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.

The Handwriting Book revealed!

Well, folks, today is the big day!  My new work, Handwriting Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, will be officially launched at the #AOTA16 Convention in Chicago!  I am honored to have worked with Universal Publishing toward sharing my book with you and look forward to chatting with my peers at Booth #5015 in the Expo Hall!    This is a very exciting time for me and, as always, I think you for reading and sharing my work.

If you could not make it to the convention this year, you can still pre-order my book by clicking on the picture below!

 

The NEW Handwriting Book from 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 and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

On my way to #AOTA16!

I’ll be boarding the plane bright and early today heading for Chicago and the 2016 AOTA Convention!  This will be a very exciting journey for me as I share my new book with my peers.  It will be an honor to discuss handwriting assessment and remediation and chat about the concerns and challenges we have all faced in this area of occupational therapy.  I look forward to meeting many of you at the Universal Publishing Booth #5015.  Please join me there!

 

Please stop by Booth 5015, AOTA in Chicago, to chat about my new book!

 

 

 

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.

Ordering the New Handwriting Book!

order button ArtsyBee pixabayMy new book, The Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, will be offered for the first time in Chicago at the 2016 AOTA Conference.  It’s very exciting to be sharing my work with my peers!  But, I know that many of you will not be able to attend the conference, so I wanted to let you know that the book will be offered through a link here and on my website after the conference.  Please look for it!  And, as always, thank you for reading and sharing my work.

 

 

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.

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/>.

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.

Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity

The month of August brings thoughts of the new school year and a fresh look at how children learn and grow.  With that focus in mind, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to bring you a series of posts that will share insights from Occupational Therapists that reflect their views on and visions for our students’ learning experiences.  The third article in our series is presented by Lyn Armstrong, OTR/L, and will explore the the process of identifying handwriting struggles early to prevent our students from falling behind in their handwritten work.  I know that you will find her strategy easy to use and an asset to your OT Tool Box!

 

Help With Handwriting:  A Screening Activity for All Ages

            by Lyn Armstrong, OTR

 

Handwriting is a very complex task at any age!

 

If you can picture in your mind a ladder, let’s look at each major rung!  The top rungs of this handwriting ladder are composed of written expression items (spelling, thought organization, punctuation, and sentence/paragraph development).  The middle rungs may be composed of sensory motor items such as visual perception, tactile/proprioception.  The bottom rungs handle fine and gross motor skills.

A student with handwriting difficulties may have problems related to each rung, particular rungs, or multiple rungs in each area.  For example a child with Dyslexia may have different issues affecting the quality of writing than a student with “just fine motor skills” (rare these days).  Illegible handwriting is sometimes called “Dysgraphia”.

Dysgraphia Subtypes (Deuel. Journal of Child Neurology 1995)

Spontaneous written text Oral Spelling Copying Drawing Finger tapping(fine motor)
Dyslexic Dysgraphia Poorly legible with textural complexity influencing legibility Severely abnormal Relatively preserved Relativelypreserved Normal
Dysgraphia due to Motor Clumsiness Poorly legible Relatively preserved Legible or if neat extremely slowly produced compromised abnormal
Dysgraphia due to defect in understanding space Poorly legible preserved Poorly legible abnormal normal

 

In this chart, you can see that a Dyslexic student’s difficulties center on spelling and textural complexity rather than fine motor skills.  For the observer of a Dyslexic student, the handwriting puzzle may be confusing as one may see the following:

  1. Legible letter formations in handwriting workbooks or sheets
  2. Legible writing with short sentences that are composed of familiar words
  3. Decreased legibility as spelling demands increase
  4. Decreased legibility as spelling, time restraints, reading comprehension, and/or organization is required

If we go back to look at the handwriting ladder, we see that the majority of handwriting issues with a Dyslexic student center in the upper rungs of written expression and not in the lower rungs of fine motor or visual perception.  Therefore it is critical to work on the upper rungs of written expression not necessarily the lower rungs of perception and motor which generally are intact. An occupational therapist though specializing in handwriting may not be as helpful for a Dyslexic student as a Language therapist or a Dyslexic tutor who is more specialized in reading and spelling.

Knowing where the difficulties lie, help determines which professional is needed and which classroom modifications are appropriate.

 

The first thing to consider with a student who is having writing difficulties is whether or not the student knows the letter names, has attached the letter names to a symbol, and can write that letter (symbol) without thinking about it.  If he can do this, it frees up the mind to concentrate on the aspects of writing sentences, spelling, etc.

