Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

Author Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, discusses why drawing is the most consistent strategy he uses to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. He finds that combining drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity aids in increasing these skills.

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

By Jason Gonzales, OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?

It is now my 19th year as a school-based occupational therapist. I have worked in five states, in at least 15 school districts, and I’ve lost count of how many schools. I have worked with children from the islands of Hawaii to the urban areas of New York City and have treated a variety of diagnosis including dysgraphia, autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. When asked during a job interview what materials I would need, my answer was always “pencil and paper.” And it wasn’t to practice copying the letters of the alphabet, but to draw. Drawing is the most consistent strategy that I use to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. From my experience, handwriting needs are the most common reason why a student is referred for occupational therapy. The quality of the student’s handwriting can be impacted by a variety reasons including poor letter formation, line orientation, and spacing and size, possibly due to decreased fine motor strength, endurance, motor coordination, posture, motivation, or visual perceptual skills. Drawing can address all of these areas and it’s one of the easiest activities to grade based on a child’s abilities. And there is research to back this up.

WHY IS A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

Teachers are beginning to use drawing as a problem-solving tool with the feeling that the pictures students create

help them to keep track of information that is difficult to process and help them to “see concepts from a different perspective, giving [them] ideas on how to proceed with a problem. (1)” Considering that “drawing (scribbling, actually) is the first step in the development of the graphomotor skills necessary for handwriting mastery (2 p. 16)”, it makes sense to include it in a plan to enhance a student’s handwritten work. The process of creating a picture using colors, shapes, and elements correlates with the process of learning handwriting skills. Each process “combine(s) the arrangement of shapes, elements, and sometimes colors into a language that sends a message considered important to share with someone (2, p. 16).” In addition, art offers children with an opportunity to develop visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills that will benefit their handwriting practice.

A research study conducted by Fernandes, Wammes, and Meade (3) was designed to explore whether drawing the information that they were expected to learned enhanced the memory of undergraduate students. The findings revealed that:

• The students realized greater gains from drawing the information than from “other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing the to-be-remembered information (3 abstract)”.

• It was believed that “the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information. (Wammes quoted in 5)

• “Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. (Wammes quoted in 5)”

• These benefits were realized across learning styles and artistic talent levels and included note taking as well as the understanding of complex concepts (3 shared in 4, p. 2-3).

The researchers believed that drawing provides an opportunity to take an active role in learning where we “must elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect [the] created picture (pictorial processing) (3 as cited in 4, p. 2-3).”

And that appears to hold true for elementary school students as well. A study by Norris, Reichard, and Mokhtari titled, “The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance (6),” “compared the writing products of 60 third grade students who drew before writing a story on a self-selected topic (Experimental Group) with the writing products of 59 third grade students who simply wrote without drawing (Control Group).” The results showed that students who engaged first in a drawing activity,

• “tended to produce more words, sentences, and idea units, and their overall writing performance was higher;”
• “seemed to be much more enthusiastic about the visits from [the] researcher;”
• at times “independently drew about and composed extra stories, according to their teachers;” and
• demonstrated pleasure with writing experiences (6, p. 25).

In contrast, those students who were not afforded the opportunity to draw first before writing:

• were less enthusiastic about the writing task; and
• appeared to be “stymied completely after writing only a few lines,” seemingly “suffering from lack of confidence in their writing ability,”
• with some stopping their writing “well in advance of the required time limit (6, p. 25-26).”

Another significant finding was that these results were consistent for both boys and girls, regardless of group membership (6, p. 26).

(Click on The Grinch picture at the top of this article for a free downloadable resource containing these research results.)

Directive Drawing as a Tool

Armed with that research, we can now take a look at how drawing activities work with my students.

I typically use directive drawing activities which can be completed at a pace that allows the children to draw based on their capabilities, whether they can draw simple shapes or only prewriting strokes. It is important to know the children’s baseline so that you don’t overwhelm them. When a child is working on prewriting strokes or simple shapes, tracing or copying lines can be boring for both the child and the therapist. Incorporating the drawings into something functional, especially if it’s an interest of the child such as Pokemon or Thomas the Train, is an essential element in order to improve participation. Through directive drawing, I showed a 5-year-old child how to draw Optimus Prime using only squares. Using a variety of square sizes, the child was able to work on visual perceptual skills; spatial terminology such as next to, above, below; fine motor endurance; and pencil grasp. Once a drawing is complete, the children can work on coloring and/or handwriting. Usually children are pretty excited about their work. At that time, you can say “Let’s show your (teacher, mom, dad, etc.)! But first we want to (write your name, the name of the character, or a quick sentence on the bottom). Let’s make sure we write neatly so that they can read it.”

Drawing activities work on pencil grip and attention skills.
“Mickey” – This drawing was done by a first grader whose goal was to hold a pencil and participate in a pen-to-paper task for 8 seconds. He had difficulty writing his name, coloring, and drawing.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can work on attention and impulsivity.

For children who have difficulty focusing or attending to pen-to-paper activities, I can move them at a desired pace designed to slow them down because they have to wait until the next step. I have done whole class drawing activities in both general education classrooms and special education classrooms from kindergarten to high school. The most successful drawing activities are the ones that are interesting and have an element of surprise, such as not telling them what they are going to draw. This strategy improves the children’s attention to the task and decreases their impulsivity to move ahead. Watching a whole kindergarten classroom pick up their pencils to draw and put their pencils down waiting for the next step at the same time is a sight to be seen. Also, the students liked trying to guess what they were drawing.

Drawing activities can work on increasing attention skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills.
“Balthazar Bratt” was done by a 4th grade student whose goal was to improve fine motor skills, improve handwriting, and increase attention to tabletop activities. He was able to attend and complete this activity for 25 minutes.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can include academics which makes learning fun and interesting.

Here are some examples of how I was able to incorporate the students’ interests with their academics in a grades 2-3 special education class while working on their IEP goals.

This drawing activity included measuring and drawing lines with a ruler.
“Steve from Minecraft”
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

“Steve from Minecraft” was a math activity. The class was learning Perimeter and Area. I started the activity by handing students a ruler and a pencil, as well as a piece of paper that included only the square for his head and the lines for writing. The class practiced using a ruler to draw straight lines, coloring within the lines, copying the words “perimeter” and “area” from the board, and writing a sentence or two based on the character. They also had to use the ruler to calculate the area and perimeter of “Steve’s” head, arms, and legs.

Drawing activities can include literacy skills such as math.
Pig Activity
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

In another strategy, I was able to use the above “Pig” activity and modify it by adding math. In addition to the skills involved above, this activity also included working on scissor skills; coloring; generating sentences on a given topic; letter spacing, sizing, and line orientation.

Drawing activities are the most engaging activity that I have found that improves both handwriting and attention, but most importantly it boosts self-confidence.

When children are engaged and have self-confidence, they are open to learning. The best part about drawing is that it is subjective, which means that the drawing doesn’t have to be accurate as long as the student is satisfied. And who doesn’t like a Picasso-looking picture? Remember the purpose of the activity is not to draw perfectly but to learn the academic-related activity such as math, writing, and handwriting. So as parents, therapists, and teachers, it is essential that you provide positive feedback especially when that child is proud of his or her work. And when a child is not satisfied or appears frustrated that one eye is larger than the other eye, this is a good time to mention that that’s why Edward Nairne invented the eraser in 1770. It is also a good opportunity to work on visual perceptual skills and have the student identify the differences and determine how can they can be fixed.

Kids learn to draw before they write.

It’s their early form of telling stories and from my experience it can push a child towards or away from pen-to-paper activities. One thing to remember when working with children, especially when they are really young, is that our external words become their internal words. Give them the freedom to be creative and make mistakes; and most importantly provide them with positive feedback, because the bottom line is that they want you to be proud of them. When a child constantly hears that their drawing, writing, coloring, etc., isn’t good enough, they will believe it and start to disengage from those activities and even demonstrate task avoidance behaviors. I have found it much easier to increase self-confidence, attention, and fine motor skills when I combine drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity. And remember, it’s never too late to introduce drawing to your students or children.

Jason Gonzales has been practicing school based occupational therapy for 18 years. He graduated from the Ohio State University in 2001. Jason is married and has two kids and a chihuahua. He has worked in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Double Time Docs and founder of The Better Grip. He has been on several occupational therapy podcasts including OT Schoolhouse, OT4Lyfe, and Ontheaire.

All photos, with the exception of one, are the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, and their use is prohibited without his permission. The photo of the children drawing is the property of the owner at the link provided; and if it is shared, his information should be included with the photo.

