Hawa Learns to Write: Strategies for Handwriting Instruction
Posted by Jessica Gilmour on October 27, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryAdvocacycategoryMember Tips

ProLiteracy is pleased to highlight “Hawa Learns to Write: Strategies for Handwriting Instruction,” by Dana Downs-Kuritz, of Don Bosco School for Adults. This article is featured in the Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, ProLiteracy’s free online, peer-reviewed research journal created to inform practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and funders about best practices in adult literacy, numeracy, and English language education.

An excerpt of “Hawa Learns to Write: Strategies for Handwriting Instruction” is highlighted below.


I teach the beginning level English as a Second Language classes at the Don Bosco School for Adults in Kansas City, Missouri. We service refugees and immigrants from all over the world. In the beginning level classroom, many refugee students require guidance and instruction when they use writing utensils. They do not know how to draw basic shapes, and format letters by hand. I have developed a methodology for instructors who encounter the same unique challenge of teaching adults how to write. A series of steps for helping adults develop handwriting skills is presented in the following article. This article is written for adult basic education instructors who hope to improve their students’ handwriting ability and proficiency.

Hawa was about 5’ 8” tall and wore an African print scarf around her head. She had a contagious smile and said, “Teacher” when I met her. As she entered the classroom for the first time, I attempted to hand her a pen for the classroom sign-in sheet. She put her hands up and shook her head saying, “No, Teacher.” I quickly realized she did not want to write her name. I took her student identification card and wrote her name for her. I spelled her name aloud as I wrote, showing her how to write the letters correctly, “H-A-W-A.” She grinned, and slowly took a seat.

This was not the first time one of my refugee students had apprehensions about writing. When an adult does not know how to write their name in their native language, they seem embarrassed and display overwhelming anxiety. Their facial expression is unidentifiable: a mix of fear and guilt. After teaching a beginning level English as a Second Language (ESL) class for refugee and immigrant adults for 4 years, I have come to recognize the unique, non-verbal cues that indicates a person is reluctant to write. I have learned the appropriate response and have become very aware of my facial expressions. I communicate with my students through nonverbal gestures and picture dictionaries. It is important that I am perceived by my students as positive and constantly supportive. I develop trusting relationships with my students so that they may learn in a safe environment and I witness authentic success stories.

I have developed a series of instructional strategies that help my students write English letters coherently. I know other ESL teachers have encountered this challenge in their classrooms and have voiced their concerns about refugee adult students not writing legibly. Therefore, I would like to share my observations, tactics, and conclusions with the adult education community. Hopefully, others will gain insight into this unique writing issue and use lessons I have created which show demonstrated effectiveness in improving writing skills.

Download the Article


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