Study Title: An Independent study into the support and guidance given to a specific group of left-handed students now at North Devon College when they attended primary school
Barrie Victor Kissack
Graduation Certificate in Professional Practice
Trinity University College, University of Wales Carmarthen.
Year: 2011 Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the following for their help and support in writing this study:
Dr Simon Mays of Southampton University for a copy of his study relating to left and right-handedness in Ancient Britain, Professor Chris McManus for copy of the Psychologist Bulletin relating to “Geschwind's theory of the relationship between left-handedness and stammering”, Dr Liz Wilson for referencing information relating to Hansard, Sue Gowing and the left-handed students of North Devon (Petroc) College who carried out and completed my survey.
Contents Page Page Figures and Chart v
Chapter One – Introduction 1
1. Rationale/Background 1
2. Aims 2
Chapter 2-Literature Review 2
1. Introduction 2
2. Historical Background 3
3. Brain Damage and Pathology 5
4. Twins, disabilities and left-handedness 7
5. Left-handedness and dyslexia 7
6 .The genetics of left-handedness 8
7. Advantages of Left-handedness 9
8. Waltham Forest School large scale study 10
9. Government strategies 10
10. Sinistrality in the United Kingdom 11
11. Left-handedness, schools and handwriting 12
Chapter 3- Methodology 14
1.Data gathering method chosen 14
2.Handwriting and allied left-handed difficulties 15
Chapter 4- A small scale survey of left-handed College students 18
1. Data Protection 18
2. The reason survey was carried out
and types of questions used. 18
3. Using a survey as a method of data collection and
Consideration of sample size 18
4. Designing a questionnaire- Pilot questionnaire 19
Final survey questionnaire 20
Chapter 5- Conducting survey and discussion of results 22
Chapter 6- The significance of the survey data in relation to
Government National Literacy strategy. 23
Chapter 7- Discussion. 24
Chapter 8- Final analysis of results 25
Chapter 9-Conclusions 26
Chapter 10-Weaknesses of Study 29
A policy for teaching left-handed Children 34
My Left-handed Child 37
Email –From Kirsty Lyons DFSC 39
Pilot Questionnaire 40
Figure 1-How handedness of children is affected by
handedness of parents. 9
Figure 2- Waltham Forest Questionnaire result. 10
Figure 3- Rise in lefthanders during 20th century. 12
Figure 4-Incorrect writing positions (Clark M 1991:35). 16
Figure 5-Correct writing positions (Clark M 1991:40). 17
Chart 1-Children with handwriting difficulties at primary school 23
In 1943, when the author attended primary school attempts were made to convert his left-handedness to right-handedness, they failed. At that time this was normal practice, today this would be unacceptable. (Paul 2002:14). It was once considered, but later disproved (Fincher 1977:168;Barsley 1966:168) that this practice caused the child to stutter, however in 1985 a further study of cerebral lateralisation suggested there was relationship between left-handedness and stammering. (Geschwind and Galaburda 1985:abstract.)
Clark (Clark 1991:28) found most left handed writers had been subjected to a period of writing with the right hand and only allowed to return when this was unsuccessful. Clark also found that it was essential that the left-handers were given support in their early days of development otherwise it could be too late. What support is in place today?
Clearly in 1998 this was lacking when on the 22 July 1998 it was reported in
Hansard (Hansard,Luff,1998) that with the support of the Teacher Training Agency Peter Luff the member of Parliament for Worcester, himself left-handed, asked the then Minister for Education and Skills Estelle Morris (also left-handed) if she would consider introducing specific guidelines for teachers with regard to left-handed students. She did not consider it necessary.
In answer to the request by Mr Peter Luff MP would she give consideration to introducing into teacher training how to cater for left-handed pupils the Minister stated that such training was not the responsibility of the Minister but of the local education authority.
In April 2001 the Department for Education and Skills published a National Literacy Strategy for schools entitled Developing Early Writing DFES (2001: 163)
The purpose of which is to help teachers and practitioners teach writing in the reception year of the Foundation Stage and through Key Stage 1. Its use is recommended. On page 163 of this strategy one of the handwriting policies defined states: “There should be provision for left-handed Children”. Are teachers aware of the publication? Have local education authorities given teachers the additional support and resources they may need to cater for left-handed students?
For many years I have been interested in the sinistral. I am simply putting into words a long-term interest that is professionally relevant.
I first realised that my left-handedness was a “difficulty” when attending primary school. At the age of 5 years my teacher tried to encourage me to use my right hand. Practices that were reported to have taken place in the past. Fincher (Fincher 1977:18) suggest that in forcing a change of handedness “a school may be tinkering with the fundamental organisation of our brains”. Even Dr Spock (Spock 1960:120) suggested that “you discourage left-handedness in children”. Today, encouraging the left-handed to change to right is not educationally approved and expert advice should be sought. (Paul 2002:63)
The Author’s school reports reflected his writing problem when they stated that his “handwriting was untidy and scruffy”. Are primary school students receiving the same reports and lack of support today? Do they get the support the author was not given?
Longer term, lefthanders writing styles can contribute to a repetitive strain injury in their wrist.(Clark 1991:20). Research indicates that this may be the result of pressing too hard when writing and is yet another of the recorded problems a lefthander may encounter.(Paul 2002:59)
This project will undertake research to find out why some people are left-handed and a review of literature may help give an answer to the question posed.
To research left-handedness and its potential causes, evaluate the current support offered and recommend the approach schools might take to help support left-handed students who may have handwriting difficulties.
To analyse government and academic databases, to research the number of lefthanders there are in the United Kingdom and how many may have handwriting difficulties. Review references to indicate how the number of lefthanders may have increased or decreased over time.
To review historical references to lefthanders and how they have been considered by society and academics in the past. Indicate the relationship between left-handedness and other learning disabilities that may be outside the scope of this study.