References:

  1. “Building Your Child’s Problem Solving Tools: Drawing.” ExSTEMsions, June 24, 2019. Retrieved from https://exstemsions.com/blog/drawing?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=want-to-help-your-child-to-be-a-better-p
  2. Collmer, K. J. Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.
  3. Fernandes, M.A., Wammes, J.D., & Meade, M.E. (2018). The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory [Abstract]. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(5), 302-308. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721418755385
  4. Terada, Y. (2019, March 14). The Science of Drawing and Memory. Want students to remember something? Ask them to draw it. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/science-drawing-and-memory
  5. Study International Staff (2016, April 26) University study finds drawing can improve memory. SI News. Retrieved from https://www.studyinternational.com/news/university-study-finds-drawing-can-improve-memory/
  6. Norris, E. A., Reichard, C., & Mokhtari, K. (1997). The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 38 (1) September/October 1997, Article 2 (13-30) Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol38/ iss1/2

Kindergarten Readiness Skills

 

As this school year begins, some children will be entering pre-school and beginning to learn kindergarten readiness skills.  The stakes are higher now for kindergarteners, with this grade becoming the “new first grade.”  What was once a time for honing socialization skills, understanding school behaviors, and becoming familiar with the use of school utensils, kindergarten is now a place to jump in with both feet to learn math, language, and all about their world! Therefore, it is important for parents to be knowledgeable about what will be expected of their children when they open those kindergarten doors.

As therapists and teachers, it is important for us to understand this as well and to have resources at hand to help guide parents.  The blog below, “10 Handy Helpers for Kindergarten Readiness,” is just that – a resource for professionals and parents to share.  It provides a bit of research findings relative to kindergarten readiness, a general list of skills that kindergarteners are expected to have to enhance their learning and growth, and a group of easy-to-implement and family-friendly activities that can help build those readiness skills.

I hope that you will find it helpful!  Just click on the little gal below to read the article!

As always, thank you for reading!

 

Kindergarten readiness skills can be developed at home with simple everyday tasks!

 

 

 

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures are the property of the author and must provide a link back to this article or her website.  Those that provide a link to the originating source should include that link when they are shared.

Picture included with the link to the article is the property of Pixabay.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handwriting: You can take it personal.

Betty Edwards Quote Handwriting
Quote from Betty Edwards: http://drawright.com

 

Handwriting:  You can take it personal.

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L,

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

 

 

 

 

The goal of a handwriting instruction program is to guide the writer toward an efficient handwriting style that is both fluid and legible.  Good penmanship is often defined by the level of proficiency the writer has achieved with the formations of letters, their proper placement on the lines and the paper, and the ability of the reader to interpret the intended message.  But how important is good penmanship?

 

From One Perspective

In a review of Tamara Plakins Thornton’s book, Handwriting in America:  A Cultural History, Dyas Lawson reveals the author’s interesting perspective of good penmanship.  It seems that Ms. Thornton had a “secret conviction that good penmanship does not matter, that if anything it Handwriting in America Thorntondenotes a person who is fearful or incapable of being in any way unusual.”  She goes on to say that the belief that one’s personality is reflected in his or her handwriting leads us to consider that a penmanship style that conflicts with the impression of “what teachers would call good handwriting,” one that conforms to the rules and looks like the formations printed in the instruction workbooks, would be the “mark of individuality” (as cited in Lawson, n.d., para. 3).  Yes, conformity is the standard of proficiency.   An effective handwriting instruction program demands a regimented curriculum and can indeed appear to be conducted in a “militaristic” fashion, as Lawson described the A. N. Palmer methods teachers used in their classes.  Lawson concedes, however, that although their practice began with the “issuing [of] commands: ‘Pens. Position. Circles’,” the teacher did “get results” (Lawson, n.d., para. 5).  I have always considered the process of learning and mastering the skill to write letters to lead to the discovery of a comfortable and personalized handwriting style with which to convey thoughts, feelings, and knowledge efficiently.  It seems strange somehow that an adult’s use of an individualized, nonconforming form of expression should be considered a weakness when it should be treated as a strength, a culmination of the years of practice and use of a handwriting style. If it’s legible, I consider it to be good penmanship.  Why are we still judged by our handwriting?   Perhaps the evolution of handwriting, the various places it has held in society, and its transition into a formal mode of communication has set the stage for this all-or-nothing standard for proficiency.

 

Some (a lot of) History

The birth of writing.  Not long ago, formal penmanship instruction was considered to be a valuable school subject, one that was taught with as much rigor as reading, math, and science.  But long before the introduction of standardized forms of handwriting that would serve as communication tools in every facet of life, cultures were concerned more about the basic need to exchange information to document their norms and histories. The earliest known form of communication presented in what we now call writing may have been cave paintings called pictographs and petroglyphs (paintings and incised pictures on stone, respectively) (Introduction to the History, n.d.).   Sumerian cuneiform, written with a reed stylus, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, carved in stone or painted on papyrus, as well as early Kanji Chinese letter forms, are considered to be the origins of writing, providing people with “a codified system of standard symbols:  the repetition of agreed-upon simple shapes to represent ideas” (History of Handwriting, n.d., p. 1).  The pictographs and ideographs (a combination of pictographs used to represent ideas) used in these methods of writing provided people within those cultures an opportunity to record their thoughts and creative ideas, as well as document their histories, discoveries, and theories (History of Handwriting, n.d.  p. 1) But not just any people.

 

These methods were specialized tools for communication comprised of many signs that took scribes years to master.  Originally, hieroglyphics were used to present religious writings and scribes were valued and highly respected, ranking at the top of the social chart.  Only those families with money could send their boys to school to learn this skill and those who were chosen to perform this task did not pay taxes, have to perform any military hieroglyphs pcdazero pixabayduties, or do manual labor.  (Egyptian Scribes, n.d., para. 2)  During the period before the invention of the printing press, handwriting skills were considered valuable rights that could enhance your life and prevent you from being “sent out into the fields to mow hay or to plow” (Saba, 2011, para. 6).  Scribes dedicated their lives to produce books and manuscripts in monasteries and it is thought that each monastery had its own style of handwriting (Saba, 2011).   Arnie Sanders, an associate professor of English at Goucher College in Baltimore, reveals that “The real purpose of writing was to propagate the word of God, and to regulate the worship of God.  That’s what kept handwriting alive, and why it was taught as a vocation” (as cited in Saba, 2011, para. 8).  As writing continued to maintain its status as an important religious documentation tool, it is felt that the demand of a more expeditious and legible script most likely led to the creation of the alphabet (Introduction to the History, n.d.).

 

The journey of the alphabet.  The Phoenicians developed a 22-letter phonetically-based alphabet that translated “ideographic writing to phonetic writing” (Introduction to the History, n.d., p. 8).  This spread to Greece, where it was transformed into an alphabet using 24 letters, including vowels.   This was later adopted by the Romans, who used 23 letter forms and additional consonants.  This alphabet consisted of only capital letters, with a more informal script developed later that “was the earliest sign of lowercase letter forms, with ascenders, descenders and ligatures between the letters” (History of Handwriting, n.d., p. 3) and would be used to record transactions and conduct correspondence.

The invention of the printing press and the creation of the “very delicate type faces with many flourishes and curliques in [their] script-like letters” (History of Handwriting, n.d., p. 4) resulted in the production of aesthetic looking documents.  The desire to emulate this style of print elevated the advantages of having an elegant handwriting style.  Those who possessed one enjoyed a higher social status.  It is felt that “it took the printing press to create a notion of handwriting as a sign of self,” (Atrubek, 2009, p. 3) slowly becoming a “form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication.” (p. 4).

 

You are your handwriting.  At this point, handwriting had remained a somewhat personal skill, following prescribed alphabets but allowing for its presentation to be more class-based rather than conforming to a standardized format.  Clerks, engravers, ladies, and gentlemen all produced handwriting The Fountain Pen Network handwritingstyles that pointed to their individual stations in life.  During Colonial times, a handwritten document could readily identify the writer’s “social status, educational level, and relative importance in society” (Lawson, n.d., para. 8)  And although prominent figures in society, such as Benjamin Franklin, strongly supported good penmanship, only wealthy men were afforded the opportunity to learn it.  Encyclopedias and books included entries to illustrate appropriate writing equipment and grip, as well as the proper seated posture for writing (Makala, 2013, p. 8), and reference volumes were printed to educate clerks or tradesmen on the written transactions used in business (p. 10).   When training was finally offered to educate teachers as well as the general public on handwriting styles, it is evident that penmanship was considered a valuable and economically viable skill to sell.  Documentation recorded in 1849 indicates that “100 writing academies [were registered] in New Hampshire and 272 in Rhode Island” (Kaminski, n.d., (section “Understanding Edison’s Writing”).

