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Professor Presses Practice for Progress in Penmanship

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Some people view the eccentric flourishes of their handwriting as a sign of creativity or a statement about their personality, but for those who have to read it--teachers or colleagues at work--poor penmanship is simply a problem.

John O. Cooper, a professor at Ohio State University who has spent the past nine years studying how to improve the way penmanship is evaluated and taught, advo-cates improved classroom instruction to help eliminate the illegible scrawl.

Mr. Cooper speculates that handwriting skills have declined during the past two decades. He attributes the decline in part to "the mood during that time, which placed greater emphasis on creative expression and less on formal discipline."

He points out that handwriting also may not be seen as particularly important. "You can have very poor penmanship and it doesn't reflect on you," he says. "A successful professional can have poor handwriting and no one thinks twice about it, unlike math or reading skills."

Mr. Cooper and two colleagues, David Hill and Jennifer Porter, also professors of human-services education at the university, have developed a technique that uses transparency overlays to compare students' letters to models so that the fledgling script writers can evaluate their own handwriting better and teachers and researchers can measure penmanship skills more objectively.

Recently, Mr. Cooper notes, there has been "a swing back to more formal instruction." His research has shown, he says, that the best method for teaching penmanship is still the "old-fashioned way where the teacher demonstrates how to write the letter on the blackboard, talks about how the letters are made, and the students copy it."

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