Design and pilot a questionnaire to produce primary data using a quantitative survey method to enable statistical results to be produced. Closed questions will be used to suit audience.
Chapter Two Literature Review
I have always had an interest in the subject of left-handedness and the support given to primary school students. Possibly because, until my primary school teacher made a point of telling me, I thought I wrote like any other young person and was not in any way “different”.
My mother was also left-handed as was my maternal grandmother. My mother has always written in block capitals possibly because she had difficulties writing conventionally- I will never know.
My brother was dyslexic, a condition considered to be linked by researchers to left-handedness. (Dyslexic Trust, online, 2010)
Will the family trait continue? My 11 year old grandson is left-handed but fortunately his mother is a teacher and is well aware of the difficulties a leftie may have. Are all young people today who have handwriting difficulties given assistance?
On April 1st 2010, in my role as ICT Nationals Moderator for the Examining body OCR, I visited a local college. The first portfolio, which was of excellent quality and easily met the “distinction” outcomes was word processed except for one single page. A page clearly written by a left-handed person, it was scruffy and messy. The tutor confirmed my informed assumption. Was this student given support in primary school?
In 1979 De Kay (1979:2) wrote:
“Anywhere you look left-handedness is a rarity. Even most plants are right-handed. Honeysuckle is one of few climbing plants that twine to the left.”
This was supported by Fincher (1977:prologue) who wrote:
“Left-handedness is one of the last surviving minorities in our society, with no organisation, no collective power or goals and normally no sense of common identify”
Others such as Langford (1995:25) described lefthanders as “the forgotten minority”
often “historically put down “by the rest of society.
In a study by Steele and Mays (1995:39-45 and Abstract) it was discovered that in earlier cultures there was a consistent tendency for persistent use of either hand:
“Human handedness - the consistent preference for one hand in skilled manipulative tasks - is often said to be a defining trait. While other primates may demonstrate individual preferences for the right or left forelimb in reaching and in manipulating objects, only in human populations is there a consistent tendency for the right hand to be the preferred hand. In many societies the left side is symbolically associated with ill-fortune: and in some societies, cultural pressures for the forced use of the right hand even by 'natural left-handers' drastically reduces the visibility of left-handedness in census databases. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that where such cultural pressures are relaxed, a natural preference for the left hand in skilled tasks develops in as many as one individual in six”.
In the abstract Steele and May stated that the skeletons in the study had an arm length which closely parallels the handedness in the population today. They argued that the favoured arm was longer because it was used to carry items ore frequently in everyday life. This was in agreement with a study by Ingelmark (1946:17-82).
Steele and Mays further stated that in the animal kingdom whilst other primates may vary the chosen limb for performing tasks, only in the human population is there a consistent tendency for the right-hand to be the preferred hand (Steele and Mays 1995:46).
This was corroborated by Langford (Langford 1995: 145) who noted that the French Archaeologist Sarasin, who specialised in the history of early implements equal amounts of left-handed and right-handed tools were used in the Stone Age. However during the Bronze Age with the development of more sophisticated tools, there was a proliferation of right-handed tools. It is speculated that it was more economic to make tools that trained soldiers in one direction. Another factor may be that implements were made to cover the left side of the body to protect the heart.
In the last two centuries modern industrial societies have been among those exerting strong cultural pressures for right hand use, a trend strongly associated with the emergence of mass literacy. But as these pressures have been relaxed in the later decades of this century so the frequency of left-handedness in industrialised societies (as indexed by census data) has increased. This is clearly visible in recent surveys: for instance, in Britain Fleminger et al.(1977:45) found that in a sample of the population in the 1970s 3% of the 55-64 age group reported that they had developed patterns of hand usage corresponding to left-handedness, compared with 11% of the 15-24 age group.
The earliest theories tended to dismiss left-handedness as being an accident, faulty training, or a bodily abnormality. For example, Buchanan (1862 and 1877) claimed that left-handedness and left footedness were a consequence of the centre of gravity of the human frame being displaced.
A later suggestion by Parsons was that handedness was a result of eye dominance. The theory was that in infancy nearly all voluntary movement depends upon vision. Parsons (1924:34). Few agreed with this proposition. There were two important factors that made this theory unworkable; there are half as many people who have cross dominance and have their dominant hand on the opposite side as there are people who have them in accord.
In many early studies the assumption was made that being right-handed was normal and left-handed abnormal, it was considered that there was no physiological basis for left-handedness and it was therefore not hereditary.
As recently as 1945 professor of psychiatry Abram Blau (Blau 1946:122) suggested
“Sinistrality is thus nothing more than an expression of infantile negativism and falls into the same category as contrariness in feeding and elimination, retardation in speech, and general perverseness in so far as the infant with meagre outlets can express it”. Early theorists also suggested that left-handedness might well be due to some form of pathological event.
Brewster (Brewster (1913:165-183) noted:
“A sound and capable stock, like a right-handed one, breeds true generation after generation. Then something slips a cog and there appears a left-handed child, a black sheep or an imbecile” This article goes on to make it clear that “slipping a cog” meant some form of brain damage.
Although extreme, Burt (Burt 1937:201), concluded:
“it is even safe to treat left-handedness as a sign or a symptom, it should
be regarded as a mark of an ill-organised nervous system”. Margaret M Clark tells us that the existence of a small group of left-handers had been noted as far back as biblical times. However, it was not until the nineteenth century that serious attempts were made to explain left-handedness. (Clark 1966:3).