During this time, penmanship instruction books for students were being developed to encourage the advancement of specific handwriting styles.  And handwriting styles became a topic of discussion among educators.  When public education was established and formal methods of handwriting instruction were being developed during the early 19th century, the leaders in handwriting instruction began to consideration the relative benefits of a “synthetic method [of] teaching” versus a “muscular-movement” method (Doughtery, 1917, p. 281).  This led to the debate over the importance of learning the individual stokes that formed a letter (synthetic) versus understanding the influence of the arms, hands, and fingers in the process of writing (muscular-movement). During the later years of that century, the elements of handwriting instruction that sparked concern in the minds of educators were not only the style of handwriting to teach and the method of instruction, but also the question of paper positioning and the desks that would facilitate its mastery.  (Doughtery, 1917)

 

Enter Mr. Spencer.  By the mid-19th century, those interested in developing an efficient handwriting system turned to a combination of the methods described above, with an emphasis on forearm movement included in the teaching of letter formations.  Platt Rogers Spencer, considered by some to be “the father of American handwriting,” (Atrubek, 2009, p. 3) designed what would become “the first accepted American standard for learningSpencerian Penmanship TheoryAndCopyBookSet Mott Media penmanship” (Introduction to the History, n.d., p. 22).  He built a chain of business schools to teach his script, believing that its mastery would “make someone refined, genteel, upstanding” (Handwriting is History, p. 3).  The Spencerian method was a form of cursive that included “ornate and sinuous” strokes (Cohen, 2012, para. 3) and was quickly adopted by schools and businesses.  Spencerian script was introduced and taught in schools from the 1860s to the 1920s (Handwriting is History, n.d.).  Also during this time, the creation of a public school grading system led to the creation of handwriting books designed to fit the developmental needs of the students in each grade (Doughtery, 1917).

 

At this time, some handwriting masters thought that “vertical writing,” or one produced without a slant, would be a preferable style “based on superior hygienic conditions” (Doughtery, 1917, p. 283).  I’m not quite clear about what Doughtery was referring to here; but I’m assuming that vertical writing produced in conjunction with vertical paper placement may have been felt to be more conducive to maintaining an upright body position to facilitate posture and to reduce eyestrain, for the author notes that neither of these were remedied by this handwriting practice.  She further notes that vertical writing “was found to be inefficient from the viewpoint of speed and legibility and so was abandoned” (p. 283) at the end of the 19th century.

 

Here comes the point!  The 20th century brought with it once again the demand for a style of writing that was more efficient in terms of speed and formation.   The Spencerian method was thought to be “too slow, ornamental, and inefficient,” (Makala, 2013, p. 14) requiring the writer to lift the pen off the page, sacrificing legibility for speed.  A. N. Palmer considered the Spencerian script to be less suited to the industrial age and created a “plain and rapid style” (Artubek, 2009, p. 3), the Palmer Method.   In the late 19th century, educators adopted his regimented program that utilized his strategy for teaching letter formations first on a chalk board using large arm movements and then gradually reducing the size of the letter formations until the appropriate size was achieved on paper (Lawson, n.d.).  (Sound familiar, OTs?)  Dyas Lawson sums up the significance of the implementation of this regimented format for handwriting instruction succinctly:

 

“As typewriting had mechanized office communication, Palmer turned individual writers into machines – the social importance ascribed to handwriting had again transmogrified from an integral indicator of character to a disconnected musculoskeletal function” (p. 5).

 

Lawson does concede, however, that Palmer did provide an efficient handwriting style that was uniform and legible.  The Palmer method was the “dominant tradition in American handwriting instruction from the 1890’s,” (Makala, 2013, p. 14) finally being unseated as the favored program in the mid-twentieth century.  At that time, educators felt it was more advantageous to teach manuscript first to initiate children into writing instruction sooner, followed by cursive when manuscript was mastered (Atrubek, 2009; Makala, 2013).

 

Penmanship Folder
Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine

----------------My dad's!---------------
———————–My dad’s!———————- Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what does all of this history tell us about the relative importance of good penmanship and the relevance of an individual style of handwriting that defines us as a person and conveys our message in a way that no one else can?  What does Thornton’s conviction in her 1996 book say about the insidious decline of handwriting instruction – or the importance of it – in our schools, where once it was considered so very important that children stood at chalkboards day after day learning to master Palmer’s plain and rapid strokes?  What does the need for constant reaffirmation about the influence of learning handwriting formations on literacy development say about a culture that has prided itself as a leader in education, job growth, and innovation?  When at one point, we felt handwriting proficiency was so important that scribes dedicated their lives to learning it, when only the wealthy were afforded the skill, and when your handwriting could identify your station in society.  When, at a time not so long ago, those who valued handwriting feared that the typewriter threatened to take away the intimacy of self-expression that a handwritten document represented.  Was Thornton correct?  Is handwriting proficiency simply a way to shackle us to conformity?  Or is it a learning tool that guides us to literacy?  And a personalized mark that we leave as our legacy?

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,  she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool forCollmer Book addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures that are marked the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website.  All others must provide a link to the originating source.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

References:
Atrubek. (2009, December 16). Handwriting is History. Pacific Standard. https://psmag.com/handwriting-is-history-9312bc557e07#.lwcwre79l
Cohen, J. (2012). A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day [PDF]. New York: A&E Networks. http://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-penmanship-on- national-handwriting-day
Dougherty, M. L. (1917). History of the Teaching of Handwriting in America. The Elementary School Journal, 18(4), 280-286. doi:10.1086/454610
Egyptian Scribes [HTML]. (n.d.). Dublin: History for Kids: Free history network for kids. http://www.historyforkids.net/egyptian-scribes.html
History of Handwriting: The development of handwriting and the modern alphabet [HTL]. (n.d.). Hood River: Letter. https://www.vletter.com/help/font-faq/history-of-handwriting.html
Introduction to the History of Handwriting Guideline for SAFDE Mambers [PDF]. (n.d.). Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners. http://www.safde.org/hwhistory.pdf
Kaminski, D. (n.d.). The Varieties and Complexities of American Handwriting and Penmanship: Library Hand. David Kaminsky. retrieved on 27 July 2016 at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/handwriting/index
Lawson, D. A. (n.d.). Handwriting in America a cultural history, book review [HTML]. PaperPenalia. http://www.paperpenalia.com/history.html
Makala, J. (2013, October 13). “Born to please”: The Art of Handwriting Instruction [PDF]. Columbia: Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina. library.sc.edu/spcoll/_current/Handwriting.pdf
Saba, M. (2011, August 26). Handwriting through the ages: An abridged history of English script [IRPT]. Atlanta: Cable News Network. http://www.cnn.com/2011/IREPORT/08/26/handwriting.history.irpt/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Second Look at Kinesthetic Learning for Pre-Handwriting Skills

 

Summer Series

 

Purple Flowers Property of Katherine J. CollmerDuring the past two whirlwind years spent dedicated to writing my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, some of my gifted and experienced peers had graciously stepped in to help me share information and creative ideas with you, my readers, on  the “Handwriting is Fun! Blog.”   Needless to say, I am more than thankful for their dedication to my work.  Their support of me and the profession played a major role in keeping the blog in the news and in your tool kit.   As the project is nearing the final publishing date, I am going to take a writing break and set my sights on a few months of traveling and exploring with my patient and supportive husband. During that time, I am going to select some of the best-loved blogs from the past and roll them into a series designed to share therapy tips and research data with you.  Here is the first in the Summer Series:

 

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

When I came into the profession, I brought with me the knowledge and experience I gained from my background in teaching.  I am an avid follower of blogs and research sites that share information about teaching strategies and learning styles.  I feel that the understanding of learning and teaching principles provides an occupational therapist with an enhanced ability to present an environment that encourages and motivates a person to work toward success.  Kinesthetic learning begins naturally in infancy and, for some, becomes their preferred learning style.  In my blog, Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills, I present information that helps us to understand the importance of including tactile exploration in our therapy sessions and shares activities that can promote kinesthetic learning in the toddler and preschool years.

 

 

Photo credit: renaln
Photo credit: renaln

 

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Hardwriting Skills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,  she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Pictures are the property of the author and their use must provide a link back to this article or her website.

National Handwriting Week! How Does Vision Fit In?

IMG_5430National Handwriting Day is celebrated each year on January 23, John Hancock’s birthday (according to the Gregorian calendar), an American Revolutionary leader and first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association started this holiday in 1977 to acknowledge the history and influence of penmanship.  And we carry on this tradition today to increase awareness of the literacy benefits of mastering handwriting skills.

 

One of the most overlooked skills in the assessment of handwriting problems is the visual component.  Vision (which is comprised of 17 skills, only one of which is eyesight) can hinder a child’s educational progress by robbing him or her of the opportunity to form accurate perceptions of himself, the environment around him, and letter and numbers.  These misperceptions can lead to reading and writing challenges as well as problems with sports and activities of daily living.

With vision in mind, I am re-sharing this post that explains the vital need for having a child’s vision assessed and the important role vision has in learning.  And that includes handwriting.

