Writing and reading performance in Year 1 Australian classrooms: The role of handwriting automaticity and writing instruction

Year: 2019

Author: Abreu, Malpique, Anabela, Pino-Pasternak, Deborah, Sofia, Roberto, Magda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Theories of writing development and accumulating evidence indicate that handwriting automaticity is related to the development of effective writing skills, and that writing and reading skills are also associated with each other. However, less is known about the nature of these associations and the role of instructional factors in the early years. The present study examines: (1) the influence of handwriting automaticity in the writing and reading performance of Year 1 students, both concurrently and longitudinally; (2) associations between students’ writing and reading performance and writing instruction. Merging sociocultural and cognitive perspectives of writing, the recent Writer(s)-within-Community (WWC) model of writing (Graham, 2018) explains writing development as a result of variations in contextual and individual interrelated variables. We capitalised on this theoretical model to examine individual and classroom-level variables facilitating the writing and reading performance of Year 1 Australian students.

Using a two-time point longitudinal design, the current study involved 154 Year 1 children (Mage = 6.48, SD = 3.65 months; 52% female) enrolled in 24 classrooms from seven government-funded primary schools in Western Australia. Individual child-level data (i.e., handwriting automaticity, word-reading, writing quality and production) were collected at the end of the Kindergarten Year (Time 1) and at the end of Year 1 (one year later – Time 2) and teachers reported on the amount and type of writing instruction (i.e., teaching basic skills and teaching writing processes) and amount of writing practice in their classrooms also at the end of Year 1. Data analyses included multilevel modelling. Our results showed that handwriting automaticity (at Time 1) predicted both writing quality and writing production concurrently (Time 1) and longitudinally (Time 2) after accounting for gender and initial word reading skills. In addition,handwriting automaticity predicted reading performance longitudinally. Writing and reading performance were associated with the amount of writing practice, while only teaching planning and revising were positively associated with writing performance. These findings provide additional evidence to understand writing development in early education as well as the nature of pedagogical approaches that may help support children’s writing development. In particular, they draw attention to the need of providing adequate time for children to understand and experience writing as a process in the first years of schooling.

Keywords: handwriting automaticity; writing instruction; writing development; reading development; early education