Brain Damage, longevity and Pathology
A study by Coren and Halpern (1991:90-106 ) found that:
Life span studies have shown that the population percentage of left-handers diminishes steadily so that they are drastically underrepresented in the oldest age groups. Data are reviewed that indicate that this population trend is due to the reduced longevity of left-handers. Some of the elevated risk for sinistrals is apparently due to environmental factors that elevate their accident susceptibility. Further evidence suggests that left-handedness may be a marker for birth stress related neuropathy, developmental delays and irregularities and deficiencies in the immune system due to the intrauterine hormonal environment. Some statistical and physiological factors that may cause left-handedness to be selectively associated with earlier mortality are also presented.
Life span studies have shown that the population percentage of left-handers diminishes steadily, so that they are drastically underrepresented in the oldest age groups. Data are reviewed that indicate that this population trend is due to the reduced longevity of left-handers.
A 15-year study at the University of California by, Satz. Et Al, (1985:27-61) and (1986: 333-337) suggests that in groups of individuals with known or suspected brain damage the number of left-handers is much greater than is found in the average population. The assumption is that pathological conditions associated with brain injuries probably altered handedness and increased the number of left-handers.
What is certain is that left-handedness is either pathological or inherited, to what degree is not clear.
In 1980 Norman Geschwind, Professor of Neurology Geschwind & Galamburda(1985) at Harvard Medical School, found that ten times as many left-handers as right-handers showed inclinations towards dyslexia and stammering. He found that the brains of dyslexics had cells that should not have been there which they attributed to pre-birth.
He believed that the male hormone testosterone which is present in the foetus, could slow down the brain’s development. As the left hemisphere develops more slowly than the right it would be more at risk. The right hemisphere would then take over; grow larger to compensate and ultimately control the dominant left hand.
He found that the rogue cells in dyslexic boys also coincided with high testosterone levels. In girls the hormone is a by-product of female hormones which are produced by the pregnant mother who simply passes them to the female embryo where it nurtures left-handedness or dyslexia depending upon the sensitivity of the embryo.
It is generally assumed that the two sides of our brains are mirror images of each other; nothing could be further from the truth. McManus (2002:221-227).
To gain an understanding of why preference is given to the left or right hand we need to know something about the brain. Both hemispheres control different functions. The left hemisphere, dominant in the right-hander controls speech, writing and abstract thinking, whilst the right hemisphere, dominant in the lefthander controls non-verbal memory, emotions and concrete thinking.
Because each hemisphere controls functions, individual personality and modes of perception will differ depending upon which hemisphere is dominant. Right or left-handed dominance as we know through studies undertaken with stroke and accident victims who have changed sides can be developed or inherited.
McManus suggests, following experiments with rats, that the assumption that handedness originates from the brain hemisphere may not be true and that handedness arises in the brain stem McManus (2002:165).
McManus also claims that left-handedness has reached record levels.
He has analysed the handwriting of people throughout the past several hundred years and found that the proportion of southpaws seems to have increased from around three per cent in 1900 to nearer 11 per cent today. (Hanlon,online,2010)
Tim Crow, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford, believes that understanding left-handedness is the key to human evolution: chimpanzees, whose brains he believes are similar on their left and right side are equally likely to be right- or left-handed. Humans, whose left and right side of the brain operate differently, are predominantly right-handed. “Cerebral asymmetry is the defining feature of the human brain,” (Crow,online,2010)
The link between Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, twins and left-handedness, whilst widely documented, are outside the scope of this study.
In a later 1987 study Geschwind and Galaburda’s theory of left-handedness suggests that high testosterone levels, which cause brain abnormalities leading to left-handedness and speech defects that can also damage the thymus, an important link in the immune system which is important to the bodies defences against diseases, thus indicating that immune system disorders are more prevalent in lefthanders. (Geschwind and Galaburda 1987:102).
MacManus and Bryden did a thorough review of this research of research in this area and found:
“Lefthanders showed no systematic tendency to suffer from disorders of the immune system”(McManus and Bryden 1991:294).
A 2004 study at Queens University Belfast lead by Hepper suggested that left-handedness may be set whilst the baby is in the mothers womb, contradicting previous studies, the study states that: “The hand you prefer to use as a 10-week-old foetus is the hand you will always use.”The study challenge the widely held view that a child does not develop left or right-handedness until it is at least three years old.(Hepper, online,2006).
Twins, disabilities and left-handedness
It is documented by Coren & Parac (1977:631) that in twins 20% are left-handed. One
cause suggested brain damage caused by over crowding during foetal development a view supported by Springer and Deutsch (1981:111).
Although this is beyond the scope of this study it may benefit from further research.
Although left-handedness alone is not considered to be a disability, links with learning needs that may need support such as Dyslexia and Dispraxia.(Dyslexia Trust,2010, online) can readily be found but are outside the remit of this study.
Education authorities, on the whole, do not recognise left-handedness as an issue in the classroom (Estelle Morris, online, 2004).
A survey carried out by special needs teachers in Berkshire by Bentley and Stainthorp(1993:4-9) revealed that the percentage of left-handed children receiving special help in Key Stage 2 was more than the total at Key Stage 1. Out of 577 special needs children 14.3% of girls and 18.2% boys were left-handed. 81% of the teachers themselves said left-handedness should be treated as a special issue and 85% agreed it constituted a special educational need. This was supported by Brookman in 2004 in a study of special needs children at a Blackpool school.(Brookman 2004:75)
Left-handedness and dyslexia.
People who have specific learning difficulties for example dyslexia have definite needs for which planning and resources are needed. There have been suggestions that people who are left-handed are more likely to be dyslexic and vice-versa, Paul (2002:37) states that 25% of dyslexics show left-handed preferences. However Bishop (1990:87) points out the dangers of assuming that if a poor reader is left handed they are dyslexic.
“Because people believe that left-handedness is an indicator of an unusual and possibly disadvantaged neurological organisation, a left-handed poor reader may be more likely than a right-handed poor reader to be referred to a neurologist. Further, there is a belief that left-handedness is a part of the symptom complex of developmental dyslexia”
Thus the link between dyslexia may be forged in people’s preconception of left-handedness.