 

Anatomy of the Eye Hot Air BalooningIn”sight” Into Handwriting Struggles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Hand Dominance – a key factor in handwriting success

Hand Dominance – a key factor in handwriting success

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

hand dominance iwanna pixabayHand dominance is a key factor in handwriting mastery.  Handwriting is a complex functional task that demands the hand to work efficiently with a tool.  This is accomplished through the hand’s intricate link with the brain.  Handwriting is considered to be the highest form of unilateral hand dexterity skill attained by the general population.  (1)   The establishment of hand dominance provides the child with a skilled hand for efficient pencil control to facilitate the learning of letter formations and line alignment as well as a stabilizing hand to monitor paper placement.

What is hand dominance or handedness?

Hand dominance is the term used to describe the hand a child is observed using spontaneously during skilled activities such as brushing his teeth, using scissors, or handwriting tasks.  It is the hand a child naturally prefers to use because it performs skilled tasks more efficiently, leaving the other hand to act as a stabilizer.  For example, a child who is right-hand dominant, or right-handed, will use his right hand to manipulate the scissors and his left hand to stabilize the paper during a cutting task.  The development of hand preference is a sign that the brain is maturating and that brain lateralization is occurring. Initial development of a preferred hand occurs from about the age of 4 months to the age of three to four, shifting from a reach that is convenient (such as using the right hand to pick up objects on the right side) to one that crosses the body’s midline.  Hand preference for the completion of unilateral tasks becomes more evident during this time with further bilateral differentiation occurring between 5 and 7 years.  Although children may continue to switch preferred hands at this stage for use with different fine-motor skilled activities, a fully established hand dominance presents itself between the ages of 6 and 9.

What are the behaviors associated with an Unestablished Hand Dominance?

Hand dominance is a foundational skill that promotes using the hands together efficiently during activities that involve more complex motor plans, motor accuracy, and greater skill.  These tasks include tying shoes, buttoning a coat, playing with interconnecting blocks, or handwriting.  Crossing

Little Boy Lacing his Shoes --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

the midline and bilateral coordination are contributing foundational skills for the establishment of hand dominance and equally important in the performance of skilled tasks.  Difficulties in either of these skills can result in unilateral hand preference (using the right hand for performance on the right side and vice versa), difficulty with symmetrical bilateral hand skills such as catching a ball or holding an object with two hands, or competing dominance where the child switches hands during a fine-motor task.  It is also important to note that if a child who demonstrates a clear preference for one hand is observed switching between his dominant and non-dominant hand during skilled activities, muscle fatigue could be the underlying cause rather than difficulty with any of the above skills.

How can you determine the Establishment of Hand Dominance?

There are several ways to determine a child’s preferred hand and to determine the establishment of hand dominance.

Boy Playing with Building Blocks

  1. Observe the child participating in skilled fine-motor tasks such as brushing his teeth, buttoning his coat, drawing, playing with construction toys, or cutting paper.  Record the number of times that he uses a specific hand as the dominant one within each task, switches hands within the task, or uses only the hand located closest to the object when reaching for it (e.g., using the left hand solely to reach for items on the left side).
  1. Place items at the child’s midline on a table during a fine-motor play or functional activity.  Observe the use of a dominant hand or the switching of hands during the activity.
  1. Place items for use in activities such as puzzles, tangrams, or construction tasks in random positions on the table on the child’s left and right sides as well as in midline. Observe his use of a dominant hand, his switching hands, or the use of a unilateral reach as he completes the activity.

Activities that Promote the Development and Establishment of Hand Dominance.

After collecting observational data that reflects the child’s level of hand dominance, determine the hand that he appears to prefer.  Direct him to use that hand in activities that will reinforce it as the dominant hand.   If the child does not yet appear to have a preferred hand, begin with the foundational activities below to encourage the development of a dominant hand.  Progress to the activities that follow to enhance the underlying skills that promote the development and establishment of hand dominance.

Foundational Activities:

  1. Place objects for a task at the child’s midline. This provides him with the opportunity to select which hand to use and enhances the development of a dominant hand by lessening the chances to use the unilateral hand to avoid having to cross midline.
  1. Use auditory cues to direct the child’s reach across his body during play and functional tasks.  Positions items included in the activity randomly on the table on both sides of his midline.  Ask him to reach for them using the opposite hand.  For example, to direct him to reach across his midline to an object on his left, you might say, “Joey, please pick up the yellow marker with your right hand.”  This activity also promotes the development of crossing the midline and bilateral coordination skills as well as the understanding of directional concepts.
  1. Use auditory and visual cues to establish labels for his skilled and stabilizing hands. This helps him to understand how he uses his hands for fine-motor activities and supports their use as skilled or stabilizing hands.  For example, if the child has been observed to use his left hand predominantly during skilled tasks, you might verbally label his left as the “worker hand” and his right as the “helper hand.”  Demonstrate these labels as you and he complete tasks such as cutting, lacing, or construction play.  You may add a sticker to his worker hand to remind him of its role in the activity.
  1. Use auditory cues as reminders to continue to stay with one hand for the duration of a skilled activity.

Enhancement Activities:

Gross motor games.  Position balls or bean bags on the side of a child’s preferred hand and have him toss them at a target placed at his midline or on the opposite side of his body.  This activity promotes the development of hand dominance, as well as balance, bilateral coordination, visual attention, and crossing the midline skills.  Games of throw and catch (for example, baseball or bowling) and basketball (dribbling and throwing) also promote these skills.

Girl (6-8) Painting an Egg --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Fine motor activities.  The activities below promote the use of a dominant hand as well as the development of visual attention, crossing the midline, and bilateral coordination skills.

    • Drawing circles or lazy 8’s simultaneously on the left and right sides of a paper taped to the wall or on a chalkboard using a pencil or chalk in the hand on each side
    • Clapping games or games that tap knees and ankles on the opposite sides of the body
    • Tracing the non-dominant hand with the dominant
    • Drawing or coloring with the preferred hand.  The performance of this activity on a vertical surface will further enhance balance and visual attention.
    • Stacking blocks with the preferred hand
    • Activities that include stencils, rulers, or rubbing motions over textures using the dominant hand with the pencil or crayon and the other hand to stabilize the stencil, ruler, or paper.
    • Molding clay or putty using the dominant hand to pull and mold while the other stabilizes the clay or putty
    • Beading, lacing, and interlocking toys using the dominant hand to thread or position the interlocking toy while the other hand stabilizes the string, board, or opposite toy part.
    • Cutting and pasting using the dominant hand to perform the task and the other to stabilize the paper.
    • Construction activities with blocks, hammers, or screwdrivers using the dominant hand to perform and the other to stabilize during the task.
  • Opening containers using the preferred hand to turn or pull open the lid while the other hand stabilizes the container.

Academic activities.

  • Whole body writing (making large movements using the dominant hand) promotes the use of the dominant hand as well as the enhancement of motor movement planning skills.
  • Activities that include non-traditional materials such as finger paints, shaving cream, sand trays, or writing with water on the chalkboard or a piece of paper taped to the wall provide increased tactile input to promote the use of the dominant hand as well as the enhancement of motor movement skills.
  • Create letter formations by shaping them out of pipe cleaners or other tactile tools to promote the use of the dominant hand.
  • Writing or practicing letter formations with a pencil on a piece of paper over fine-grade sandpaper using the dominant hand for tool use and the non-dominant to stabilize the paper provides additional tactile input to promote the use of the dominant hand.
  • Tracing letter formations on a vertical surface using the dominant hand while the other hand positions and supports the paper also enhances visual attention skills.

Children who have not established a dominant hand may also be working with inefficient body image and spatial awareness skills.  It is important to observe the child in a diverse array of activities and provide a variety of opportunities to engage in bilateral tasks in order to determine the underlying  developmental skill needs.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

Photos are the property of the  photographers at Pixabay or Royalty-Free/Corbis where indicated.    Their use should include the link or copyright provided with the pictures.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

References:

  1. Yancosek, Kathleen E., and David R. Mullineaux. “Stability of Handwriting Performance following Injury-induced Hand-dominance Transfer in Adults: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development JRRD 48.1 (2011): 59. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
  2. “Texas Child Care: Back Issues.” Texas Child Care: Back Issues. Texas Child Care Quarterly, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.childcarequarterly.com/spring07_story3.html>.
  3. “Occupational Therapy for Children.” Occupational Therapy for Children. Occupational Therapy for Children, 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.occupationaltherapychildren.com.au/blog/dominance-hand-dominance/>.

Dyspraxia: Is it the hidden handicap?

Dyspraxia:  Is it the hidden handicap?

