How Common Human Frequencies Affect Learning: One Concrete Example of a Fundamental Academic Skill


Much of what students do in school on a day-to-day basis involves using a pen, marker or pencil. The productivity of students in their use of these tools varies widely. Humans can create 150 to 160 legible characters or numerals per minute. Sometimes students are far from being able to write letters or numbers at this rate. This has real implications for how students perform on a variety of tasks.

Exercise #1 – Try This and Have Your Child Try it as Well

Write you first name on a lined sheet of paper with a pen or pencil as many times as you can for exactly 30 seconds. Count the number of letters in your name (e.g. 6), count the number of times you wrote your name in 30 seconds (e.g. 13). Multiply those two numbers together (e.g. 78). Double the score so that it provides a count per minute score (e.g. 156). With this score you are at 150-160, the level of fluency for this pinpoint. Is your child fluent also fluent at letter writing? I chose writing your name because it is something that you can do without thinking about it, so we are likely to get a better measure of pure hand speed. Try writing the names of the state or provincial capitals for 30 seconds and see how much your hand slows down because your brain cannot feed it information fast enough.

If your student cannot reach the aim of 150-160 characters or numerals per minute, check the way in which they are holding their pencil. Different students grip pencils differently, and not all grips are equal.

Exercise #2 – Getting a Grip – A Solution

On the preferred hand side of the student’s sheet of lined paper, draw a half-inch wide oval which is pointed towards the top right corner of the paper at about a 45 degree angle. The oval should be about as long as the pencil. Set the student’s pencil in the oval and give the student the following instruction. “I would like you to pick up the pencil, make a tally mark and then return the pencil to the oval.” Demonstrate this for the student before you have them attempt it. The aim of the exercise is to have the student make 40-50 tally marks in a minute, (twenty to twenty-five in 30 seconds). The only way the student can reach this level of performance is to grip the pencil in the usual manner in which most of us hold a pencil. Any other grip requires too much time to reposition the fingers. To increase his or her score, the student will adopt the usual grip.

Tool Skill Development

This may seem like a somewhat unimportant task, but when a student can only write slowly, every written assignment requires more time, homework becomes more of a marathon. Motivation may deteriorate and the whole situation becomes more difficult for everyone concerned. There are many such examples of tool skills, such as counting skills, which we will post later to help students by providing them fluent tool skills for use with more advanced skills. 

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