The genetics of left-handedness.
There is little doubt that handedness runs in families (McManus:2002:156-163), but the extent to which this effect is due to environmental pressure (parents purposefully or accidentally teaching their children to be right- or left-handed) is unclear. However, adoption studies suggest that handedness is under genetic control. The handedness of adopted children is more likely to follow that of their birthparents than their adopted parents. Carter-Saltzman(1980:56).
It is commonly quoted that if both parents of a child are right-handed; the chances of the child being left-handed are 2%. This figure rises to 17% if one parent is left-handed, and it jumps to 50% if both parents are left-handed. Coren (1992:86).
A meta-analysis (combining the results of many studies of familial handedness) performed by McManus & Bryden(1991:212) found that two right-handed parents had a 9.5% chance of having a left-handed child. The chances rise to 19.5% if one parent if left-handed (and this effect appears to be driven primarily by left-handed mothers), and 26.1% of the children from two left-handed parents are also left-handed. Therefore, the most commonly cited figures underestimate the prevalence of left-handedness from two right-handed parents, slightly underestimate the case where one parent is left-handed and grossly overestimate the prevalence of left-handed children when both parents are left-handed.
The differences in the study findings are that the Coren study did not take into consideration that left-handedness appears to be driven by left-handed mothers. The McManus and Bryden study was considering the findings of several studies and concluded that there had been a misinterpretation of the findings cited.
McManus(2002:163) stated that he believed that it should be clear that people are right-handed or left-handed because of the genes they carry and that certainly that seems to be the most parsimonious way of accounting for the mass of available data of which it is impossible to make coherent sense. Of course just because a model fits does not necessarily make it correct. In the modern world the real proof that handedness is due to a gene will only come from a sequence of genes that differs symmetrically between right and left-handers. Surprisingly, few people seem to be serious about carrying out such a search. Thankfully a few are doing so, and in the not so distant future their search will be successful.
How handedness of children is affected by handedness of Parents.
7. The advantages of being left-handed. Several games require good special ability, one of the best known is chess where the ability to recognise patterns and geometrical relationships is vital. Evidence shows that there is an overabundance of lefthanders amongst chess masters in particular.(Coren 1992:163-164)
Lefties seem to have an advantage in many areas of sport. For example many champion fencers are left-handed and there have been many outstanding left-handed tennis champions. Part of this is almost certainly linked with the organisation of the brain with the right side of the brain that controls spatial awareness linked directly to the dominant left hand giving left-handers an advantage when thinking in three dimensions and in interpreting information in a three dimensional space.
A right-handed player will more usually face a "like-handed" opponent and play a similar game, playing a left-hander is less common, whereas a "lefty" will invariably have faced more right-handers and thus be quite used to their "opposite" style of play.(Sport and Art, online, 2010).This was supported recently by French researchers who took an interest in the disproportionately high number of left-handed athletes who thrive in sports involving direct one-on-one contact, such as baseball (think Babe Ruth), tennis (think John McEnroe) and boxing (think Oscar de la Hoya or the fictional Rocky Balboa).
Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond of the University of Montpellier in France figured the same reason so many left-handed people are successful in such sports could also explain a possible higher success rate among lefties in primitive combat. (Onion, online, 2010).
Kirchura suggested that lefties may be better at multitasking because of the structure of their brains:
“A study shows that links between the left and right sides of the brain run faster in left-handed people than in right-handers. Therefore, this rapid transport of data makes lefties better at being multi-tasked than right-handers”. (Kirchura, online,2008).
Waltham Forest school large scale study
In 1996 a survey of schools in the Waltham Forest area by Nigel Sadler that was a part of the Vestry House Museum exhibition, A sinister way of life? The story of left-handedness, 13th August - 16th November 1996. (Sadler, 1996,online)
The following questionnaire was sent to 86 schools in the Waltham Forest area, of which 27 replied. A brief synopsis of the results follows:
Do not provide
Books on LH for Pupils
Books on LH for Teachers
Teachers been on specific training
Are the teachers aware of the following:
Specialist LH bookshops
Specialist LH shops
Specialist LH equipment
The number of LH pupils in the school
Relationship between LH and learning disabilities
Do you sit LH together
Do you sit LH on the left side of right-handers
Figure 2- Waltham Forest Questionnaire result.
When the Department for Families, Schools and Children (DFSC) was asked by email if they was a national strategy to support lefthanders who were found to need support particularly with their handwriting the national strategies coordinator replied:
“Sorry it has taken me a while to get back to you but finding any policy documents on left-handed children was harder than expected. I looked on The National Strategies Site, Teachernet website and the QCA website. I have attached relevant documents, (Appendices 1 and 2) but couldn’t find a dedicated policy for left-handed children”
(Kirsty Lyons National Strategies 2009). (See appendices at the end of the study).
This does not mean that other schools may have produced their own policies regarding left-handedness and not published them.
Sinistrality in the United Kingdom
The government’s own website (DirectgovUK, online, 2010) provides population statistics, which includes data that informs us how many members of society are in full time and part time education, it does not tell us how many members of the population are left-handed.
In a comprehensive British survey of left-handedness in 4,063 men and 4,366 women (Bradley, online, 1992) it was found that approximately 10% of women and 12% of men were left-handed. This however varied with age, the region of the country in which the interviewee lived and other factors (which are more fully defined in the study).
McManus found that over the period 1900-1980 (McManus 2002:204), the number of people claiming to be left-handed actually increased dramatically. McManus claims that this is because those left-handed were less likely to be intimidated.
Left-handers were severely discriminated against during the 18th and 19th
centuries and it was often "beaten out" of people.
In adulthood, left-handers were often shunned by society, resulting in fewer marrying and reproducing.
