms of developing skilled and efficient handwriting automaticity, and correlated creative narrative content, research undertaken by Suzanne St. John, informs there is a “significant relationship between orthographic-integration and a student’s ability to produce a well-composed text”.

Click here to read part 1.

Orthographic-motor integration and orthographic knowledge

Carol Christensen points out that “[o]rthographic-motor integration refers to the way in which orthographic knowledge is integrated with fine-motor demands of handwriting”. Orthographic knowledge, according to Ken Apel denotes that “the information [which] is stored in memory” informs the individual “how to represent spoken language in written form”. And, importantly, the process of orthographic knowledge only takes place when highly efficient orthographic-motor integration and writing automaticity occurs.

Inability to write a cogent narrative

Adding to this, Christensen citing research undertaken by Susan De La Paz and Steve Graham, found that there was a strong relationship between a student’s poor and inefficient orthographic-motor integration, their lack of handwriting automaticity, and their allied inability to compose a well-structured and creative written narrative. This inability to create and write a cogent narrative was thought to be taking place because the student was only focussing on letter formation. This ‘letter formation focus’ meant the student did not have the motor or cognitive skill of handwriting automaticity. This lack of handwriting automaticity capacity then caused in an increase in their cognitive load, which then subsequently reduced their capacity to develop creative narrative writing potential. All of this also informs how profoundly important the gross and fine motor muscles of the body are in this process of handwriting, narrative writing and overall human development.

The importance of developing gross motor skills

According to Sanne Veldman, Rachel Jones, and Anthony Okely, who cite multiple studies, “gross motor skills (GMS) are the foundation for many sport and physical activities” and, generally, for life itself. The research by Veldman, Jones and Okely ascertained that well established gross motor skills help to develop and enhance language skills, cognitive, motor and social development. Gross motor skills also help to enrich the hólos, fitness and overall health levels. Significantly, their research also discovered that children with poorly developed gross motor skills often tended to have lower levels of self-esteem, self-confidence, and resilience. Added to this, these children also tended to have “higher levels of anxiety”. All of which indicates how important play and movement is for children. In fact, play and movements should be considered as a life-affirming imperative.

Gross motor skills specifics

In terms of specifics, gross motor skills are concerned with the movement and coordination of the large muscles of the torso, arms and legs. Gross motor skills can also be further divided into subgroups – that of locomotor skills and object control skills. Locomotor skills are proficiencies linked with walking, running, jumping and all other large body movement activities. Object control includes throwing, catching and kicking skills, which also has a relationship with fine motor skills and eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. All of which usually takes place during self-directed play and games, and accompanying school and afterschool activities.

The importance of developing fine motor skills

Fine motor skills, according to St. John, are defined as being “the coordination of groups of small muscles to complete a task or to participate in an activity”. Fine motor skills are found in three areas: the face – which includes the eyes, ears, tongue, mouth – hands and feet.

Visual coordination, handwriting, narrative writing, speech and language

Profoundly, fine motor skills are connected with visual coordination. Visual coordination is, self-evidently, an essential requirement for handwriting, narrative writing and reading. Importantly, handwriting, narrative writing and reading uses fine motor skills, and visual coordination in the application of the directional use of the eyes to track the held writing implement, and the concomitant formation of letters and words. Fine motor skills and visual coordination are also immutably connected with reading efficiency, and the development of understanding of text (that is being written by self), as well as, of course, the text which is being read from a book. The same research informs that fine motor skills are also involved in the crucial production of sound and of speech. Speech and language development and comprehension takes place in Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area respectively.

Foundational skills

Gross motor skills and fine motor skills are considered as being foundational skills, which can, according to St. John “positively impact a student’s progress in school”. Further to this, according to St. John, "[r]esearchers have found a relationship between well-developed [gross and] fine motor skills and better school achievement, as well as a relation to positive social behaviors".

Seamless holistic integration of codes

Further to this, according to Jane Medwell and David Wray, their research informs that the action of efficient handwriting is a holistic interconnected brain, body, hand-eye, gross and fine motor neuromuscular progression. The purpose of which is to be able to develop a successful, efficient and seamless holistic “integration of letter forms (orthographic codes), letter names (phonological codes), and written shapes (grapho-motor codes)” to take place.

