Prof. Julia Knopf in dialogue with the Schreibmotorik Institut February 2017
“Enjoying writing” – didactic approaches for learning to write in teacher training
One of the main tasks of teachers in German primary schools is teaching children to read and write. According to current primary-level educational standards from the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, children should learn to write legibly and fluently by the end of their fourth year at school. However, teacher surveys clearly show that many teachers would like more basic didactic knowledge and practical preparation, in particular when it comes to problems with learning to write or difficulties in further developing handwriting. An interview with Prof. Julia Knopf, Head of the Chair of Teaching Methodology (German) at the Saarland University, about the aims of handwriting lessons and preparing students for classroom practice.
What are the central themes of handwriting lessons?
The basics of education theory define the themes clearly: one of the main aspects of literacy acquisition is teaching the children handwriting skills, e.g. the development of graphomotor skills. This requires high-quality exercises. In more advanced writing lessons the process-oriented approach plays the most important role, which means: not only is the product of writing important, but so are the planning and revision of the texts. We have to give children the skills to do this, from as early as in their first year of school.
A nationwide survey of primary and secondary school teachers in Germany showed that many schoolchildren have difficulty developing flowing, legible handwriting by the time they complete their fourth year at school. What should teachers do to provide all children with the best support?
There are numerous teaching materials that focus deliberately on this topic and provide varied exercises. In my opinion, it is also important to observe all children individually. Every child has its own way of developing flowing and legible handwriting and needs targeted support. It is a big challenge, particularly because the demands on teachers are continuously increasing. We are therefore trying to intensively prepare students for this while they are still at university.
What role do the didactics of writing lessons and graphomotor skills currently have in teacher training?
I can only speak for the teacher training in Saarland. Here, we have implemented mandatory teaching events on this topic as part of our new primary teaching course. The students can attend seminars at the University and also participate in practical seminars such as “Fit in Deutsch”, where they can apply and test their knowledge. This combination of theory and practice provides such unbelievable added value. We are seeing this more and more in our students and teachers.
What are your predictions for the future of writing lessons?
Writing is one of our cultural tools and will always play a role in German lessons. We adults should be aware that we also serve as handwriting role models to children and must enjoy handwriting. Only then can you, in my opinion, keep children enthusiastic about learning to write.
Prof. Dr. Julia Knopf studied primary teaching, majoring in German studies, at the University of Bayreuth, followed by a course in German as a second language at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. After completing her studies, she gained her teaching practice in a Bavarian primary school while also writing her literary didactic doctorate. As an academic assistant at the University of Bamberg, she subsequently focussed on grammatical and multimedia teaching issues. Before being appointed to the University of Saarland in 2012 (Professor of teaching methodology for primary-level German), she was a substitute professor of linguistics and language teaching at the University of Erfurt. Julia Knopf is a founding partner of KLEE (a company formed in partnership with Dr. Silke Ladel), which specialises in the professional development and certification of digital teaching and learning materials. She is also the author of numerous scientific papers, regularly delivers lectures and holds teacher training sessions, and is the project leader of numerous theoretical-practical projects (e.g. “Fit in Deutsch”). She is currently focussing on digital teaching and learning processes in primary school German lessons.