Young, Gifted and Illegible

Article excerpt


DANIEL, aged nine, was a troublesome pupil. He seemed bored and distracted in class, and his teacher was exasperated with him because his writing, in particular, was very poor.

Yet when Daniel attended a creative and critical thinking course, he produced a short piece of poetry about litter that revealed a very different boy. ' Multicoloured is the colour of nature,' he wrote.

'But monotone grey is human filth.' So why did Daniel perform so poorly in everyday lessons? The answer is that he's a 'gifted and talented' child who underachieves and the root of his problem is his inability to write neatly.

'This is very common with very bright children,' says Dr Stephen Tommis, director of the National Association for Gifted Children. 'Their brains process information very quickly, but their motor skills can't keep up, and as a result their writing is often a squiggly mess, with no uniformity of style whatsoever.' This untidiness can distress the gifted child and seriously hamper progress in all subjects - not just English. The child might be considered stupid by classmates who will make him the butt of jokes.

Failing that, he'll be typecast as a rebel who 'can't be bothered'.

Teachers, aware of test scores that show the child's potential, will quite likely consider him arrogant and be insulted that they are given illegible work. The standard way of dealing with this sort of child is highly inappropriate.

'He'll often be told to copy out untidy work again,' says Dr Tommis. 'Yet mindless repetition is anathema to the gifted child and he'll often become disillusioned and switch off altogether.' Modern teaching practices are in part to blame for children being unable to write legibly: handwriting has been neglected for too long in some primary schools, largely due to the over-packed curriculum.

In secondary schools, only children with special educational needs are taught handwriting.

Consequently, those children who haven't formed a natural cursive style by the age of 11 never have a chance to put things right.

Yet in secondary schools being able to write quickly and clearly is vitally important because notetaking plays a major part in learning. …