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

Dyspraxia, most concisely described, is a learning difficulty that “possesses the most interesting ‘melting pot’ mix of physical and mental characteristics.” (Patrick 2015 p. 11)  Once called a “disorder of sensory integration by Jean Ayes in 1972 and then labeled as “Clumsy Child Syndrome” in 1975, dyspraxia continues to be a confusing condition to classify.   The terms “Dyspraxia” and “Developmental Coordination Disorder” are commonly used interchangeably, however, it is felt by some professionals that they are not the same condition.  Dyspraxia is defined by the Dyspraxia Foundation USA as “a neurological disorder throughout the brain” that often comes with a variety of comorbidities, the most common [of these being] Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (also known as DCD). (“1 in 10 Odds”)  The UK branch further explains that “while DCD is often regarded as an umbrella term to cover motor coordination difficulties, dyspraxia refers to those people who have additional problems planning, organising and carrying out movements in the right order in everyday situations” and can also experience difficulties with “articulation and speech, perception and thought.” (“What is Dyspraxia,” Section “What is Dyspraxia?”)   Alison Patrick, in her book “The Dyspraxic Learner,” stresses that “the significant role that the mind plays in this condition cannot be underestimated.” (Patrick 2015 p. 17)

Developmental Dyspraxia, the term more commonly used to describe the developmental problems observed in children who are clumsy, describes the condition as “a failure to learn or perform voluntary motor activities despite adequate strength, sensation, attention, and volition (Missiuna & Polatajko, p. 620)”  It is felt that the term was chosen as a result of the belief that a link existed between apraxia and dyspraxia.  Due to the lack of empirical data that shows a causative link between apraxia – the condition that involves “the loss of ability to perform previously acquired movements” most commonly observed in adults who have experienced a cerebrovascular accident resulting in brain damage – and the problems of children who have the symptoms described above, the condition is often labeled simply as “Dyspraxia.” (Missiuna & Polatajko 1995 p. 620)  The roots of this confusion over labelling stem from two facts:  first, that there is no internationally agreed upon definition for the term “dyspraxia” and second, that the DSM-V does not list it among diagnosable conditions.  Instead, it is felt that dyspraxia would most suitably fall under the new reclassification of “Neurodevelopmental Disorders-Motor,” as some consider it a developmental coordination disorder (“Highlights of Changes”).  Steinman, et. al. make a further distinction that developmental dyspraxia should be considered in terms of praxis “rather than a diagnostic label” and referred to instead as “a specific neurologic sign of impaired execution of skilled learned movements. (p. 5)”  The authors stress that it can exist in children who demonstrate no other signs of neurological impairments, as well as in conjunction with other neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and language disorders.  After all the discussions have been heard, it is not difficult to imagine a more fitting label than “the hidden handicap.” (Udoh & Okoro 2013, Kirby 1999)

It is difficult to estimate exactly how many children are affected by DCD/Dyspraxia due to the lack of an official diagnosis and consistent use of behavioral information to identify them.   However, 2009 study results out of the UK “suggested that up to one in every 20 children between seven and eight years of age may be affected by the condition to some degree.  It is felt that the disorder occurs three or four times more in boys than girls and that the condition “sometimes runs in families.”  (Developmental Co-ordination, Section “Who is affected).

Despite the confusion, understanding developmental dyspraxia remains an important concern for occupational therapists who are often presented with referrals for children who have handwriting difficulties, problems with self-care management, and social isolation that results from their clumsiness and uncoordinated behaviors (Missiuna & Polatajko 1995).  Without a clear definition for dyspraxia nor a diagnosis that outlines the symptoms associated with it, our assessment will be based upon our knowledge of the condition itself.  Children who present with these school-, home-, and socially based needs will appear physically capable, will not have intellectual needs, and often will not have any identifiable disease or medical condition.  Since dyspraxia is a developmental condition, it can present itself in the early years as children meet the prescribed developmental gross-motor milestones late and experience difficulty with fine-motor activities of daily living, such as tying their shoes or fastening buttons, very much like developmental coordination disorder.  From an occupational therapy standpoint, then, dyspraxia and the behaviors associated with it must be differentiated from those same behaviors that exist with a motor coordination condition.  Dyspraxia, in our practice area, is not viewed as a primary problem in motor coordination and the child must present with difficulties with ideation and planning to be regarded as dyspraxic from our point of view. (9)  Rather than be the result of a problem with motor execution, dyspraxic behaviors are felt to be a difficulty in formulating a plan of action, the problem presenting itself as the inability to efficiently plan and carry out skilled non-habitual motor acts in the correct sequence.   Although children with dyspraxia may have difficulty learning a new task, once they are able to master the skills that it demands, they can use those skills to repeat the task.  (9)  Their ability to use their skill development in the mastery of other similar activities is limited, however, as they are not able to effectively plan and execute new motor actions or generalize motor actions in a new situation.  (9)  From an occupational therapy standpoint, the child with dyspraxia will present with the following behaviors (10) that can be fall into four categories: (7)

Dyspraxic Behaviors Chart
Dyspraxic Behaviors

Categories of Dyspraxia

The appearance of “clumsiness” stems from their difficulty in transitioning from one body position to another, their poor discrimination of tactile input, an overall difficulty in relating their bodies to physical objects and space, and challenges with imitating actions or perceiving the direction of movement.  They are slower to develop both gross- and fine-motor skills and are often referred to occupational therapy for these reasons, particularly handwriting.  They may tend to prefer talking rather than performing and will often avoid new tasks altogether.  Their social behaviors result from their becoming frustrated with new situations because they are unable to approach these activities in an organized manner. The culmination of these symptoms and behaviors can be low self-esteem or self-concept.  (9)

Patten, in her newsletter article, “Dyspraxia from an Occupational Therapy Perspective,” suggests a battery of standardized assessments that will assist in the assessment process.  Goodgold-Edwards and Cermak, (10) stress that we must also have an understanding of the motor, sensory integrative, and cognitive and conceptual components of movement as we observe the children in both standardized testing environments and the performance of everyday activities.  Treatment strategies we select can include sensory integrative, perceptual motor, sensorimotor, cognitive goal-directed, and compensatory skill development approaches. (9)  These will most likely be combined in a remedial plan that addresses each child’s individual needs and will include skill areas such as rule learning as it applies to motor planning and motor learning; planning for managing movements as they occur that include goal-directed activities with performance expectations; the use of tasks that have a clear, functional identification within the practicing environment; the inclusion of cognitive strategies that allow for the child’s learning abilities and styles; and, perhaps most importantly, will be fun as well as challenging.  (10)  Of course, the complex nature of dyspraxia and the multiple needs that a child may experience will necessitate the development of a team approach. (7)

The implications of dyspraxic behaviors for the school-based occupational therapist are that we must consider the “whole child” in our development of a remedial plan or recommendations for adaptations.  Although the child may have been referred to therapy because of handwriting difficulties, it is vital that we look below the surface and develop the overall picture of his behaviors, from home, to school, to the playground, and the community.  With or without an official diagnosis, dyspraxia exists and will continue to present itself in our therapy rooms and clinics.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 
 
 
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
Photos are the property of Handwriting With Katherine and are not to be used in any fashion except as links to the appropriate blog or the Handwriting With Katherine website without the expressed, written permission of Katherine Collmer.  Those photos that include a link to the Pixabay site should be used only if they include the link to the photographer’s page that is provided with them.
 
  1. Patrick, Alison. “Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.” The Dyspraxic Learner: Strategies for Success. 2015 ed. London: Jessica Kingsley Pub., 2015. 11-54. Print.
  2. “1 in 10 Odds Are That You Know Someone With Dyspraxia.” Dyspraxia Foundation USA. Dyspraxia Foundation USA, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <http://www.dyspraxiausa.org/>.
  3. “What is Dyspraxia?” Dyspraxia Foundation.org.uk. Dyspraxia Foundation UK, n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <https://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/about-dyspraxia/>.
  4. Missiuna, C., and H. Polatajko. “Developmental Dyspraxia by Any Other Name: Are They All Just Clumsy Children?” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 49.7 (1995): 619-27. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
  5. “Highlights of Changes From DSM-IV to DSM-5.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (2013): n. pag. DSM5.org. American Psychiatric Publishing. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/changes%20from%20dsm-iv-tr%20to%20dsm-5.pdf>.
  6. Steinman, K. J., S. H. Mostofsky, and M. B. Denckla. “Toward a Narrower, More Pragmatic View of Developmental Dyspraxia.” Journal of Child Neurology 25.1 (2009): 71-81. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
  7. Udoh, Nsisong A., and Cornelius C. Okoro. “Developmental Dyspraxia—Implications for the Child, Family and School.” International Journal of Academic Research in Progressive Education and Development IJARPED 2.4 (2013): 200-14. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.Caroline Lacey. London:
  8. Caroline Lacey, 1997. Ludlowlearning.com. OAASIS, Cambian Education Services. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <http://www.ludlowlearning.com/downloads-icpa/Oaasis-Dyspraxia.pdf>. OAASIS website: www.oaasis.co.uk Cambian Education Services website: cambianeducation.com
  9. Patten, Natasha, Bcc OT. Dyspraxia from an Occupational Therapy Perspective (n.d.): n. pag. Dyspraxia Foundation.org.uk. Dyspraxia Foundation UK. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <http://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/dyspraxia_and_Occupational_Therapy.pdf>.
  10. Goodgold-Edwards, S. A., and S. A. Cermak. “Integrating Motor Control and Motor Learning Concepts With Neuropsychological Perspectives on Apraxia and Developmental Dyspraxia.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 44.5 (1990): 431-39. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
  11. Kirby, Amanda. Dyspraxia: The Hidden Handicap. 2002 ed. London: Souvenir, 1999. Print.
  12. “Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (dyspraxia) in Children .” NHS Choices. National Health Services UK, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyspraxia-(childhood)/Pages/Introduction.aspx>.
 

