Our objective was to enhance the identification and support of children with handwriting difficulties with the graphomotor instrument GRAFOS (PHBern) and Dynamilis (EPFL).


The “Pädagogische Hochschule Bern” (PHBern) and the “École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne” (EFPL) both engage in research related to graphomotor skills. PHBern researchers contribute expertise primarily in education and support for children with and without special needs, while the EPFL focuses on developing innovative technological tools to measure and evaluate children’s graphomotor skills. The two independently developed graphomotor instruments GRAFOS (PHBern) and Dynamilis (EPFL) built the foundation of this collaboration. The GRAFOS comprises a graphomotor screening, an observation sheet, and tools for differential diagnosis, forming the basis for the inclusive didactic concept of GRAFINK (Sägesser, Lozano, & Simovic, 2021). On the other hand, Dynamilis employs machine learning to identify and quantify handwriting difficulties, enabling the performance of individualized tasks in specially designed iPad games to improve children’s handwriting abilities.

Meta-analytic findings indicate that incorporating technology into the context of handwriting acquisition, especially when combined with other methods, can sustain motivation, and is therefore a promising approach to support children in their handwriting development (e.g., Santangelo & Graham, 2015). This underscores the promising nature of our collaborative approach. The interdisciplinary nature of the collaboration between the two institutions allowed for the unification of distinct approaches to investigate graphomotor skills. Additionally, the objective was to gain new insights into the relationship between graphomotor skills/handwriting and general school learning. Ultimately, digital and analog (paper and pencil) support options had to be implemented into the school routine in such a manner that ensures as many children as possible receive adequate support in acquiring fluent and legible handwriting.

(Zwischen-) Ergebnisse und Infos zum Projektstand


Graphomotor skills

Graphomotor skills, or writing movements, are fundamental for acquiring fluent and legible handwriting, making them essential for active participation in education, society, and culture (Vetter et al., 2010, p. 20). The acquisition of graphomotor skills involves perceptual, motor, and cognitive processes, as well as socio-emotional and specific aspects of language development. In essence, graphomotor skills demand complex psychomotor processes and represent a multidimensional developmental task for children (Mahrhofer-Bernt, 2004). The examination of orthography with the HSP (May et al., 2018) and its connection to graphomotor skills was one focus of the analyses. Previous research has indicated that graphomotor skills influence the success and temporal course of spelling, particularly in the lower primary grades where orthographic knowledge is still in the process of development (Pontart et al., 2013).


Executive functions (EF) and graphomotor skills

The automation of graphomotor skills is, besides linguistic and motor processes, related to specific cognitive processes, so-called executive functions (EF) (McClelland & Cameron, 2019). Significant correlations exist between EF and individual factors such as language, intelligence, motor skills, and self-regulation, as well as environmental factors, including the socioeconomic background (Röthlisberger et al., 2010). EF play a crucial role in children’s adaptation to school and learning-related behavior (Neuenschwander et al., 2012). The three primary components of EF, as illustrated in Figure 1, include 1) Inhibition, 2) Working Memory, and 3) Cognitive Flexibility (e.g., Diamond & Ling, 2016; Miyake et al., 2000).

Inhibition supports goal-directed behavior by suppressing irrelevant stimuli and focusing attention on writing. The inhibition of automated or dominant reactions enables a child to contemplate a specific action before execution, preventing impulsive behaviors (Diamond, 2013). Working memory is required when information needs to be stored and further processed (Diamond & Ling, 2016). As graphomotor processes of handwriting become automated, more cognitive resources (e.g., attention) can be allocated to tasks such as text generation (Olive, 2011). Cognitive flexibility builds upon these two components and is crucial for responding flexibly to changing task conditions and environments (Diamond & Ling, 2016). Cognitive flexibility promotes changing perspectives and learning from mistakes (Kubesch, 2016).



The PHBern and the EPFL conducted a joint pilot project, investigating first and second-grade children using GRAFOS and Dynamilis. Results revealed both similarities and differences between the two instruments. Additionally, the collaboration led to refinements of Dynamilis, improving the utility of the games for graphomotor support. However, effective integration into the school environment necessitated substantial conversations and knowledge exchange between pedagogy and technology, ensuring alignment with a child’s individual needs and successful implementation in the school environment.

The games recommended by Dynamilis, based on diagnostics, were complemented with analogue support offerings. Since analogue support can address a child’s individual needs in a very development-oriented way and given the motivational aspects of digital options, a combination of diverse approaches emerged as a meaningful strategy.

The investigation also aimed to explore connections between handwriting and spelling, as well as differences between girls and boys in handwriting acquisition. Handwriting was assessed with the SEMS test (Systematic Assessment of Motor Handwriting Disorders) developed by Smits-Engelsman et al. (2005), while spelling was assessed with the Hamburg Writing Test [Hamburger Schreibprobe HSP (May et al., 2018)]. Preliminary analyses indicated that boys in early primary school generally tended to show lower legibility than girls, with this gap diminishing during the transition to later primary school years. Additionally, legibility and fluency in handwriting appeared to be associated.



A documentation of the work in classes and a guide for teachers using Dynamilis in combination with analogue handwriting support will soon be available for download here. Furthermore, two journal articles stemming from this collaboration are expected to be submitted in 2024, with links provided for public access.




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