A simple screening exercise for grades 1 and higher is mentioned below.  Please remember that this is a screening only!  It should help you determine if the child is visualizing the letters correctly, transitioning quickly from one thought to another (cognitive associative shift), and receiving good input through the sense of touch (tactile) and body movement (proprioceptive).

 

Screening Procedure: Choose a time when the student is not tired.  Place a piece of blank paper long wise in front of the student.  Have the student write the upper case alphabet in his/her choice of print or cursive with his eyes closed.   Have the student open his eyes to check his work.  Then repeat with the lower case alphabet.  Always praise the student even if done poorly.

As the student writes, make notes of the following:Poor Handwriting Example2

  1. Hesitation on a letter
  2. Difficulty sequencing the alphabet: you may help by giving a letter
  3. Talking out loud as he writes a letter or the sequence

Once finished note the following:

  1. Are the letters placed on an imaginary line? If so, it appears the student knows where his hand is as it moves across the page.  If not, you may want to work on sensory items with the student to help with better sensory input in the hand. Check for pressure: are the letters made very lightly or can you read them from the other side of the page (engraving). Extra pressure can result from poor sensory input or from over concentration on the activity.

Also draw a line across the top of the letters and one under the letters.  The space between these two lines (height of the letters) may be the comfort level of the moving fingers.  Adjust the writing spaces on other papers to be equal to this space. For example, if the letters of a third grade are large like a kindergartener, the student may have trouble writing in the small spaces on a fourth grade workbook or college rule notebook paper.

  1. Are there hesitations with certain letters? We picture the letters as we write in our minds.  The letter as it is being written matches or does not match a letter in our minds.  If a student has trouble visualizing a letter, he will hesitate or say “I don’t remember”. Work on that particular letter.
  2. Can the student write the alphabet sequence without help? This requires writing a letter, remembering where the letter is in the alphabet sequence, picturing the next letter, writing it on the paper and repeating this process.  This takes memory, visual recall, visualization and motor production.  Shifting from one skill to another may be difficult and need extra help.  Processing speed may be slow as well.
  3. Are the letters made top to bottom or bottom to top? If the letters are legible and made bottom to top, this may not need to be corrected.

 

Lyn Exercise PhotorThe following may be helpful as you scan the student’s papers after you have noted motor, perceptual or sensory issues:

  1. Look at the student’s writing in all subjects. Just because a student has good grades in spelling, one needs to look at the spelling in the context of writing sentences and paragraphs.  One may be able to remember the spelling words in isolation but not when thinking about what to write.  Even look at math papers for number formations, sizes of numbers, ability to write in smaller spaces and written words in word problem solutions.
  2. Look at the spaces the child must write in on the various pages. Some students have a need to completely fill up a space even when writing their name on the top line of the paper. Others who may be insecure with their writing may choose to write very small to disguise errors. Others may have visual perceptual issues!
  3. Check the consistency of line size in various subjects. A child with motor planning difficulties may have difficulty adjusting his motor movements for writing to different sized spaces.  Look for consistency of letter size.  Size can Lyn Poor Handwriting Example1affect in legibility.
  4. Look at where the lines of writing move to across the page: Some prefer to start on the left and move to middle of paper. They slowly pull away from the left side of the paper and start their sentences in the middle of the page indented to almost the middle of the line spaces, making a diagonal pull from the left side.  Modify by moving the left side of the writing page to the body’s midline as it appears these students are more comfortable with their right body space.
  5. Check the color of the paper. Some students with visual perceptual or sensitivity problems write better if the paper is colored which seems to reduce the black/white contrast. Look also at overhead lights to see if they are causing a glare on the paper.
  6. Check the furniture. A too high desk will result in the student laying his head down.  Same for a too low desk.
  7. Check computer skills: Note taking may be faster on a computer.

 

Truly, handwriting is a complex task!

 

Lyn Armstrong is a pediatric occupational therapist with 35 plus years of experience living in the Houston area. Her primary focus has been on handwriting which has led to authoring several articles in The International Dyslexic Association Resource Directory and to her book “Alphabet Soup: Stirring Your Child’s Interest in Letters”.  She can be contacted through her website, lynaot.com.

 

Weeks 1 and 2 in the Series:

Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Handwriting and Learning: A Vital Link to Skilled Writing, by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on he Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Handwriting and Learning: A Vital Link to Skilled Writing, by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on he Handwriting is Fun! Blog

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