Growth Mindsets: Their Implications in Pediatric Occupational Therapy

mind john hain pixabay

Growth Mindsets:  Their Implications in Pediatric Occupational Therapy

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

What is the element in therapy that transforms a goal from one focused upon performance to that which targets learning?  What facet of our service approach drives motivation and addresses or prevents the client’s sense of “learned helplessness?”  At what point do we, as therapists, influence the mindset of our clients and facilitate their growth in rehabilitation?

These questions lie at the foundation of our own growth as a profession as the health care reform initiatives align with our long-held principles of client-centered treatment.  But, just as we are beginning to understand that the medical community is catching up to our perspective, we are equally becoming aware that a client-centered practice framework can produce outcomes that reflect the “shift toward value-based-reimbursement” and “challenge(s) occupational practitioners to demonstrate their unique contributions” (1) to healthcare.  In turn, the quality of a framework that stresses the importance of individuality, holism, and a sense of self and one that values the development of both the individual and a client-therapist relationship is contingent in part on the (client’s) experience of care and his perspective of his involvement in the process.  Toward that end, research and discussions have been directed toward the development of a “working alliance” and a stable relationship that foster a positive rapport with our clients and serves as a means for active participation in their service plans. (2)

possible-geralt pixabay

Active participation implies motivation.  And motivation suggests a belief that one can succeed in his attempts to learn and grow and to achieve his personal potential.  Our ability to motivate our clients demands a certain awareness of the ways in which people are motivated and how their responses to failures can provoke either a helpless response or the determination to master new things and conquer challenges.  Carol Dweck, author of Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, conducted research to uncover the factors that motivate and direct a learner’s pattern of success or failure.  She concluded that children who were guided toward persisting in the face of challenges and encouraged to believe that failures were due to their lack of trying versus a lack of ability developed “mastery-oriented patterns.”  (3)  Their “attributions” toward success and failure reflected their judgments about the causes of events and behavior, as well as the recognition of the consequences of those attributions, and drove them to strive for learning versus performance.  There is an important difference between performance-oriented and learning-focused goals.  Dweck noted that performance goals focus upon demonstrating the ability to do something while learning-focused goals encourages the increase of ability.  The difference lies in one being static and fixed and the other dynamic and malleable.  The success of client-centered therapy relies upon the participant believing that he has the ability to increase his ability.  It is based upon a growth mindset.

Fostering a Growth Mindset in a Therapeutic Environment

Mindset is defined as “a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.”  It is a frame-of-mind, a perspective, and a set of behaviorisms that become an inclination or a habit.  According to the prominent dictionaries, a habit is a recurrent and often unconscious behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition and becomes an established disposition of the mind or character.  Therefore, habits can be developed as well as broken.  Fostering a growth mindset in our pediatric therapy sessions is a viable and applicable target in a client-centered service delivery model.  The same assumptions about success relative to a child’s level of academic achievement can be applied to a pediatric client’s success toward therapy goals.  A research team reviewed the literature that studied the “noncognitive factors” involved in student learning.   These included both their Academic Behaviors, such as going to class, completing homework, active classroom engagement, and studying, and their levels of Academic Perseverance, labeled as tenacity or stick-to-it-ness.  They both were determined to be indicators of how likely a child was to continue to pursue academic goals despite challenges.  (4) The results of the review suggested that “one of the best levers for increasing students’ perseverance and improving their academic behaviors (was) by supporting the development of Academic Mindsets.”

key GLady PixabayThe key mindsets that the research team defined as those associated with increased perseverance, better academic behaviors, and higher grades can be applied to our therapy services.

  • Belonging to a learning community.  Our therapy sessions revolve around learning (or unlearning) habits and behaviors that will enhance a child’s opportunity for success.  Our willingness to build a rapport that fosters trust and develops into a working alliance that encourages communication, and in the end becomes a stable relationship that incorporates the child’s opinions and ideas into the rehabilitation process, encourages a sense of belonging in the therapy environment.  (2)
  • Belief in the likelihood of success.  Studies have shown that self-efficacy was a strong determinant of success among similar-ability students.  A child’s sense of his ability to succeed is “malleable” and can be influenced by feedback on performance and ability, as well as the provision of training and assistance with setting goals. (4)  The core components of client-centered care (respect, collaboration, communication, support, and inclusion) and the part that hope and self-perception play in an occupational practice (1) foster the building of self-efficacy.  It is our role as occupational therapists to help our clients to “celebrate” their willingness to take risks, to allow themselves to fail, and to learn from those failures. (5)
  • Belief that abilities and intelligence can grow with effort.  Carol Dweck considers students with a growth mindset to believe that “the brain is like a muscle” that gets stronger with use.  (6, qtd in 4) They are motivated by mastery and enjoy challenging themselves with new ideas and learning opportunities.  (4)  It is our role as therapy practitioners to provide the “just-right challenges” that will build brain muscle and encourage our clients to believe that they can learn and grow despite their personal challenges.
  • Belief in a sense of meaning and value surrounding the work.  As we continue to interpret and make meaning of our experiences, our brains are looking for connections in order to process new information and ideas.  (4)  Tasks and information that do not represent meaning nor constitute any value to our clients will fall short of the mark and limit their potential for success.   Purposeful activities are planned and directed tasks that are key to planning an occupational therapy program, while meaningful activities are those that achieve the program goals through an intrinsic motivation for the patient.  (7)  It is our role as therapists to offer our clients activities that are both purposeful and meaningful and that will bring them back to therapy to build the sense of belonging and self-efficacy that results from a mastery mindset.

Fostering a learning mindset in therapy begins with the principles laid out in the client-centered approach to our occupational practice that build rapport, a working alliance, and a stable relationship, no matter the age of client.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

atherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

Photos are the property of photographers on Pixabay and their use should include the link attached to their photographs. 
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
 
  1. Mroz, Tracy M., Jennifer S. Pitonyak, Donald Fogelberg, and Natalie E. Leland. “Client Centeredness and Health Reform: Key Issues for Occupational Therapy.” Am J Occup Ther American Journal of Occupational Therapy 69.5 (2015): 1-8. Web. 3 Oct. 2015.
  2. Collmer, Katherine J., M.Ed., OTR/L. “Client-centered Practice in Pediatrics.” Handwriting Is Fun! Blog. Handwriting With Katherine, 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <http://blog.handwritingwithkatherine.com/client-centered-practice-in-pediatrics/>.
  3. Krakovsky, Marina. “The Effort Effect.” Stanford Magazine. Stanford University, Mar.-Apr. 2007. Web. 03 Oct. 2015. <http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124>.
  4. Farrington, Camille A. “Academic Mindsets as a Critical Component of Deeper Learning.” Hewlett Foundation News. William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2015. <http://www.hewlett.org/library/grantee-publication/academic-mindsets-critical-component-deeper-learning>.
  5. Schwartz, Katrina. “What’s Your Learning Disposition? How to Foster Students’ Mindsets.” MindShift. KQED News, 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 03 Oct. 2015. <http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/25/whats-your-learning-disposition-how-to-foster-students-mindsets/>.
  6. Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. S.l.: Random House, 2008. Print.
  7. Senior, Rob. “Better, Faster, Stronger.” Better, Faster, Stronger. Advance Healthcare Network, 28 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 Oct. 2015. <http://occupational-therapy.advanceweb.com/Archives/Article-Archives/Better-Faster-Stronger.aspx>.

An OT Advocate for Change: Handwriting gets the help it deserves.

For the month of September, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog will be sharing insights about the role of Occupational Therapy in the classroom.  In recent years, the role of OT, in general, has been changing with the waves of healthcare and education reforms.  Despite a certain amount of turmoil and confusion where those changes may have thrown us a curve ball, most often they have provided us with an opportunity to make a difference in an area in which we’ve longed to see an improvement.  For me, that has been handwriting mastery.  For others, it has been the role of OT in the educational system as a whole.  This second article in our “OT in the Classroom” series addresses the role of OT as an vehicle for guiding teachers, educational staff, and administrative leaders in striving for and achieving handwriting mastery for their students.  Marie Toole, OTR/L, shares the amazing work that she and the OT staff in her district are doing to Advocate for Change.

An Advocate for Change

by Marie Toole, OTR/L

time for change door geralt pixabayMany years ago, as a new school-based occupational therapist, I was ready to conquer the world. That first year was a blur of referrals and therapy and meetings and learning. The OT staff sat down at the end of that first school year and — after counting up how many referrals we got for handwriting — decided to do something different.

