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Pencil Grip
A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies
Ann-Sofie Selin

ÅBO AKADEMIS FÖRLAG (ÅBO AKADEMI UNIVERSITY PRESS)
ISBN 951-765-130-9
ISBN 951-765-131-7 (digital)
Painosalama Oy, Åbo
Finland

ABSTRACT
Previous studies on pencil grip have typically dealt with the developmental aspects in young children while handwriting research is mainly concerned with speed and legibility. Studies linking these areas are few. Evaluation of the existing pencil grip studies is hampered by methodological inconsistencies. The operational definitions of pencil grip are rational but tend to be oversimplified while detailed descriptors tend to be impractical due to their multiplicity. The present study introduces a descriptive two-dimensional model for the categorisation of pencil grip suitable for research applications in a classroom setting. The model is used in four empirical studies of children during the first six years of writing instruction.

Study 1 describes the pencil grips observed in a large group of pupils in Finland (n = 504). The results indicate that in Finland the majority of grips resemble the traditional dynamic tripod grip. Significant genderrelated differences in pencil grip were observed.

Study 2 is a longitudinal exploration of grip stability vs. change (n = 117). Both expected and unexpected changes were observed in about 25 per cent of the children’s grips over four years. A new finding emerged using the present model for categorisation: whereas pencil grips would change, either in terms of ease of grip manipulation or grip configuration, no instances were found where a grip would have changed concurrently on both dimensions.

Study 3 is a cross-cultural comparison of grips observed in Finland and the USA (n = 793). The distribution of the pencil grips observed in the American pupils was significantly different from those found in Finland. The cross-cultural disparity is most likely related to the differences in the onset of writing instruction. The differences between the boys’ and girls’ grips in the American group were non-significant.

An implication of Studies 2 and 3 is that the initial pencil grip is of foremost importance since pencil grips are largely stable over time.

Study 4 connects the pencil grips to assessment of the mechanics of writing (n = 61). It seems that certain previously not recommended pencil grips might nevertheless be included among those accepted since they did not appear to hamper either fluency or legibility.

Key words: pencil grip, categorisation, development, handwriting, mechanics of writing, speed, fluency, legibility

Recurrent queries over the years have been “What does a correct pencil grip look like?” and “Is this pencil grip good?”

Recommendations. The frequently recommended traditional dynamic tripod grip is still a grip to encourage. Its functional attraction lies in a combination of mobility and stability without unwarranted pressure involved. There is, however, reason to expand the number of recommended pencil grips to include power grips with ease. The results of the present study thus support the analogous suggestion by Sassoon et al. (1986). The positive results in writing fluency by a power grip with ease confirm earlier studies in that stability over mobility is a prerequisite for a functional hand (Elliot and Connolly, 1984).

Furthermore, based on the analyses in Study 4, there are no pencil grips to be banned a priori for being indisputably dysfunctional.

The analysis of the pencil grip in connection to aspects of writing may add to the understanding of the whole picture of writing. The present model for pencil grip categorisation may prove to be a functional tool to be utilised in future studies tapping connections not examined in the present study. Such areas of research could range from sensory and motor factors to the writer’s self-efficacy.

Implications. A question of particular interest for pre-school personnel and teachers has been: What should I do to change awkward pencil grips? Pencil grips are largely stable over time. The results from Studies 2 and 3 confirm that three of four grips are stabilised by the time the individual is engaged in everyday writing. The results suggest that if the aim is to influence a child’s pencil grip, efforts should be made when the child is engaged in spontaneous daily writing or at the latest when writing instruction is commenced. Callewaert (1963) made similar suggestions. The child’s love for learning should, however, not be disrupted by undesired intervention. If change is called for, intervention should be initiated when an awkward, clumsy and tense grip hinders writing or daily play writing. In such an instance the modelling person could show the child how the fingertips meet in a relaxed pose, ask the child to do likewise and then help the child shape the fingers around the pencil. Most importantly, the writing (adult) persons should use the same grip as they modelled.

There is no evidence suggesting interference with the grip that is used by the child when drawing and painting, or that specific grippers or big size pens should be used in the early days of grip development (Carlson and Cunningham, 1990; Ziviani, 1981).

Schoolchildren and adults showing signs of fatigue of the hand and inconvenience of grip should be offered options. It would be useful to introduce alternative precision and power grips with ease (Figure 9) and unusual grips like the combined or adapted pencil grip (Figure 6). The latter grip has been found as functional as the traditional tripod grip in a study by Otto et al. (1966). A
discussion on how pencil grips can affect fluency and penmanship could be informative. Some individuals prefer removable grippers on their writing tools, gummy shafts and a variety of pencil, ball point or felt tip tools for convenience of writing. Pupils have the right to guidance and suggestions in the mechanics of writing. To achieve results, a combination of motivation and instruction is needed.

CONTENTS

1 INTRODUCTION

4 PENCIL GRIP AND HANDWRITING

5 PENCIL GRIP RESEARCH
6 The grips of the hand, their stability and function
8 The development of pencil grip up to seven years of age
11 Operational definitions of pencil grips
17 Pencil grips as classified by descriptors
23 The pencil grip during the school years and beyond
26 The pencil grip in relation to gender, handedness and culture
30 Limitations of existing research on pencil grip
30 HANDWRITING RESEARCH
31 Good and poor handwriting
32 Handwriting assessment
33 Handwriting tools
35 The mechanics of writing
37 Fluency and legibility
39 Other factors contributing to handwriting
41 Pencil grips and handwriting
42 Limitations of existing research on handwriting
44 AIMS OF THE PRESENT THESIS

45 A MODEL FOR PENCIL GRIP CATEGORISATION

45 THE PROPOSED TWO-DIMENSIONAL MODEL
47 The grip configuration dimension
48 The ease dimension
51 The four categories in the two-dimensional model
52 Discussion
54 FOUR DESCRIPTIVE STUDIES

54 STUDY 1: A CROSS-SECTIONAL STUDY OF PENCIL GRIPS OF FINNISH PUPILS IN GRADES ONE THROUGH SIX

66 STUDY 2: STABILITY VS CHANGE: PENCIL GRIP DEVELOPMENT FROM GRADE ONE TO FIVE

75 STUDY 3: A COMPARISON OF PENCIL GRIPS OF PUPILS IN FINLAND AND THE USA

85 STUDY 4: PENCIL GRIP AS RELATED TO WRITING FLUENCY AND LEGIBILITY

98 GENERAL DISCUSSION
98 From details to a comprehensive model
100 Changes in pencil grips
102 Cross-cultural observations
103 Connections to handwriting
105 Recommendations and implications
107 References
118 List of Figures
119 List of Tables
120 List of Appendices