Physical and cognitive coordination of letter knowledge

This is where, according to St. John, the all-important physical and cognitive “coordination of letter knowledge and fine motor skills” which is “known as orthographic-integration” takes place. The research informs that the pre-eminent teaching process that needs to take place (in this holistic handwriting development, and the all-important development of narrative writing), is to ensure that the process of sequence learning, explicit teaching, worked-examples, demonstrations, and the essential and ongoing repetition (by the student and the teacher) is continuously taking place.

Repetition is one of the keys to knowledge

If a teaching point or skill is not being understood, or, perhaps, if the situation at hand is being understood (and the desire of the teacher is to then advance and develop a deeper and richer understanding of what is being taught), the research indicates that the explicit teaching strategy advocates the practice of revisiting and re-presenting the information as often as required – with a focus on step-by-step micro information being advised. As Daniel Coyle points out, elite athletes, elite musicians and elite performers (in any discipline) are continually repeating and refining their skills, abilities and knowledge. One could therefore successfully argue that repetition is one of the keys to knowledge.

Faster neurological firing, thinking and skill potential

Repetition also allows for additional neurological connections and pathways to be achieved, and myelin to be established. With this, faster neurological and electrical firing, thinking and connected skill potential is taking place.

Listen, learn, practise, repeat

Former Australian, Commonwealth and World Boxing Champion John Famechon, and his trainer Ambrose Palmer, are succinct in what is required to achieve: “Listen, learn, practise, repeat.” John Medina adds to this truism by pointing out that repetition is valuable and important for short-term memory gains (which is now referred to as working memory). The discipline and diligence of repetition also helps to augment long-term memory development, and related enhancement of deeper understandings, and inspired insights pertaining to the concepts that are being explicitly presented, persistently practised and learned.

An effective approach to promote powerful pedagogy

Christine Edwards-Groves argues that “[i]n contemporary educational media ‘explicit teaching’ has been highlighted as [being] an effective approach to pedagogy that directly influences [and advances] learning”. Further to this, Edwards-Groves maintains that explicit teaching is one of the most powerful ways in which a teacher is able “to create a classroom environment that not only values but also demonstrates that learning is the focal point of the talk encountered in classroom… lessons.”

Developing an understanding

Research undertaken by Jeroen van Merriënboer and correspondingly Eng Lim and Dennis Moore, points out that evidence exists which indicates that explicit teaching, and the worked-example method of explanation (not only leads to fewer errors), tends to reduce the time and effort needed for the learner to develop an understanding, pertaining to what is being taught.

Efficiency in thinking and action

Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen and John Sweller point out that the explicit teaching and worked-example practices is not only an efficient, quick, and excellent specific step-by-step teaching tool (both for teaching and for learning), this method of instruction is a formidable systematic teacher-directed process. This is where the participants learn to perform a task and to solve a problem efficiently. One could then argue that this process has what it takes to help develop handwriting efficiency, automaticity, higher-order thinking and narrative creativity.

Reduction of cognitive load and advancing skills, knowledge and understanding

When applied correctly, this teacher directed explicit and worked-example instruction process tends to reduce student cognitive load, which then leads to further neurological, cognitive and social consolidation of the teaching, learning, knowledge achievements, deeper understanding and the related motor learning and skill acquisition that is taking place.

Cognitive load theory

With a reduction in cognitive load, there is now, as alluded to above, greater a promise of learning, knowledge and understanding by the students to place. According to Paul Chandler and John Sweller, cognitive load theory indicates that highly specific, and what may be colloquially referred to as ‘short-and sharp’ instructional information, by the teacher (coach or mentor) is the method that better helps the student to facilitate their learning.

Reduced cognitive load

That is because this specific, and brief instructional period of time, helps the student to focus intensely (for a short period of time), on the activity that is pertinent to their “learning rather than toward preliminaries to [their] learning.” When this takes place, the student’s cognitive load is reduced. That means there will be no need to think about a wide range of information. Because of the specificity of the information, for these concise periods of time, there will now be the possibility for greater learning, skill development, and intellectual possibilities to be achieved.

This completes part 2. Part 3 will introduce the reader to the following: ineffective teaching practices that increase cognitive load; effective teaching practices that decrease cognitive load; higher-order thinking; parallel advancements; richer levels of narrative writing; complex and sophisticated reflective narrative possibilities; critical thinking; content-writing; identified concerns and students at risk; universal imperative biological actions; early identification and intervention; children do not fear hard work, mistakes or challenges.

Dr Ragnar Purje is adjunct lecturer in the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University. Under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, Purje’s doctoral dissertation focused on the success of his neurologically focused acquired brain injury rehabilitation therapy.

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