We had to figure out how to handle all these referrals and distinguish between those students who really needed occupational therapy intervention and those who would benefit from good instruction in handwriting from the teacher.  We needed to be agents of change or we were going to be burned out.

Over the last 20 years we have seen a significant drop in our referrals for strictly handwriting.  The referrals we get now are for a myriad of reasons and almost all of them end up with us servicing the child for direct OT interventions.  How did we cut our referrals in half, meet the concerns of the classroom teachers and yet still make sure students have legible handwriting?  Over the years we have employed a number of strategies.  Let me share them with you.

coaching geralt pixabayEducation/Inservices:

Teachers told us they either did not feel comfortable teaching handwriting in the classroom or felt like they were not doing a good job. So we helped.

  • We gave workshops to teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents about hand skills, handwriting, and posture. Building on our handwriting curriculum, we wrote out each letter description, which showed them how to form the letters and gave them the language and developmental order in which to teach letters. Everybody is now using the same language to teach in a consistent manner.
  • Partnering with the physical therapist, we gave an inservice to local preschools on the typical development of the 2- to 6-year old. This helped those teachers to have realistic expectations for hand skill development.
  • With our physical education teachers we developed Classroom Rechargers. These are 20 movement-based activities per grade level that teachers can perform right in their classroom with little-to-no equipment or space.  We put together handwriting warm-ups, exercises, and activities to be done just prior to teaching letter instruction.
  • We showed kindergarten teachers the importance of building the base of hand skills before adding on the challenge of handwriting.
  • We continually give workshops once or twice per year on various topics.  Information, tips, or skills teachers can use the next day in their classroom are the most valuable to them.  We generally have a large audience.
  • When new teachers join our buildings or teachers switch grades, we always make sure to touch base with them and help them navigate the teaching of the handwriting process. Checking in periodically to see how letter instruction is going is always helpful, too.

5 Reasons Why Handwriting Needs a Good SeatErgonomics

Seating and posture were important areas where teachers needed assistance.

  • At the beginning of each school year, we go in and check the desk and chair height for every student on our caseload.  We make sure students fit their work space.
  • We send an email to remind staff how to check for proper desk and chair height and will help any teachers struggling with this. The custodian is our friend, helping us find the right furniture or to adjust desk height.
  • We have also advocated for stand up desks and several of our classrooms now sport at least one stand up desk.  We add sensory equipment — seat cushions, bicycle tubing around the chair legs, and hand tools — for those students who move and fidget.  When students are comfortable and in a good place for learning, it makes handwriting instruction so much easier.     

Pre-referral process

We use a pre-referral process to keep track of teacher requests and to address needs in a timely manner.  

  • Teachers must fill out a basic form telling us their concerns and what they have tried already.
  • The pre-referral forms help us fine tune our classroom observations to an area in which the student may be having challenges, such as math, writing, or organization.
  • We then tailor our classroom observation to those specific areas.  

planning dates condesign pixabayIn the classroom

Planning and coordination are important first steps.

  • At the beginning of each school year we discuss with the classroom teacher and special educator the most convenient time when writing is being taught and we plan our schedules around it. Most of our teachers have been with us long enough to understand the limitations in our schedule and will cooperate to make this work. When we show up for our therapy time, the teachers welcome the extra pair of hands to help with letter instruction, the writing process, typing on Google Docs, or writing poetry.
  • We know the curriculum.  The students do not get pulled from instruction and we get to work in the moment with the students on meaningful work.  We also get to put our eyes on all the students in that classroom and may help other struggling writers as well.
  • We co-teach cursive letter instruction in most of our third grade classrooms as part of our third-graders’ therapy time.  It gives us in-class time and we get to work with the whole class by showing them some multisensory ways to learn letters using sand, chalkboards, or kin-tac cards.
  • We are lucky that we are district employees and have the luxury of having an occasional block of time to observe students in class, on the playground, or in the gym.  We also use our therapy time to work in the classrooms with students on their OT goals.

Early Intervention and Response to Intervention (RtI):

In our district we are lucky to have an administration that support us.  

  • This allows us to go into each kindergarten classroom under regular education for one half hour per week to “SPOT” children who might need help with hand skills.
  • SPOT stands for Speech and OT.  Our “SPOT” time is available to assist the teacher with activities that may be challenging for 5- and 6-year olds. In our OT sessions we might be working on scissor skills, gluing, coloring, and eventually, after months of hand skills training, handwriting.
  • As the year progresses we generally have a small group of students that  we focus on during SPOT.  We do the same activity that the whole class is doing but those students may need more assistance.  These students become our “watch” students in first grade and then we have our entry into the first grade classrooms under RtI.
  •   This took many years of “selling” to our principal. We argued that we could ward off some referrals by giving a little help early rather than a lot of help later. The administration agreed to a trial. After seeing the results, the program stuck.
  • One way we have cemented that progress in our administrators’ minds is to have them conduct their yearly observations of us when we work in the classrooms.  We love to have them come observe us working with a group in the fall, again in January, and later in May.  To see that transformation is like gold in the bank.

Winning over skeptics

Patience and respect guide us in the classroom.

  • It is not always easy and there are some teachers who do not appreciate us coming into their classrooms. In those cases, we take it slow and become a guest in that teacher’s classroom. When they see the intrinsic value that we bring to the table as occupational therapists, most teachers come around.
  • Generally we have found that teachers can’t wait for us to work in their classroom and are bummed when they do not have students who receive OT in their classroom that year. It takes time, sometimes lots of years of trying. But working together as a team shows the student that everyone is on the same page and you have the same expectations for him or her.


teamwork zipnon pixabayTeamwork

Having a strong special education team is helpful as well.  

  • Working with the classroom teacher, special educator, and the rest of the special education team has helped us to fine tune our occupational therapy process.  
  • Often it is the special education teacher who brings concerns or referrals to the occupational therapy staff.

Advocating at the administrative level

Becoming visible is essential.

  • We knew we needed to get good at this or we would continue to struggle year after year.  Our principal, assistant principal, and even the superintendent know who we are.
  • We consistently advocate for what is right for children.  In our 20 plus years, there have been many principals and superintendents at the helm.  We had to get to know them, their goals, and how they liked to work.
  • We asked for OT be represented on the curriculum committee for language arts when administrators revised it many years ago.  We ended up putting a handwriting strand into the curriculum with expectations developmentally appropriate for kindergarten through fourth grade.
  • When the district was thinking of cutting out cursive instruction, we took this on as our mission to research it and make informed decisions.  We took our time, and over the course of three years, we read many research articles and spoke with many other local districts to see what they were doing.  We ultimately decided to keep cursive instruction as an integral part of our third grade curriculum.  
  • When advocating for the SPOT time in kindergarten, we came armed with data to show that it was beneficial.  We constantly print out articles about teaching handwriting and give them to our principal.
  • Being relentless in the pursuit of continually advocating for what is right for children can be tiring.  It is not something that happens overnight.  Looking ahead and looking towards the big picture has helped us to maintain our vision.  Continually putting it in front of administrators keeps it fresh and does not allow stagnation or somebody to forget how important handwriting is in the curriculum.

important note clkerfreevectorimages pixabayOur role

An important point to remember:

  • We cannot become the “handwriting teacher.”  That’s the job of the classroom teacher. We are occupational therapists who look at functional skills and participation in the school curriculum and environment.
  • By empowering teachers to actually teach handwriting before they expect children to write, we advocate for what our students need. Ongoing support and advocacy will encourage teachers to keep teaching proper letter formation. This in turn will allow our OT interventions to remain focused on the functional skills students need to navigate the complex world of school.

Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 21 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Photos are the property of Handwriting With Katherine and are not to be used in any fashion except as links to the appropriate blog or the Handwriting With Katherine website without the expressed, written permission of Katherine Collmer.

OT and Handwriting Programs: What is our role?

 

For the month of September, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog will be sharing insights about the role of Occupational Therapy in the classroom.  In recent years, the role of OT, in general, has been changing with the waves of healthcare and education reforms.  Despite a certain amount of turmoil and confusion where those changes may have thrown us a curve ball, most often they have provided us with an opportunity to make a difference in an area in which we’ve longed to see an improvement.  For me, that has been handwriting mastery.  For others, it has been the role of OT in the educational system as a whole.  This first article in our “OT in the Classroom” series addresses the first of these interests – the role of OT in handwriting mastery –  and brings up points that I hope will generate discussion and help us all to learn and grow within our profession.

 

Handwriting PracticeOT and Handwriting Programs: What is our role?

