Angela Webb is chair of The National Handwriting Association, a UK charity with three main aims: (1) To raise awareness of the importance of handwriting as a vital component of literacy, (2) To promote good practice in the teaching of handwriting, (3) To support those who work with children with handwriting difficulties.
Where/what did you study and what are your qualifications?
My first degree was a B.Ed (Hons) in Education and Movement from London University Goldsmiths. After several years teaching and a Certificate in Mediated Learning from the Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, I took a Masters degree in the Psychology of Education at London University’s Institute of Education.
I am currently nearing the end of my doctoral thesis which explores the relationship between the physical act of handwriting and the quality of the content of what is written.
I spent 12 years as a primary classroom teacher in mainstream schools in North London. For four years I was also the Head of an Infant school. Following my Masters’ degree I joined a multi-disciplinary team based at Great Ormond Street working with children with developmental disorders. This was headed by an inspirational Clinical Psychologist who has been the greatest influence in my career.
My own area of expertise is in the academic needs of children with Developmental Coordination Disorder and, as well as delivering targeted therapeutic intervention, my work involves liaising with schools over the management of these children day to day, particularly with regard to written literacy. This has led to my particular interest in handwriting and to my involvement with The National Handwriting Association (NHA). I also lecture part-time at the Institute of Education on Motor Development and Handwriting.
What are your current projects?
My current personal project is an experimental study with poorly coordinated boys of 9 -14 years of age, measuring the motor and orthographic demands of different writing tasks through electronic software.
On-going projects in the NHA are increasing our geographical reach around the country through the setting up of regional Handwriting Interest Groups, developing electronic aids to help adolescents and adults with handwriting problems and finding ways to provide input into the initial training of teachers as well as delivering CPD for teachers and therapists.
Who have you worked with?
With my three hats on I work with academic colleagues and university students in the research field, with clinical colleagues on the developmental team (now at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children) and also charity colleagues on the executive committee of the NHA. As a result of these three strings to my bow, I spend a great deal of time with teachers, a group with whom I feel very engaged.
What inspired you to get into this field?
As so often happens, my interest in the field of handwriting grew gradually as a result of several different elements coming together. My original training in human movement led to a fascination with children whose movement was uncoordinated.
Working with clinical colleagues who first recognized Developmental Coordination Disorder in children with normal cognitive profiles I became concerned with their issues within the classroom. Poor handwriting was frequently a problem to be addressed and increasingly this was accompanied by below-standard composition quality.
If you weren’t a teacher or psychologist, what would you be?
Both my sons work in the building industry. While my younger son was studying to become an architect I became very interested in this multi-faceted discipline, particularly in the way it encompasses visual and artistic ability, technology and engineering and also verbal and advocacy skills.
What do you do away from work?
My main hobbies are playing tennis and choral singing but my all-consuming passion is fly-fishing (Angela shows off a 21lb salmon, right). The love of fishing goes much deeper than pure recreation – in some primaeval way it connects us with our roots in the countryside and with our fellow creatures. It becomes a way of life. With my family and friends I fish on a small spate river in Aberdeenshire as well as on the chalk streams of southern England. Fishing has taken us all over the world, my particular favourites being Mid Norway and Iceland.
What’s your favourite book, and why?
Ted Hughes’s ‘Birthday Letters’. Ted connects at many points – he is a Yorkshireman (I am from the North East), he is a passionate fisherman and his poetry is quietly evocative of worlds which I have known or feel I know.
What’s your favourite album, and why?
Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’. This album is so representative of the time (late sixties when I was a student) – ‘flower power’ and whacky notions of carefree existence…..I can’t give it up.
Who’s your favourite musician/composer/singer, and why?
Tastes change over time. I have always loved British classical music and Vaughan Williams in particular. But rather in the way you discover Sunday Lunch as a sensible way to spend time in your middle years, I discovered Bach as I grew older. Though obviously classical, his work is astonishingly modern both in its symbolism and in the multi-textual harmonies which he achieves. His passions (John and Matthew) are particular favourites.
Whom do you most admire, and why?
I would like to name someone who is well-known (and there are many who have had remarkable lives). However, the people I most admire are those who are not household names, who perhaps are not even widely recognised for what they do. I think my northern, non-conformist upbringing draws me to the understated, but nonetheless totally admirable, saints one meets in day-to-day life. Many of them work for the NHA!
Angela is chair of The National Handwriting Association (NHA). Find out more about the NHA at www.nha-handwriting.org.uk.