The rising age of motherhood contributed as statistically, older mothers are more likely to give birth to left-handed children.
As discrimination reduced in the 20th century, the number of natural left-handers who stayed left-handed increased.
The rise in left-handedness 1900-1980
Clark suggests that 25% of young people who are left-handed will have long term handwriting difficulties if they are not given support at an early age (Clark 1955:33).
In a survey completed by over a 1,000 lefthanders aged from 11 to 60 over 25% had experienced some form of problem relating to handwriting. (Anon,online,2010).
Left-handedness, schools and handwriting
(Paul 2002:7) cited a study for the Gulbenkian Foundation of 1060 7-11 years old in Manchester. It was found that 11 % used their left-hand for writing.
The survey also revealed that although 79% of the 71 teachers questioned claimed that “they made efforts to help left-handers” 70% believed that left-handers were not educationally disadvantaged. However, only 63% were aware of the left-handers in their class.
Unfortunately, the Manchester and Berkshire studies focused mainly upon early learners and no study was found that focused specifically upon left-handed students who had moved on to college and asked what support they had been given whilst in primary school. Had their problems, particularly with handwriting been addressed?
Although left-handedness is not recognised as a category of special needs by the
due to difficulties they may incur in writing or undertaking other tasks.
Left-handers have often been found to be clumsy and have poor motor skills, the
world is geared for the more common right-hander, left-handers can have problems
with motor skills involving equipment and working situations in the school, at home,
in the community or in the workplace. Research by Coren and Halpern (1991) found
that left-handers are more likely to suffer personal injury as a consequence of trying to
adapt to a right-handed world.
The problems lefthanders may experience in the classroom have been well documented in several studies over many years.
The ones that are most relevant to this study was published in 1966 by Clark, this study highlights not only the relationships across the range of problems found in the classroom but cross laterality, eye dominance, reading difficulties, stuttering and defines other problems a lefthander may encounter.
“ it is imperative that the same attention is given to teaching lefthanders to write as right-handers and that it is important that all those associated with the teaching of teachers focus their attention on the importance teaching left-handed children to write clearly. Finally students, teachers and parents should be made aware of of the lack of evidence of failure to make progress in reading as a necessary or even likely concomitant of left-handedness” Clark(1966:30)
Alston (1997) defined a ten point plan that suggested how lefthanders should be helped in the classroom.
This study asks the question” are left-handed students getting the support some may have needed in primary school?” To answer this question a group of students at North Devon College were be asked if they had needed support with their handwriting at primary school and if so, what support were they given?
Methodology An important consideration was to gather information upon the topic of the study and to decide through this what would be needed and what would be the best approach and why. Whilst there are other methods of data collection such as:
Interviewing: A skilful interviewer can follow up ideas and probe responses and feeling which can not be achieved using a questionnaire. The major problem being that interviews are time consuming and only a small number of people could be interviewed and their answers analysed in the time available. Bell (2004:135).
Observation: There are 2 main types of observation, direct and participating. Both depend upon building up a relationship often over long periods of time.
Focus groups: This method if often used in Market research whereby the participants discuss and evaluate a given product whilst the interviewer observes and possibly records –with consent- the outcome.
A quantitative research method was chosen as this type of research generates statistics and researches many more people and the contact with those people is much quicker that with a qualitative survey method. Dawson (2007:15).
“Quantification means to measure on a numerical basis. Whenever we count or categorise we quality.” Faulkner et.al. (1991:36).
The extent of the data collection was influenced by the amount of time and funding available, the survey questionnaire method was chosen as the most suitable method for this task and the most time effective.
The left-handed students who are the focus of the study are at North Devon College. College staff agreed to carry out the survey with a group of their left-handed students.
Data gathering method chosen
A study into the support and guidance given to a specific group of left-handed students now at North Devon College when they attended primary school. The questionnaire devised was based upon Clark and Alston and a small-scale survey was chosen as a method of research because during a preliminary research of Literature no other similar study was found to be available.
Although similar research was carried out in Manchester, Paul (2002:7) and Berkshire. Bentley and Stainthorp( 1993:4-9) it was concentrated upon the pupil and how they perceived left-handedness. This study concentrates upon the teacher and school and the support given to pupils following the recommended strategy by the DFES in April 2001 and recommendations by Clark(1966), Alston (1999) and Brookman (2002).
Handwriting and allied left-handed difficulties (Appendices 1 and 2)
In the two school polices identified in the appendices the following difficulties a lefthander may have and these were highlighted in the questionnaire and each will be analysed and addressed in the survey:
Awkward hand position
Adopting unusual or poor pen grip
Unsuitable writing positions
Awkward sitting position particularly when using a computer.
Untidy, unreadable writing and smudging
Slow writing speed
Pupil seating arrangements
Figure 4 Illustration of incorrect handwriting position adopted by lefthanders Clarke (1990:35)
Arm hooked above writing (b)Writing in towards body (c) With arm cramped to side
Figure 5-Correct writing positions Clarke M (1990:40)
Chapter four Small-scale survey of Students at North Devon College
To ensure data protection in the final questionnaire the respondents will not be asked to submit their names and information gathered will be destroyed once analysis has been completed. Any personal details will only be relevant to the study in question.
Reason survey was carried out and types of questions used.
In the secondary research examined the author was unable to find data that directly questioned left-handed students about their experiences and the support they were given (if needed) in their primary education. It was therefore decided to fill a gap in knowledge by questioning left-handed students at North Devon College regarding the support they were given- if needed when at primary school.
I am left-handed. Therefore I need to be aware that bias is always a factor –Selltiz et al (1962:583) points out “interviewers are human being and not machines”.
