Handwriting is described as a language by hand. It is a mirror through which individual creativity, abilities, patience, and organization is reflected. To a large extent it’s a predictor of learning abilities. Unfortunately, 30% of learners worldwide experience handwriting problems against the background of fading handwriting lessons from the official school programs. Over 60% of learners experiencing handwriting difficulties also suffer from a given form of learning disability. It’s against this backdrop that this study was done to assess handwriting difficulties among learners with learning disabilities and determine the effects on academic performance in Makadara Sub County, Kenya. The study objectives were: To assess handwriting characteristics among learners with learning disabilities, to establish knowledge of factors influencing handwriting development among learners with learning disabilities, to find out measures taken to address handwriting problems and lastly to determine the effects of poor handwriting on academic performance. The study employed Logan and Crump’s hierarchical two-loop theory for the production of handwriting, that was conceptualized in 2009. This was a two-tier study employing both qualitative and quantitative techniques of data gathering and analysis. The study method used was a mixed research design method which examined in breadth and depth the perspectives, practices, experiences of teachers and learners on the study problem. Purposive sampling was used to get the sample size of 254 respondents which consisted of 5 examiners, 21 language teachers, 25 class teachers, 3 headteachers and 200 learners with learning disabilities who had handwriting difficulties. Qualitative data was collected using in-depth interviews and observations. Quantitative data, on the other hand, was collected using open-ended and closed-ended questionnaire guide. Data was analyzed by the use of SPSS computer software version 19 and results were presented in graphs, tables, pie charts and frequencies. The adversely affected schooling behavior was assignment completion and submission, lesson attendance, participation in learning activities and aggregate mean score. This was vindicated by the ANOVA test that yielded a p-value of 0.027 against a significance value of 0.05 implying that handwriting difficulties had a negative impact on the academic performance study. The findings indicated that the majority of the respondents believe that learners with learning disabilities can develop good handwriting. An average number of respondents had a negative perception of learners with handwriting difficulties. 82% had a perception that handwriting difficulties impacted on the learning behaviors of learners with learning disabilities. Over fifty percent strongly agreed that handwriting difficulties affected the academic performance of learners with learning disabilities. The study recommended that teachers should acknowledge the existence of handwriting problems in the regular classroom and have a positive attitude towards learners who have handwriting difficulties; acceleration of research on good practices and pedagogies on handwriting development and lastly the need to institutionalize handwriting lessons in the national curriculum and part parcel of the official learning program
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
This chapter presents the background to the study, the statement of the problem, the purpose of the study and objectives of the study, research questions, and significance of the study, assumptions made during the study, limitations and delimitations of the study, theoretical and conceptual framework and definition of operational terms used in the study.
Background to the Study Problem
Globally some 30-40% of learners experience handwriting problems (Mercer, Mercer, & Pullen, 2011). The majority of the learners experiencing handwriting difficulties are in the lower grades of learning. However, the problem is also present in higher grades. This is according to the American College Testing Program (ACT) report of 2005. The report acknowledges that a third of students joining tertiary colleges had handwriting difficulties. This is happening in an era where there is less emphasis on handwriting intervention measures (Westwood, 2011). It is also happening against backdrops of handwriting lessons fading in prominence as teachers and students embrace electronic writing devices (Mangen, Anda, Gun, & Kallesten, 2015).
Writing or handwriting is an elaborate process (Westwood, 2011). In this process, a learner uses symbols, letters, and numbers to express his or her thoughts (Reid, 2009). The flow and fluent of this elaborate process are tied to some overlapping factors
(Wallen, 2013). These overlapping factors include but not limited to motor problems, faulty visual perception of letters /words and poor visual memory. Also, there’s inadequate instruction by educators and limited motivation on the part of learners (Mercer, Mercer, & Pullen, 2011). An understanding of these factors is a precursor to addressing the problem (Westwood, 2008; Mendizabal, Candida, Guzman, Immaculada & Romero, 2016).
Handwriting difficulties problems are complex and varied (Wallen, 2013, Tamara & Frijters, 2015; Mellissa, Anna, Wilmut, & Mandy, 2016). This implies that handwriting difficulties are manifested differently. According to Mercer et al., (2011) handwriting difficulties may be manifested in writing slowly, incorrect directionality of letters and numbers, and too much or little pencil grip. It may also be manifested in spacing difficulty, the messiness of the script, inability to keep horizontal line and illegible letter formation. Similar sentiments were echoed by (Berninger, Abbott, Auguburger, & Garcia, 2009; Charlotte, Parks, & Oslick, 2018; Golley 2015).
A poorly developed handwriting impacts a learner in multiple ways. First and foremost, it negatively impacts on self-esteem and worthiness of a learner (Bamidele, 2017). Second, it affects the physical behavior like lessons attendance, sitting position in the class, completion and submission of the assignment and planning strategies of learners (Limpo, Rui, Alves, &Connelly, 2018). Finally, it impacts on the overall academic performance of an individual learner, through both quality and quantity of persuasive and cognitive writing (Santangelo & Graham, 2016).
Both neuron typical (without a learning disability) and neuron diverse (those with a learning disability) experience handwriting difficulty (Alves, Limpo, Salas, & Joshi, 2018). The problem is much more complex however among the learners with learning disabilities (Kandel, Peereman, Grosjacques, & Fayol, 2011). This is because they are required to balance deficiencies in the brain, visual, linguistic and perceptional with deficiencies in motor control simultaneously (Kandel, Sangosse, Grosjacques, & Perret, 2017). Both the neuron typical and learners with learning disabilities suffer from handwriting difficulties. Meanwhile, over 60% of the learners exhibiting handwriting difficulties suffer from a learning disability (Bishop, 2004). Ideally, writing and letter formation pattern differs across the learning stage and the task beforehand. This variation suggests a high correlation between cognitive and motor functions (Bui, Myerson & Hale, 2013; Berninger, 2008).
Learners experiencing Learning disabilities are confronted with extraordinary barriers when it comes to the complex question of mastering writing skills (Bara & Gentaz, 2011). These learners use more energy on motor functions adversely affecting their cognitive functions (Kandel, et al., 2017). As this happens, some 70% of teachers report inadequate skills to handle the complex problem (Westwood, 2011; Magombo, 2015; & Saskatchewan, 2004). It’s worth noting that handwriting difficulties won’t disappear without specific intervention measures (Kandel, et al., 2017) and discussed in chapter two of this study, the measures should be rolled out in early stages of learning and must address diversity in abilities and resources.