Tuesday, June 25, 2024

This blog post is part of our Research Article of the Month series. For this month, we highlight “The Effects of a Whole-Class Kindergarten Handwriting Intervention on Early Reading Skills,” an article published in the journal Reading Research Quarterly in 2021. Important words related to research are bolded, and definitions of these terms are included at the end of the article in the “Terms to Know” section.

Why Did We Pick This Paper?

Handwriting fluency refers to the ability to print letters quickly, legibly, and accurately. Some research has demonstrated an association between handwriting fluency and foundational reading skills (Frolek Clark & Luze, 2014; Malpique, Pino-Pasternak, & Valcan, 2017). Additionally, writing letters has been shown to activate brain regions associated with reading (James, 2010; James & Engelhardt, 2012). This research suggests that explicit handwriting instruction may support early reading skills. 

According to the 4Rs model (Ray et al., 2021), handwriting fluency requires:

  • Recall: Students recall the mental representation of a letter.
  • Retrieval: Students remember the sequence of movements required to form the letter.
  • Reproduction: Students use fine-motor and visuomotor skills to write the letter.
  • Repetition: Students repeatedly practice letter writing in order to develop fluency. 

In this study, the researchers examined the effects of Write Start-K, a handwriting intervention for kindergartners that incorporates the 4Rs of handwriting fluency. Their findings shed light on the importance of handwriting instruction for reading development. 

What Are the Research Questions or Purpose?

The researchers examined the effects of a handwriting intervention paired with typical reading and writing instruction on early reading skills (i.e., letter-name knowledge, word reading fluency, letter-sound knowledge, and nonsense word reading fluency) in kindergarteners. Their goal was to evaluate the importance of handwriting instruction on literacy outcomes in the classroom. 

What Methodology Do the Authors Employ?

Using a quasi-experimental study design, the researchers compared the early reading skills of students who received the handwriting intervention and typical literacy instruction to those who received typical literacy instruction alone. 

Two schools were included in the study. Teachers at one school were assigned to deliver the intervention while teachers at the other school continued to provide instruction as usual (the business-as-usual, or BAU, condition). Four teachers participated in the study (two in the intervention condition and two in the BAU condition), as well as 77 students (38 in the intervention condition and 39 in the BAU condition). 

Business-as-usual instruction involved introduction to the alphabetic principle, phonics instruction, reading, and handwriting. Handwriting instruction included teacher modeling of letter formation followed by rotations of small-group or individual activities such as tracing letters or sorting words with similar spelling patterns. 

In the intervention condition, typical literacy instruction continued as described above, except handwriting lessons and some crafts were replaced with the Write Start-K intervention, an adaptation of Write Start for younger students. Write Start-K is a co-taught, whole class intervention delivered by an intervention team including class teacher, occupational therapist and an assistant (in the case of this study, the assistant was a trained undergraduate occupational therapy student). This team collaboration and blending of professional skill sets was integral to the intervention program. The intervention was conducted in two 45-minute sessions per week for eight weeks. 

Each session involved explicit, whole-class instruction in the formation of letters, followed by station-based activities that were grounded in the 4Rs of handwriting fluency. Letters with similar patterns of formation were taught together, and mnemonics were used to help students remember the formation of letters (e.g., “around, up, and down” for the letter “a”). Station-based activities varied by session. During the first session of the week, activities targeted focus letters and words while concurrently emphasizing fine-motor (e.g., forming letters with Play-Doh), visuomotor (e.g., drawing the mirror image of a shape), and cognitive (e.g., performing memory recall tasks) dimensions of handwriting. In essence, each activity included the 4Rs, requiring use of memory recall alongside letter formation practice while using a foundation skill such as fine motor skills. During the second session, students completed crafts and writing tasks with high levels of support and feedback. 

Students from both schools were assessed at three different time points: before the intervention (baseline), immediately after the intervention (post-intervention), and 12 weeks following the end of the intervention (follow-up). The researchers administered the letter-naming fluency, nonsense-word fluency, and word-reading fluency subtests of Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). They also administered a researcher-designed test of letter name and sound knowledge. 

The researchers performed statistical analyses with assessment outcomes to determine whether the intervention was associated with greater effects than typical instruction on early reading skills in kindergartners. 

What Are the Key Findings?

Both the intervention and business-as-usual groups improved on all measures over time. 

The intervention had a statistically significant impact on word reading and letter-name knowledge. The intervention group also showed positive effects for letter-sound knowledge and nonsense-word reading fluency, but these effects were not statistically significant. 

