Thursday, 9 October 2014

Writing for a week with a .... pen

I love writing. I might not be the best of writers, but like lots of pub drunk singers, I do it regardless of my ability, or inability. So, when offered the chance of blogging about handwriting for a week, I snapped up the chance. The catch: I had to use a pen. A lovely, shiny fountain pen. For a week, I had to use a pen.  It’s a hard life.

I am a die-hard biro user. Die-hard because I am probably close to having ink poisoning at several points during the day . I tend to chew pens so I am always embarrassed when someone asks to borrow a pen. Are you sure? I nervously hand the pen over. You can see the disgust in a person's eyes when they notice you chew pens. A psychologist would have a field day with me.
My new pen was metal: It’s quite hard to chew a pen that’s made of metal.

Anyway, for a week I wrote with a fountain pen. After a few ‘get you being posh writing with a fountain pen’s, I started to really enjoy it.

A traditional biro makes my writing blend together when I write in cursive script, yet a fountain pen made my letters clear and legible. The biro is cheap and the evidence speaks for its self. As a child I always avoided fountain pen because I seem to have the knack of getting more ink on my hands than on the page. As an adult, a fountain pen made me write slowly and clearly; something that I often fail to do because I am always in a rush.

The whole experience made me think about my writing, and, especially my handwriting. It is true that I often get students asking me to decipher my handwriting for them. Sir, what does this word mean? The problem: the letters are joined up. But, why do they have this problem? Is it my handwriting? Are they used to seeing handwritten words? How will they get familiar with if they don’t see it? There’s a sense of irony about things when primary schools spend endless hours teaching students to join letters, yet teachers don’t link letters for fear students will not be able to read them.

I am quite stubborn; I will not separate letters. Students have to get used to my writing. They have to be able to read joined up writing. Yes, we are in the modern age, but there is something special about something handwritten. How many students have read a letter, a postcard or a note? Communication is more than just typing something. It is crafting and shaping something. Technology can do this, but handwriting makes it more tangible. It is real. And, it is permanent.  

A student’s reluctance to decode handwriting is also a reflection of how technology has shaped the way we see things. Handwriting is slow. Doing it is slow. Reading it is slow. It isn’t instantaneous. In an age of things being at the click of a button, it is only right that we make students slow down and think. We want intelligent communicators. We want student to think and craft an idea and not blurt the first thing that comes to mind. We have Facebook and Twitter to help them do that. Trollers wouldn’t be a trolling if they had to write things in ink and then wait a day for the other person to read it.

So, what has my week with a fountain pen taught me? Well, the first thing is that the implement you write with is important. A cheap pen could produce cheap writing. Fancy implements make better handwriting. The second thing is that there is more we can do in schools to support handwriting, especially the reading of it.  Are we creating a problem simply by trying to help? Maybe, we have to raise the status of handwriting. The use of it. The frequency of it. The reading of it.
I am off to buy a quill and some parchment now. Maybe if Shakespeare used it, I could be as good as him one day. Who am I kidding?

Thanks for reading,


There are more blogs on teachers using pens here.  


  1. Using pens of any type unfortunately does not necessarily mean a student will 'slow down and think' and when they do its not always a success. I have seen many students get caught up in the initial draft of a document's presentation to the detriment of the content and other students grind to a halt because they they have lost the run of their thoughts in the mundane effort of trying to appear neat. The world's documents are not handwritten anymore for good reason. So we can concentrate on the content. Only such past hand written documents like The Book of Kells and Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience have benefit from both. I suppose if I was someone who had wonderfully neat (and legible) hand writing, I might not feel as strongly on this subject. However I cannot forget a postgrad exam I sat (as a mature student) where I had to write for 3 hours. My hand, arm, shoulder and neck were in pain, I had not got everything I knew on the subject down (which I could have in the time had I typed) and I left anxiously wondering if the examiner would be able to read a word I had written. I also left feeling a terrible pang of guilt for the times I had invigilated GCSE hand written exams and for what we put our children through in their everyday school lives, when the technology they are growing up familiar with, could save them from it all.

  2. I definitely agree with you about having messy handwriting. I'm actually really self conscious about it when it comes to students reading it, especially when I have to write not the board. I've actually asked my professors to hold seminars about how to have better white board handwriting. I do have to ask, since you feel so strongly about your handwriting to create a blog post about it, do you think students should be more concerned about their own? AKA should schools focus on penmanship?