The questions chosen were of the closed type to make analysis easier. Although there are known linksbetween left-handedness and dyslexia it would not have been possible to consider this in the word count, although staff at Exeter University said that left-handed awareness is taught alongside dyslexia awareness. i.e. As a part of special needs awareness.
Using a survey as a method of data collection and size of sample
A questionnaire is a type of survey where the respondent writes their answers to questions posed by the researcher on the question. (Bell, 2000:128-130).
There are 2,500-3,000 students at the college, this should equate to about 250 left-handed students.(Bradley, 1992, 0nline). Of the 35 students randomly selected all completed the questionnaire.
The purpose of the survey was to look at the experience of college students when they were in primary education. Research indicates that handedness is established in the early years of a child’s life, it is stated by Clarke that it is essential that support be in place in the early years, that is up to 8 years (Clarke,1966:25).
The size of the sample is restricted by availability of subjects and the willingness of those chosen to participate. The sample size in this instance was governed by the number of lefthanders in a college. Colleges do not usually have records of the left-handed students and none of the tutors approached had knowledge of the lefthanders in the classes.
I was therefore reliant upon a tutor willing to help and a sample size of 35 was selected.
4.Designing a Questionnaire- Pilot Questionnaire (appendix 4)
A pilot questionnaire was “tested” on a small group of students who were volunteering at Cancer Research UK in Barnstaple Devon.
The final survey group interviewed was selected by the college. Care was taken to ensure that all the participants were informed and aware of the reasons for the research and how the data gathered would be used. It was also agreed that anyone who wanted to see the final study was able to do so. (Ethics in research, online, 2010)
They felt that the boxes asking for “Name” and “Age” were intrusive and unnecessary as the data collected could possibly be published and those details did not have any useful purpose. It was agreed that the original questionnaire did contravene the spirit of the Data Protection Act and these fields were therefore deleted (Data Protection Act, online,2010) .
The order of the questions did not flow.
There were some grammatical and typing errors.
The Comments box at the bottom would encourage respondents to air their view and would be difficult to analyse or produce meaningful data, (more qualitative that quantitative).
It was not clear from Q1 and Q2 whether the questionnaire was aimed at both left and right-handed students.
Left Handed Questionnaire-Final
Thank you for taking the time to complete my survey Top of Form
Q1- Which hand do you use mainly for handwriting? Left Either (Please circle one selection only)
Q2-When you were at primary school did you have handwriting problems? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q3- At Primary School were you given any specific advice or guidance regarding left-handedness? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q 4- Were you actively encouraged to use your right-hand for writing? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q5- Were you aware of different handwriting positions such as the "claw"? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q6- At primary school were you given any guidance on your grip of pen or pencil? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q7- Do you find your handwriting can be untidy, unreadable or smudged? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q8- Were you ever made aware that different paper positions could aid handwriting? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q9- At primary school were you ever made aware of particular seating and computer mouse positions that could aid you? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q10- As a lefthander do you find you have to write slower to produce neat handwriting? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q11- At primary school were you made aware that if you sit on the right of a right-hander you may bump arms? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q12- At primary school were left-handed scissors available? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Q13- As a left-hander do you or other people consider you to be clumsy? Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
Are you aware of the following books written to assist lefthanders with their handwriting?
14 -Writing left handed by Jean Alston Yes No (Please circle one selection only)
15-Teaching left-handed children by M M Clark Yes No
(Please circle one selection only)
5. Conducting survey and discussion of results
A random sample of 35 left-handed students was enlisted by a tutor at North Devon College to complete the questionnaire; the questionnaire is based upon strategies recommendation by the Department of Education national strategies unit. The strategies available are based upon those developed by Clarke 1966 and Alston 1991.
The Survey findings were as follows:
Only one student stated that he was ambidextrous and able to write with either hand.
The student responses would suggest that the primary schools they attended did not have specific guidelines for teachers regarding the support of left-handed pupils.
Of the respondents 40% stated that they had had handwriting problems when at primary school. It was not possible to find research to ascertain whether this was the normally expected figure from this size group. Of this group 20% stated that unsuccessful attempts had been made to covert their handedness to right. Paul states that converting handedness is normally considered to be bad practice unless carried out by a professional as there are two schools of thought. One viewpoint is for those lefthanders who have already formed poor writing habits or who need to follow their natural tendencies as lefthanders be provided with model recommendations to help them The opposite viewpoint is that they should follow right-handed models and work in a way accepted by the majority, for example backward vs forwards sloping writing; right vs left stroke direction when forming letters; inverted vs vertical hand posture. (Paul 2002: 63).
Only two students had been shown how to hold a pen to give maximum writing benefit and only three were aware that positioning the paper made it easier for a lefthander to see what they had written (a lefthander normally covers work just done which could cause smudging if a normal ink was used instead of today’s ball pen).
A problem also encountered by the lefthander is sitting next to a right-handed person so they bumped elbows. None of the students questioned had an awareness of this problem.
To attain a good standard of handwriting it is often necessary for a left handed person to write slower. Thus exams can take longer and allowance may be necessary to give the lefthander student fair treatment.
All the primary schools attended by the students had left handed scissors available.
No students were aware of the books by Clark and Alston that gave guidance on writing issues.
Chart 1- Left-handed Students with handwriting difficulties at primary school 6. The significance of the survey data in relation to government National Literacy strategy.
In the National Literacy strategy guidance “Developing Early Writing”, which is recommended guidance for Head teachers, Teachers and Practitioners the handwriting policy (Nationalliteracystrategy,2001,online) states that provision should be made for left-handed students.
The strategy goes on to say that:
“At least 10% of children are left-handed, a slightly higher proportion of males. There is no need for left-handed children to be disadvantaged when writing if a few simple strategies are employed……” .
From the survey results it would appear that this recommendation is not being adhered to.
Chapter seven Discussion
The study survey was small scale and covered a single college for convenience of data collection it is impossible to know whether the results would be similar if done in a national survey.
