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

Submitted by: Anabela Malpique
Abstract: 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. In Australia, results from the 2017 National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) report a continued decline in the writing performance of Year 5, Year 7, and Year 9 students since 2011 (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2017). Research suggests that the writing difficulties students exhibit in the early years of schooling may explain the poor quality of writing in upper primary and high schools (Kent, Wanzek, Petscher, Al Otaiba, & Kim, 2014).
For the present study, we examined multilevel predictors - individual and classroom-level factors – for the writing and reading performance of Year 1 Australian students. We addressed the following research questions: (1) Does handwriting automaticity predict, longitudinally and concurrently, the writing performance and the reading performance of Year 1 Australian students? (2) Are there any associations between the writing and the reading performance of Year 1 Australian students and the amount and types of instructional practices for writing? The current study involved 154 Year 1 children (Mage = 6.48, SD = 3.65 months; 52% female) enrolled in 24 classrooms from seven primary schools in Western Australia. Individual child-level data (i.e., handwriting automaticity, word-reading, writing quality and production) were collected and teachers completed a survey assessing the amount and type of writing instruction in their classrooms (i.e., teaching basic skills and teaching writing processes).
Results from multilevel modelling showed handwriting automaticity predicted both writing quality and writing production concurrently and longitudinally after accounting for gender and initial word reading skills. In addition, handwriting automaticity predicted reading performance longitudinally. Findings further suggested that it is not necessarily the time spent on teaching writing that matters most but what teachers do and what students do in the allocated time for writing. Implications for writing development and writing instruction will be discussed.

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

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2017). NAPLAN achievement in reading, writing, language conventions, and numeracy. National report for 2017. Sydney: ACARA. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/naplan-national-report-2017_final_04dec2017.pdf?sfvrsn=0
Kim, Y. S., Al Otaiba, S., Sidler, J. F., & Greulich, L. (2013). Language, literacy, attentional behaviors, and instructional quality predictors of written composition for first graders. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28, 461-469. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.01.001
Kent, S., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Al Otaiba, S., & Kim, Y. S. (2014). Writing fluency and quality in kindergarten and first grade: The role of attention, reading, transcription, and oral language. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27, 1163-1188. doi:10.1007/s11145-013-9480-1