Research Strands

  • Writing-Lab-research-strands-banner
    1. Assessments of handwriting speed
    2. Anna Barnett has worked with colleagues to design a test of handwriting speed – the Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting (DASH and DASH 17+; Barnett, Henderson, Scheib & Schulz, 2007, 2010). There is a version for children aged 9 to 16 years and one for those aged 17 to 25, both of which help to identify students with slow handwriting. The test is being used by Occupational Therapists, teachers and special needs tutors to measure handwriting speed and help plan how best to help those with difficulties.

      Barnett, A., Henderson, S.E., Scheib, B. and Schulz, J. (2007). The Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting (DASH). London: Harcourt Assessment.

      Barnett, A., Henderson, S.E., Scheib, B. and Schulz, J. (2010). The Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting 17+ (DASH 17+). London: Pearson Assessment.


    3. Assessment of handwriting legibility
    4. Demands for the production of fast and legible handwriting increase as children progress through school in the UK. Despite the considerable number of children faced with handwriting difficulties, there is no practical tool to assess legibility in this population. The aim of this study was to develop the Handwriting Legibility Scale (HLS) and examine its reliability and validity, before describing performance on a representative sample of primary school children.

      Barnett, A. L., Prunty, M., & Rosenblum, S. (2017). Development of the Handwriting Legibility Scale (HLS): a preliminary examination of reliability and validity. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 72, 240-247.


    5. Curriculum Based Measures (CBM) of writing assessment
    6. Composition can be difficult and time consuming to assess in the classroom. This project, part funded by the ESRC and Leverhulme Trust researched and designed a simple and reliable way of assessing short 5 minute compositions in order to highlight the children who were struggling with writing. The approach was based on the Curriculum Based Measures (CBM) approach to assessment developed in the USA but adapted for use in the UK. The project was successful in demonstrating the utility and reliability of the approach to identify children in primary school struggling to write compared to a more complex and time consuming commercial standardised test of written composition. The approach is recommended for classroom teachers.

      Dockrell, J. E., Connelly, V., Walter, K., & Critten, S. (2018). The role of curriculum based measures in assessing writing products. In Miller, B., McCardle, P., & Connelly, V. (Eds.). Writing development in struggling learners: Understanding the needs of writers across the lifecourse. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

      Dockrell, J. E., Connelly, V., Walter, K., & Critten, S. (2015). Assessing children's writing products: The role of curriculum based measures. British Educational Research Journal. 41(4), 575-595.


      Writing-Lab-2

    1. Writing difficulties in children with developmental dyslexia
    2. Developmental dyslexia refers to a specific learning disorder affecting word recognition, decoding and spelling. Although considerable research has been conducted in the last decades on the reading difficulties experienced by children with dyslexia, writing difficulties have been comparatively neglected. However, writing skills are also a fundamental part of academic and professional achievement. A series of projects investigating the writing difficulties experienced by children with dyslexia from 8 to 16 years of age have taken place and/or are ongoing. For a number of these projects, in order to clarify the specific cognitive processes that may be contributing to writing difficulties, participants are asked to write words or text with different characteristics on a digitising tablet. This allows us to analyse different online measures of the written response, as writing velocity or writing onset time.

      In an ongoing study within this project, children with and without dyslexia are invited to write words under articulatory suppression conditions (i.e., repeating a meaningless syllable at the same time). This study will help us to detect potential differences in the use of lexical and sublexical information between both groups of children.

      A previous project with Dr Emma Sumner was successful in demonstrating that children with dyslexia were no slower at handwriting than their peers. However, they tended to show more pauses within and between words when writing text especially around misspellings. Thus, they did take longer ten their peers when writing text and so examination concessions such as extra time are required to provide an “even playing field”. It was concluded that spelling difficulty was the main factor explaining their more poorly rated written compositions in contrast to their peers.

      Afonso, O., Suárez-Coalla, P., & Cuetos, F. (in press). Writing impairments in Spanish children with developmental dyslexia. Journal of Learning Disabilities.