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

 

 

 

 

I have been asked often to reveal my “favorite choice” for a handwriting program. The question inevitably arises, “Which handwriting program do you use for instruction in your specialized OT practice?” And the answer is always the same, “I have none.” I’ve actually never considered the selection of one program over another, nor have I recommended one as my “preferred,” feeling that in my practice it is not my role to do that.  My business goals are to assess and remediate children’s handwriting development skills.  My first priority is to identify and target the underlying problems that are revealed in the student’s handwriting struggles.  My next step is to evaluate the capability of the classroom’s handwriting program to facilitate the student’s success with remediation.  If I feel it cannot, then I will speak with the teacher and parents about addressing the student’s needs with a different program.  For the older students, this is commonly not an issue, as they are not receiving handwriting instruction in class.  In both of these cases, I will address the student’s individual needs with a handwriting program that blends with his learning styles and remediation goals.  Handwriting “instruction,” per se, is not the mission of my particular business.

 

Of course, Occupational Therapy has certainly made a presence in the handwriting program environment. And rightly so, as we understand the underlying developmental skills that build handwriting mastery and our interventions in both instruction and remediation have been effective in advancing students in their handwriting mastery.  (1)  Occupational Therapists have designed effective handwriting programs based upon developmental principles, worked with a handwriting program publisher,* and most certainly have used handwriting programs in their therapy sessions.  But, what IS our role with handwriting programs?  Where does the value of our expertise and the validity of our responsibility fit into the provision of handwriting instruction?  These questions are legitimate and warrant a discussion in search for answers.

 

1.  What are handwriting programs designed to do?

 

First, let’s make the distinction between the two types of handwriting programs, the curriculum program and the published handwriting program, and the facets that define each as beneficial.

 

curriculum-wokandapix-pixabay-614155_1280

A curriculum handwriting program is one that is designed to provide

  • structured, consistent, and guided instruction in the development of letter formations, letter alignment, and spacing, both during copying and independent writing tasks;
  • instruction that provides handwriters with the tools to edit and correct their own work;

and

  • handwriting tasks across the subject areas                                                      that will promote the functional use of that skill.

 

A published handwriting program is designed to provide:

  • teachers with a structured program that will assist them in providing their students with consistent and guided instruction in the development of letter formations, letter alignment, and spacing, both during copying and independent writing tasks;

cursive-blackboard-kyasarin-pixabay-209152_1280

  • tools that assist the teachers in their instruction, as well as the students in their learning; and
  • a network of professionals who can guide teachers in their use of the handwriting program.

 

Published handwriting programs are a facet of a curriculum’s handwriting program. It is ultimately the role of the school to assess different published programs and select the one that fits their students’ and teachers’ needs.

 

What makes a good handwriting program?

There are a few basic characteristics that are included in the development of an effective curriculum and published handwriting program. Each must be:

 

  • Structured: The instruction is delivered in a format or plan that allows a developmental progression of skill development.
  • Consistent: The instruction is provided in a format that allows students to practice the skills sufficiently to enhance learning.
  • Guided: The instruction provides tools to assist teachers in their instruction and offers students one-to-one assistance and additional learning strategies during classroom instruction.

 

These tenets are integral to the development and mastery of handwriting skills. The development of a published handwriting program is a task as complex as the mastery of the skill itself and, therefore, research and experience play a vital role in the development of a good handwriting program. Occupational therapists, educators, and literacy experts have spent a great deal of time, energy, and finances toward building effective and valuable handwriting programs that address the diverse needs of our young learners.   Some published programs offer online teacher assistance, free downloads for creating worksheets, in-class technology to enhance visual and kinesthetic learning, or inexpensive teaching materials to help with school budgets. Some schools have included handwriting instruction as an integral part of their elementary school curriculum, while others are streamlining their instruction to meet overall educational requirements.  But, when it’s all said and done, an effective handwriting program – both a curriculum or a published program – is one that is “structured, consistent, and guided.”

 

2.  What makes a good fit for an OT-Handwriting Program Relationship?

As a school-based, private practice, or clinic-based occupational therapist, we do not assess or select the handwriting programs that our clients will be mastering in their classrooms…unless, of course, we are on the curriculum selection committee, where we would indeed be an asset.  However, although studies indicate that “having preschool classroom teachers implement an occupational therapy-based curriculum to teach handwriting readiness skills reflects a more inclusive service model that benefits all students,” (1) at present the selection of a handwriting program most often remains in the hands of the school system.  Therefore, at the elementary school level, it isn’t our role to select another program to use in our therapy sessions that we might feel provides a better instructional format.  This gets confusing and does not provide the “structured, consistent, and guided” instruction that builds mastery.  Our role as OT’s is to assess and remediate handwriting development skills….which are the same skills he will need for handwriting mastery no matter which program is being taught in the classroom.  Our expertise guides us in the creation of instructional adaptations that can enhance a student’s learning, as well as cognitive, sensory, and physical suggestions to promote success in the classroom and at home.  This also allows us to consider the student’s individual needs to determine if he would benefit from a different program and if the discussion of a program change is warranted.   In the end, our role as OT’s continues to be the assessment and remediation of handwriting development skills….no matter which program the student is working with in the classroom.

We have a much broader role when we are working with older students (fifth grade and beyond), however, one that allows room for us to introduce a new handwriting program.  Their struggles may result from the lack of a structured, consistent, and guided program in elementary school; or they may have needed the assistance of an OT at that level but had not been provided with those services.  At this point, there would be many choices for us to consider that would meet their needs.

So, I pose the question that, instead of looking for a “good fit for an OT-Handwriting Program Relationship,” wouldn’t the more appropriate question here be

 

3.  What makes a good fit for an OT-Handwriting Relationship?

April is OT Month!
OT’s build independence by providing information! We are “information stations!”

 

Building an OT-Handwriting Relationship in the classroom begins with prevention.

One of our primary services has always been to inform our clients about choices and information relative to their needs.  For instance, in the adult community, we are a valuable link between those who are experiencing the results of a traumatic brain injury and the durable equipment options to increase independence in activities of daily living.  In the older community, we can share vital home safety tips about inexpensive modifications that can help clients and their caregivers extend a person’s ability to age in place.  We provide ergonomic and backpack safety information to office workers and students, as well as pain management techniques and tools for those suffering from osteoarthritis.  Moms welcome our early intervention skills as we share information about sensory needs and developmental milestone stages.  We ARE the “information station!”

This integral part of our practice also weaves its thread through our relationship with handwriting development skills.  Prevention is our first step in helping students with their handwriting needs and for building a recognized and valued OT-handwriting relationship.  We are the frontline source for fine- and visual-motor information for teachers and parents and the best member of the community to guide them toward building healthy habits for handwriting success.   In light of our position as “information stations,” we must take time to

 

  • share information with teachers and parents about pre-handwriting skill development and the appropriate ages for working on grasping patterns and for introducing a pencil;
  • help teachers and parents understand the positive benefits of movement and play in the development of body awareness, physical strength, and sensory skills;
  • become involved in the assessment and acquisition of a developmentally sound handwriting program; and

And we need to do these things BEFORE children are referred to us for occupational therapy to address their handwriting development needs. Prevention first!

information station logo property of handwriting with katherine

 

 

 

Building an OT-Handwriting Relationship in the classroom thrives through student success. 

The benefits of any practice are validated only by their visible successes.  Handwriting development skills are most often “invisible,” with the only evidence of their need for service being a poor handwriting style.  Hence, a functional penmanship style becomes the visible success.  In some instances, the teacher and parent won’t ever become aware of the myriad of underlying skills that we have addressed in our therapy sessions to bring about that result. Most often, however, our work with a student’s handwriting development skills will enhance his successes in other subject areas, validating even further the benefits of addressing handwriting needs.  There are times, of course, when an evaluation of the student’s skills will reveal that his struggles would benefit simply from the provision of a more structured and guided method of instruction, rendering the need for direct services as unnecessary.  The “ounce of prevention” tips offered above can help prevent those students from being referred for services as we assist teachers in assessing their needs and adapting their teaching style to meet them.  But, when a student does arrive at our doorstep with underlying handwriting development needs, it is important for us to have the skills to assess and remediate those needs…no matter which program the student is using in the classroom.  And no matter whether or not he is receiving any handwriting instruction at all.  It is our responsibility to seek continuing education instruction and practice guidance that will add these skills to our tool boxes. Handwriting assessment and remediation is an OT-related service.  And our students’ successes will pave the way for enhanced recognition of the role we play in handwriting mastery.

 

Handwriting programs are important, for sure.  But as OT’s in general, our primary concern is, and always should be, the development of the underlying skills that form the foundation for handwriting success.

 

Please join us next week for an article by a guest blogger that will showcase the significant impact that a school-based OT can have in handwriting success!

 

 

(1)Lust, C. A., and D. K. Donica. “Effectiveness of a Handwriting Readiness Program in Head Start: A Two-Group Controlled Trial.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 65.5 (2011): 560-68. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

 

* I was honored when Universal Publishing valued occupational therapy and my work by including “Katherine’s OT Tips” in the Teachers’ Editions of their latest edition of their Universal Handwriting Program.  It was a positive way to build a relationship between occupational therapy and a handwriting program publisher.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and author of the book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.”  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.