In response to the questions by Peter Luff MP in 1998 (Hansard July 1998) the DFES Minister Estelle Morris at that time(Morris,online,2010) stated that it was the responsibility of the local education authority and the schools themselves to ensure that teachers have the required knowledge and training to fulfil their roles with regard to left-handed pupils. From the survey results and the lack of knowledge shown by teachers and their trainers of DFES recommendations DFES( 05/2001) it would appear that in North Devon this recommendation is not being adhered to.
The Minister also stated that she would expect all teachers to know how many left-handed pupils are in their class, from the survey this appears not to be the case.
From the literature relating to the United Kingdom only two previous examples of similar surveys were found (Paul,2002:7; Bentley and Stainthorp,1993:4-9) . Both these surveys questioned left-handed pupils about the difficulties encountered in schools. No survey could be found that questioned teachers upon their knowledge of left-handedness except that by Kissack (2004).
No literature was found that followed left-handed pupils in later life and questioned whether the support (or lack of support) had caused long-term difficulties. In an interview with the former Devon County special needs adviser, Victoria Wyatt stated that in her experience some of the left-handed pupils who had handwriting difficulties suffered from a lack of confidence that she attributed directly to these handwriting difficulties. An unpublished survey by a Disability Officer at Edinburgh University of prison inmates found that incidents of dyslexia were around 40% at the prison in question,(Kirk & Reed, 2000:20). Unfortunately, handedness was not questioned, but given the knowledge that dyslexics are 12% more likely to be left-handed than right-handed this supported conclusions by Geschwind & Galamburda (Geschwind & Galamburda, 1985).
A significant number of children experience handwriting difficulties throughout their schooling, although estimates of how many are experiencing handwriting difficulties range from as high as 44% (Alston, 1985; Rubin & Henderson,1982) to as low as 12 - 22% (Graham and Weintraub, 1996). If any of these figures are even approximately correct, it suggests that lack of handwriting automaticity may affect a significant number of primary and secondary aged children.
Clark and Alston (Clark 1966:23 and Alston 1991:67) both agree that it is imperative that support for the left-handed (or right-handed) pupils who have handwriting difficulties should be given in their early primary school years or the likelihood is that they may have problems throughout their lives.
A characteristic of the left handed writer is “pressing on” the paper too hard or writing in the “claw” position, a long term consequence being a form of repetitive strain injury and or tendonitis in the worst. (Alston 1991).
Statistics from the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) for the year 2001 (the latest published at the time this study was written (DFES, 2001) show that there were 10.1 million learners in education. Accepted research ( Bradley,1992, online) shows that 10% of males and slightly fewer females are left-handed. Research in Manchester by Paul (Paul, 2002:7) suggests 11%. In Berkshire (Bentley and Stainthorp,(1993:4-9) suggest 14.3% of special needs children are left-handed. Of these 14.3% of girls and 18.2% of boys are left-handed.
In the survey, the 30% of teachers who were aware of their left-handed learners stated that 30-50% had handwriting problems. Therefore, if over 1 million of the learners in education are left-handed it follows that 300,000 - 500,000 have handwriting problems if the survey results are correct. This is of course going to vary between primary and secondary schools; even so, it is a significant figure.
Only 30% knew of any relationship between left-handedness and any other learning difficulty such as dyslexia, for which the prevalence is known to be higher in left-handed people. In a study that compared 500 consistent left-handers with 900 consistent right-handers left-handers were 12 times more likely to have learning difficulties such as dyslexia compared to 1% of the right-handers. (Geschwind, & Galamburda1985).
Chapter nine Conclusions and observations
In the book “Teaching Left-Handed Children” written by Clark in 1970 she outlined how left-handed students should be supported in primary school. She states that “teaching left-handed pupils who have writing difficulties should take place as soon as possible in their early years ”.
In 2004 Kissack asked 35 teachers in the South West about their knowledge of the support some left handed students may need. Only one, who was a Devon County disabilities advisor had any knowledge or awareness of left-handed issues.
Professor Ted Wragg who, at that time had the responsibility for teacher training in the South West stated that they only offer a day workshop and discussed left-handedness along with Dyslexia.
The Exeter College teacher training guidelines contain no specific reference to left-handedness and if they are not sensitised to them they will not be properly aware of the difficulties or be able to ensure that left-handed children are afforded the attention they may need. This is not a theoretical problem--it affects thousands upon thousands of our children in our schools every academic year. It is not a party political issue; it is a campaign, which I began many years ago. I have asked questions of, and corresponded with Ministers for several years. The problem is getting the Department for Education to recognise that there is an unanswered issue.
Even the governments own website: (http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/primary/literacysubjectarea)
Does not acknowledge or offer support for teachers or learners, so does a problem exist? Academic studies clearly indicate that one does.
Nationally we do not know how many left-handed students are in education today.
Clark acknowledged :
“When I see students writing, sometimes with difficulty — and many left-handers have difficulty with script — one imagines that they write less and therefore perhaps achieve lower grades than those who write more, because they have simply put less on paper,” he says. “Teachers generally know very little about left-handedness and some of the difficulties left-handed people have. In consequence of a lot of those difficulties, perhaps a higher degree of creativity is produced in these people. But that is an assumption of mine.” (Clark,online, 2010).
Malvern college one of Britain’s leading independent schools, is to host a conference to explore whether schools should do more to support or stimulate the learning of left-handed pupils.
Medway et.al (2009) carried out a study of the relationship between the speed of handwriting and the abilities of year 2 students the study suggests that handwriting is an important factor in the composition of young children and that a proportion of children suffer from low levels of handwriting automaticity, which may be interfering with their composition. The suggestion by Clark that left-handed students have problems with script and as such write slower would indicate, based upon Medway, that left-handed students would suffer as a consequence. Handwriting has been seen as part of the translation of ideas, or transcription. However, in pedagogic practice this has often meant that handwriting is seen not as a part of the composing process, but as a presentation skill.