      Sumner, E., Connelly, V.,& Barnett, A. L., (2014). The influence of spelling ability on vocabulary choices when writing for children with dyslexia. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49 (3), 293-304

      Sumner, E., Connelly, V., & Barnett, A.L. (2014). The influence of spelling ability on handwriting production: children with and without dyslexia. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 40(5), 1441-1447. DOI: 10.1037/a0035785

      Sumner, E., Connelly, V., & Barnett, A. L. (2012). Children with dyslexia are slow writers because they pause more often and not because they are slow at handwriting execution. Reading & Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal.


    3. Writing difficulties in adults with developmental dyslexia
    4. Writing difficulties associated to developmental dyslexia do not seem to resolve with time. In fact, spelling difficulties are one of the most frequent complains among adults with this learning difficulty. Previous research published by members of our team has shown that these difficulties are not identical to those observed in children with dyslexia. Within this line of research, we work to clarify which impairments are overcome in adulthood by mere frequent exposure to the language and which processes persist even in highly educated adults with dyslexia.

      An ongoing study within this research area is examining the predictors of writing ability in adults with dyslexia and the role of poor spelling in their continuing difficulties. Other recent work includes a survey regarding the provision of examination concessions for students with dyslexia in Higher Education. Do universities allow student with dyslexia access to tools such as spell check when they are word processing examinations? If not, why not, given the evidence that spelling is at the heart of their difficulty writing.

      Afonso, O., Suárez-Coalla, P., & Cuetos, F. (2015). Spelling impairments in Spanish dyslexic adults. Frontiers in Psychology: Language Processes, 6. doi: 0.3389/fpsyg.2015.00466.

      Connelly, V., Sumner, E., & Barnett, A. L. (2015). Dyslexia and writing: Poor spelling can interfere with good quality composition. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 6 (2).


    5. The impact of spellcheck for adult writers with and without dyslexia
    6. For students in Higher Education (HE) academic achievement is largely assessed via written work and writing is a large part of day-to-day life. Thus, difficulties with writing have implications for daily activities and academic attainment for HE students. Adults with dyslexia struggle with spelling and they devote large proportions of their cognitive resources to spelling when writing. Results from our initial questionnaire study indicate that for students in HE (with and without dyslexia), using word processors (such as Microsoft word) is more popular than handwriting and that spellcheck is almost always used and is considered a benefit of word processing over handwriting.

      Despite the popularity of spellcheck, there has been very little research conducted in this a For students in Higher Education (HE) academic achievement is largely assessed via written work and writing is a large part of day-to-day life. Thus, difficulties with writing have implications for daily activities and academic attainment for HE students. Adults with dyslexia struggle with spelling and they devote large proportions of their cognitive resources to spelling when writing. Results from our initial questionnaire study indicate that for students in HE (with and without dyslexia), using word processors (such as Microsoft word) is more popular than handwriting and that spellcheck is almost always used and is considered a benefit of word processing over handwriting.

      Despite the popularity of spellcheck, there has been very little research conducted in this area. It is assumed that spellcheck provides a positive boost to the writing process, particularly for those with spelling difficulties. However, our data so far suggests that the automatic underline that spellcheck provides encourages less efficient editing behaviour than when spellcheck is not activated. Less efficient editing behaviour may be more detrimental to students who struggle with writing than to peers.

      In this ongoing PhD project, HE students aged 18-22, with and without dyslexia edit spelling errors whilst producing text on a PC with and without spellcheck activated. Typing and looking behaviours are measured with keystroke logging (InputLog) and eye tracking in an experiment that uses software created specifically for this research. It is assumed that spellcheck provides a positive boost to the writing process, particularly for those with spelling difficulties. However, our data so far suggests that the automatic underline that spellcheck provides encourages less efficient editing behaviour than when spellcheck is not activated. Less efficient editing behaviour may be more detrimental to students who struggle with writing than to peers.

      O’Rourke, L., Connelly, V., & Barnett, A. L. (2018). Understanding Writing Difficulties through a Model of the Cognitive Processes Involved (pp. 11–28). In Miller, B., McCardle, P., & Connelly, V. (Eds.). Writing development in struggling learners: Understanding the needs of writers across the lifecourse. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.


    7. Writing difficulties in children and adults with language difficulties
    8. This is an ongoing project that builds on previous work funded by the Leverhulme and ESRC (see EWSC pages here:). Recent projects include capturing the drivers of writing performance in struggling writers, analysis of spelling morphologically complex words and examination of the use of verbs in the writing of children with language difficulties.