Letter-Name Knowledge

The intervention group outperformed the BAU group for letter-name knowledge from baseline to post-intervention by 5.2 letters (g= 0.88) and overall, from baseline to follow-up, by 6.3 letters (g = 1.05). Thus, students in the intervention were able to name more letters than students in the BAU group, indicating that the intervention was effective in supporting students’ letter-name knowledge.

Word-Reading Fluency

The intervention group outperformed the BAU group for word-reading fluency from post-intervention to follow-up by 4.5 words (g = 0.54) and overall, from baseline to follow-up, by 5.8 words (g = 0.49). In other words, students in the intervention were able to read more words than students in the BAU group, meaning the intervention was effective in improving students’ word reading fluency and that this improvement was maintained over time. 

What Are the Practical Applications of Key Findings?

The key findings from this study have two main practical applications. First, this study suggests that incorporating handwriting interventions like Write Start-K in early education can significantly enhance key literacy skills such as letter-name knowledge and word-reading fluency. Integrating handwriting fluency activities alongside typical literacy instruction could promote reading and writing skills concurrently. Schools should consider adopting such programs to support early literacy development. Second, it is crucial to equip teachers with strategies to support handwriting instruction. Providing continuous support and feedback mechanisms will help teachers better facilitate the development of these crucial skills in young learners. 

What Are the Limitations of This Paper?

The study involved a relatively small sample size of 77 students from two schools. A larger sample size would provide a more robust dataset. Additionally, the researchers do not state whether the treatment or BAU group included any students diagnosed with dyslexia or learning difficulties. Thus, the findings of this study may not be applicable to students who struggle with reading disabilities. Future research should investigate the intervention’s effect on students with various learning difficulties to determine if this population could benefit from the handwriting intervention. 

In addition, the study did not include a long-term tracking period beyond 12 weeks post-intervention, which may be necessary to capture the long-term effects of the handwriting intervention on literacy skills. A longitudinal study is needed to assess whether the benefits observed in this study are sustained over time, which could help determine if the impact of the intervention on students’ literacy development can be extended from kindergarten into later grades.  

Terms to Know

  • Quasi-experimental: Experimental research aims to determine whether a certain treatment influences a measurable outcome—for example, whether a certain instructional method influences students’ reading comprehension scores. To do this, participants are assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group, which receives the treatment, and the control group, which does not receive the treatment. In an experimental study, these groups are randomly assigned, meaning each participant has equal probability of being in either the treatment or the control group. A quasi-experimental study is similar to an experimental study except that participants are not randomly assigned to groups. In educational research, groups often are assigned by classroom rather than through random assignment, making this kind of research quasi-experimental. In either case, participants in both groups are tested before and after the treatment, and their results are compared. 
  • Business-as-usual (BAU) condition: The business-as-usual condition is another name for the control group in an experimental or quasi-experimental study. This group does not receive the experimental treatment and therefore serves as a point of comparison for the experimental group.
  • Baseline: A baseline is a starting value with which other values can be compared.
  • Effects: In statistics, effect size is a measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables in statistical analyses. A commonly used interpretation is to refer to effect size as small (g = 0.2), medium (g = 0.5), and large (g = 0.8) based on the benchmarks suggested by Cohen (1988), where “g” refers to Hedge’s g, a statistical measure of effect size.
  • Statistically significant: If a study’s findings are statistically significant, it means they are unlikely to be explained by chance alone.


Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Routledge Academic.

Frolek Clark, G., & Luze, G. (2014). Predicting handwriting performance in kindergarteners using reading, fine-motor, and visual-motor measures. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 7(1), 29–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/19411243.2014.898470

James, K. H. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science, 13(2), 279–288. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00883.x

James, K. H., & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001 

Malpique, A. A., Pino-Pasternak, D., & Valcan, D. (2017). Handwriting automaticity and writing instruction in Australian kindergarten: An exploratory study. Reading and Writing, 30(8), 1789–1812. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9753-1 

Ray, K., Dally, K., Colyvas, K., & Lane, A.E. (2021). The Effects of a Whole-Class Kindergarten Handwriting Intervention on Early Reading Skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S193-S207. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.395 

Ray, K., Dally, K., Colyvas, K., & Lane, A.E. (2021). Improving handwriting fluency and writing outcomes in kindergarten: The effect of Write Start–K: A whole-class, cotaught, handwriting intervention. Manuscript in preparation.


Editors Note: This post was edited on June 27, 2024 to provide additional detail regarding Write Start-K, per the intervention author's request.