Although handwriting is often considered a matter of presentation, a substantial body of international research suggests that the role of handwriting in children’s composition has been neglected. Automaticity in handwriting is now seen as of key importance in composing but this proposition is relatively untested in the UK. This paper reports the first results of a study into the handwriting speed and orthographic motor integration of 179 Y2 children in relation to their composition. The study suggests that handwriting is an important factor in the composition of young children and that a proportion of children suffer from low levels of handwriting automaticity, which may be interfering with their composition.
The study by Medway was across 4 primary schools in Warwickshire area and 186 students of which 11% were left-handed. Whilst observations by Clark indicate that left-handed students have difficulty writing script and are slower the Medway study does not seek to differentiate or show how well the left-handed students faired.
A conclusion may well be that the lefthander may suffer because they write slower Medway study observes.
“Another aspect of handwriting performance which might be important is handedness. Left-handed children represent 11% of this Y2 sample. They score lower than right handed children in this study.”
Thirdly, and most important, the teacher training syllabus should includeleft-handedness. It would not take a great deal of time, and it would be simple to deliver. Estelle Morris MP Minister for Education and Skills (Hansard, Morris, 1998) answered: “I expect all teachers to know which children in their classes are left-handed. The hon. Gentleman's comments on elbows were helpful. Teachers have to know who is left-handed so that they can arrange their classroom and offer children specialist equipment and other help. The issues of left-handedness have been placed firmly in my mind in the past 12 months, and today's public debate has reiterated issues raised in the private debate that the hon. Gentleman and I have had. I can give him the undertaking that I will talk to the TTA. I cannot deliver on his request to require all student teachers to be made aware of the problems of left-handedness, but, once we have seen the video produced by the Post Office--for whose sponsorship I am grateful--and determine that it is of an acceptable quality, we shall be happy to distribute it to all providers of initial teacher training. I am sure that he will be happy to accept that caveat. Perhaps that will be a first step in putting the issues in the minds of the public--as he and his former constituent have put the issue in my mind”.
Piaget (1928:202-3) comments that:
“One of the most striking things one finds about the child under 7-8, is his/her extreme assurance on all subjects. ... ‘I know!’ – such is the only proof that is used for a long time in childish logic. True, the child is always asking questions, but up to the age of 7-8 a large number of the questions are rhetorical: the child knows his own answer...”.
This comment was made following experiments with children from 4 to 7 years old which found that at until children reached the age of 7 most could not distinguish between their left and right hand, leg etc.
In April 2001, the Department for Education and Skills published a National Literacy Strategy for schools entitled Developing Early Writing (DFES,2001)
The purpose of the book and accompanying CDROM is to help teachers and practitioners teach writing in the reception year of the Foundation Stage and through Key Stage 1. Its use is recommended. On page 163 of the strategy, one of the handwriting policies defined states: “There should be provision for left-handed children”. Are teachers aware of the publication? Have local education authorities given teachers the additional support they may need to cater for left-handed students?
Whilst a relevant part of this study it is a subject for further research.
In a discussion with the left-handed Headmaster of a Barnstaple primary school his response was that today handwriting is becoming less important as school work is often computer driven and thus handedness is no longer something that matters!
Children who are left-handed or ambidextrous perform worse at school than right-handers, according to a study in 2008 of national curriculum test results. Left-handed girls fare worse than boys: while left-handers from both sexes start off performing worse, girls fail to catch up with their right-handed peers during later school life.
Those who are ambidextrous from both sexes also fail to bridge the gap in performance, according to the study carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol for the Economic and Social Research Council. The researchers, who looked at the results of more than 10,000 children, reveal that left-handers perform less well in IQ tests and tests for 11- and 14-year-olds.( Shepherd,2010,online).
"Left-handed children perform worse than right-handed ones in terms of cognitive outcomes at ages eight, 11 and 14," they conclude. "The gap between left-handed girls and right-handed girls is larger than the gap between left-handed boys and right-handed boys ... there is no sense of catching-up in non-right-handed girls.
(Garner,2008,online). From (Gregg, Janke and Propper (2008))
For further discussion and findings. The government in the form of the Department For Education does not have a strategy in place to support left-handed learners, who may need it, is this affecting their long term development?
In her book “Teaching Left-Handed Children” written by Clark in 1970 outlined how left-handed students should be supported in primary school. She states that “teaching left-handed pupils who have writing difficulties should take place as soon as possible in their early years and in all too few instances are they taught how to use it”. Why today does this not appear to happen?
Two substantial studies over many years by Clark and Alston have culminated several low cost books and a training Video by Alston. Yet the teachers interviewed in past study and today were not aware of their existence. Why are such books not standard training materials for teachers?
Is the sample of lefthanders found in the survey a national representation? Other research suggests there are more left-handed students in groups of those with learning support needs, is this a reality?
If, as research suggests should a lefthander, when taking a written exam be given more time as it has been suggested they naturally write slower? (Clark,online,2010)
Chapter tenWeaknesses of study
The study survey is based upon a survey of students at North Devon College in Barnstaple Devon who attended local primary schools. In other areas primary schools may now have adopted teaching strategy for lefthanders although a national strategy is still not available.(K,Lyons,email,2009)
The questionnaire does not ask the sex or age of students so the resulting conclusions may not reflect an overall picture as there are more left-handed males than females Bradley(1992). The study does not ask the geographical location from which the respondents came and there may be strategies to support left-handed students in place in some areas.
Care was taken not to consider related aspects of left-handedness such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and twins etc. This was because of the limiting word length of an independent study.
Word count: 9,330 (not including acknowledgements)
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