      Connelly, V., & Dockrell, J. E. (2015). Writing development and instruction for students with learning disabilities: Using diagnostic categories to study writing difficulties. In C MacArthur, S. Graham, J. Fitzgerald (Eds) Handbook of Writing Research, 2nd Edition. (pp. 349-363). New York: Guildford Publications.

      Critten, S., Connelly, V., Dockrell, J. E., & Walter, K. (2014). Inflectional and derivational morphological spelling abilities of children with specific language impairment. Frontiers in Psychology: Cognitive Science. 5:948. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00948

      Connelly, V., Dockrell, J. E., Walter, K., & Critten, S. (2012). Predicting the Quality of Composition and Written Language Bursts from Oral Language, Spelling and Handwriting Skills in Children with and without Specific Language Impairment. Written Communication. 29, 278-302.


    9. Writing difficulties in Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
    10. Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. This condition is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke. The range of intellectual ability is in line with the general population. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present; these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experience, and will persist into adulthood.

      An individual’s coordination difficulties may affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in education, work and employment. Handwriting difficulties are commonly reported in children and adults with DCD. We have conducted several studies to gain a better understanding of the nature and extent of handwriting difficulties in DCD.

      Prunty, M., & Barnett, A. L. (2017). Understanding handwriting difficulties: A comparison of children with and without motor impairment. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 34(3/4), 205-218.

      Prunty, M. & Barnett, A. L. (2017). Accuracy and consistency of letter formation in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: an exploratory study. Journal of Learning Disabilities.

      Prunty, M., Barnett, A. L., Wilmut, K., & Plumb, M., (2016). The impact of handwriting difficulties on compositional quality in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(10) 591-597.

      Prunty, M., Barnett, A. L., Wilmut, K., & Plumb, M. (2016) Visual perceptual and handwriting skills in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder. Human Movement Science, 49(49):54.


      child-handwriting-box-image

    1. Phonological and orthographic processes in English spelling
    2. English is a language with numerous and complicated spelling rules and exceptions. Children need extensive training to acquire it and most adult English speakers struggle with the spelling of a number of words. This is due to the fact that English is a language with a so-called opaque orthography. This means that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters, with most phonemes having more than one potential spelling. Research has shown that the peculiarities of English make difficult the generalisation of findings obtained in other languages.

      In this project, we test the influence of phonological and orthographic information in adult English speakers by adapting paradigms used by members of our group in previously published research conducted in other languages. This study will help to determine to what extent findings obtained in other languages can be applied to English language.


    3. Writing in English as an additional language
    4. In a world in which professional and academic mobility across different countries has become fairly common, the number of non-native English speakers who need to learn to write in English as an additional language (EAL) continues to growth in UK. How the rules of the native orthography interact with those of English during writing acquisition? Which characteristics of the first language may benefit and which may hinder English learning? What are the main obstacles that children and adults need to face to be effective writers of English as an additional language?

      In this project we will address these questions by comparing the effect of different psycholinguistic variables in the writing productions of learners of EAL who are native speakers of different languages. At the moment, a study about the spelling ability of Spanish speakers with different levels of proficiency in English is being conducted in collaboration with Prof Carlos J. Álvarez (Universidad de La Laguna, Spain).

      Psychology writing image computer

    1. The role of the phonological loop and the visual sketchpad in handwriting
    2. It is well known that working memory processes are recruited during writing production. However, it is unclear how different components of working memory contribute to the diverse processes involved in handwriting.

      In this ongoing project we focus on the role played by the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad during handwriting. It is assumed that both components of the working memory system will be recruited during writing production, but they will affect different aspects of the production process. In a dual-task paradigm, participants are asked to write words on a digitising tablet while they perform diverse concurrent tasks.


    3. Serial order in spelling
    4. Spelling requires the production of a series of letters in the correct order. How exactly the identity of a letter is linked to a particular position in the series is a question that has not been studied in depth until very recently, mainly due to methodological difficulties.

      In this project we explore different paradigms to investigate how serial order is coded in orthographic representations. In an ongoing study within this project, we focus on the production of words with repeated letters to clarify how the spelling system processes the occurrence of the same letter in more than one position.

      Copy-of-Writing-Lab-1