The project concerns two platforms for the analysis and remediation of handwriting difficulties, Dynamilis and Grafos, respectively developed at EPFL and PHBern.
Based on their shared interest in improving the identification and support of children with handwriting difficulties, researchers from the ‘École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’ (EFPL) and the ‘Pädagogische Hochschule Bern’ (PHBern) jointly conduct research in the field of graphomotor skills. The graphomotor instruments Dynamilis, developed at the EPFL, and GRAFOS, developed at the PHBern, build the foundation of this collaboration.
Dynamilis is an innovative technological tool that measures and evaluates children’s graphomotor skills. Using machine learning methods, Dynamilis enables the identification of children with handwriting difficulties and offers individualized tasks within various games played on iPads that aim to improve children’s handwriting abilities. In comparison, the GRAFOS instrument comprises a graphomotor screening, an observation sheet, and differential diagnosis tools for children with graphomotor difficulties. The PHBern contributes its expertise in the education and support of children with and without special needs and follows an inclusive concept (GRAFINK).
Relevance of this collaboration
The use of technology in the context of handwriting acquisition, especially when combined with other methods, can sustain children’s motivation, and is therefore a promising approach to support children in their handwriting development (Santangelo & Graham, 2015). We aim to provide both digital and analog (paper and pencil) instruments that can be implemented in the classroom and support children’s acquisition of fluent (automated) and legible (neat) handwriting. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary collaboration that unites distinct approaches to investigating graphomotor skills allows us to learn more about the relationship between graphomotor skills and general learning at school.
In two pilot projects, we analyzed first and second-grade children’s performance on Dynamilis and GRAFOS, as well as their handwriting fluency and legibility (measured with the Systematic Assessment of Motor Handwriting Disorders, SEMS; Smits-Engelsman et al., 2005). Preliminary results revealed associations between children’s handwriting fluency and legibility, as well as gender differences in handwriting skills, with boys tending to show lower legibility than girls do in the early primary school years. However, this gender gap seems to diminish during the transition to the later primary school years.
Moreover, thanks to a continuing dialogue about our expertise in pedagogy and technology, we were able to optimize the applicability of the graphomotor support games of Dynamilis. This collaboration fuels the purposeful use of Dynamilis in the school environment addressing children’s individual needs.
Graphomotor skills, respectively writing movements, are fundamental for acquiring fluent and legible handwriting and demand complex psychomotor processes, including perceptual, motor, cognitive, as well as socio-emotional processes (Mahrhofer-Bernt, 2004). By examining the link between graphomotor skills and orthography (measured with the Hamburger Schreibprobe, HSP; May & Malitzky, 1999), the PHBern and the EPFL aim to disentangle the association between those constructs in a current project. Previous research revealed that graphomotor skills influence the success and temporal course of spelling development, particularly in lower primary grades, when orthographic knowledge is yet to be developed (Pontart et al., 2013).
The automation of graphomotor skills is, besides linguistic and motor processes, related to executive functions (EF) (McClelland & Cameron, 2019). EF are specific cognitive processes that play a decisive role in the adjustment of children to school and learning-related behavior (Neuenschwander et al., 2012). The three components of EF, illustrated in Figure 1, are Inhibition, Working Memory, and Cognitive Flexibility (e.g., Diamond & Ling, 2016; Miyake et al., 2000). While Inhibition supports goal-directed behavior by suppressing irrelevant stimuli and by focusing attention (Diamond, 2013), Working Memory is required when information needs to be stored and further processed. Cognitive Flexibility builds on these two components and is crucial for responding flexibly to changing conditions and environments (Diamond & Ling, 2016).
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