by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
I recently received an inquiry through my Handwriting With Katherine website regarding an aspect of handwriting that can be the final mastery challenge for many of my older students: handwriting speed. My reader wrote:
“I have a 6th grade boy who writes crazy fast! He wrote 99 letters/minute today. According to the criteria I have, he should only need to be writing ~50 letters per minute for his age (11 years old). And of course it looks very messy.”
This therapist indicated that the student produced “great precision and control when he slows down;” and while his grip was not considered anything “to be desired,” it was functional and did not affect his precision. His speed was affecting his ability to produce legible written work. The therapist also inquired about the use of metronomes and music to assist in slowing her writer down.
Since I’m sure there are many therapists and teachers who have students who race through their written assignments, I thought I’d share my response to her. Here are some tips for helping students to get out of the handwriting race!
Editing Skills provide a foundation for appropriate speed.
Writing too fast can actually slow the writer down. This can be both a good and a not-so-good thing. In both cases, this is only true if students have been taught self-editing skills. Self-monitoring their own work has been shown to increase the students’ sense of ownership and responsibility for their work (Thomson & Gilchrist, ed., p. 123). They should understand the reasons for editing and have been instructed in the appropriate ways to incorporate editing skills as they are writing. The foundation for self-editing is an important facet of a structured and guided handwriting instruction program. In the early learning stages, they are taught to review their handwriting skills by going back to review a line of letter formation practice exercises as they complete each one. As they become more proficient and begin to write words then sentences, they will train their eyes to recognize letter formation, alignment, and spacing errors as they are writing. With these editing tools in hand, speedy writers will find themselves having to frequently
erase and rewrite their work during its production. As they recognize an error, they will attend to it and make the corrections. So, editing can slow the pace of students’ handwriting. This is a good thing if the writers are not producing so many errors that the time used in erasing and correcting hampers their ability to produce legible written work that accurately shares their knowledge in a timely manner. This would indicate that the students have not yet mastered the foundational skills necessary for handwriting mastery. In this case, it is important to return to practice or rehabilitation activities that will address letter formation, alignment, and spacing skills. If the writers are producing sloppy work because of speed and not due to poor foundational skills, and their current level of self-editing has not assisted them in slowing down, then I suggest a fun game to help them to become “turtles.” (Don’t let the name fool you. This game is appropriate for children in all grades.)
The Turtle Race. For students who write very, very fast, I present an activity that is the opposite of my “Minute Mania” strategy. (You can find many other excellent handwriting activities in my book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediaiton: A Process Model for Occupational Therpists.” )
Where in the “Minute Mania” strategy you ask the student to write very fast and worry about editing later, the “Turtle Race” is just the opposite. Although I feel that metronomes and music can be effective timing tools, they do not present the functional basis for slowing down in a “fun and playful” way.* I feel that this activity can do just that!
1. As with the “Minute Mania” strategy, you and the student can come up with a silly sentence (versus words) consisting of 5-8 words (perhaps more depending upon the age and handwriting skill of the student).
2. Present the sentence in typewritten format to prevent confusion over letter formations or handwriting style and cut the words into individual pieces of paper.
3. Place the individual words in sentence format above the student’s paper or taped on the board, depending on what type of task you are working on (near or distance copying).
4. Provide the student with these directions:
• Explain that the object of the game is to help him slow his handwriting speed in order to produce legible written work in a timely manner. Discuss self-editing strategies and how they are used to recognize and correct handwriting errors during the writing process. (If the student is unfamiliar with these strategies – e.g., attention to detail and focusing on the letters produced versus his hand or pencil – take time to provide some
instruction in them.) Discuss the importance of correcting errors right away, so that during writing assignments he won’t have so many words to edit after his assignment is complete. Explain that in the “Turtle Game,” he will correct his work during the writing process. In addition, he will conduct a final edit of his work at the end of the game. At that time, he will create a score for the game by recording the number of words that he needed to rewrite during the final edit. Finally, be sure that the student understands that the lowest score during final editing is the better one.
• Explain to the student that you will be pointing to each word in the order it appears in the sentence and that he will have a certain amount of time during each pointing to copy the word. Emphasize that he cannot move on to the next word until you have pointed to it, so the student has LOTS of time to write it as neatly as he can and to edit his work. You can decide on the amount of time you will allow for each word. For example, 30 seconds per word for very fast writers will provide them with a sense that they have enough time to go slow; and that even though they may go fast, they will have to wait until the time is up until they can move on.
*You can enhance the students’ sense of timing by adding a metronome to the game, using its rhythmic sound and speed to help the writers’ slow down their handwriting speed. Be sure to explain and demonstrate its purpose in the game and gradually remove it from the game to encourage carryover in a functional task.
• Be sure to let the student know that he should edit his work as it is written and not to wait until the end.
• Finally, remind the student that final editing will occur after the game; and for each word that includes an error, he will be asked to rewrite the word correctly and record the number of words that required rewriting. Remind him that the lowest score during final editing is the better one. You can even make up a rubric for this if you want to so the student can monitor his own progress and take responsibility for it after each session.
5. Now, students will most likely continue to write very fast at first even though you’ve given them time to work on each word. This is a habit; and just like any other, it will need time to be replaced with a better one. Don’t get discouraged. Let them work it out as the game goes along.
6. After the student has written the entire sentence, have him conduct the final edit and rewrite each word below the original, allowing the same amount of time you provided for each word during the original writing. Have the student tell you what needs to be edited; and if he cannot find the errors, go ahead and discuss each word and/or letter formation with him.
7. Have the student record his score on a score pad or your rubric. Be sure to discuss his progress to help him understand the types of corrective actions that can help him improve his score.
8. Then, run the “Turtle Race” again, with the same sentence, using the same time limits, and reminding the student that he will want to beat his own score. Self-competition is a friendly, less stressful strategy for some students. For others, healthy competition with another person can facilitate an understanding of speed and the motivation to slow down.
• If you are working with an individual student, you can add a more competitive component by including yourself in the game. Both you and the student can write the words of the sentence sticking to the time limits. By working alongside the student, you can demonstrate appropriate speed and timing, allowing him to get a sense of how fast he is writing compared with your speed.
• If you are working with more than one student at a time in your session or within a classroom setting, you can group the students and have them compete with each other by comparing scores. This set-up can also provide students with an opportunity to model their speed after the slower writers.
Ideas for turning this strategy from practice into function.
• You can work with the student’s vocabulary or spelling lists. Instead of providing a sentence format, simply flip over the words as they are presented in the “Minute Mania” game using a specific time limit for each word.
• Story-telling works well to incorporate writing skills into the session (which is the ultimate goal for handwriting mastery). Have the student dictate a very short story to you, type it or write it on the board, and then conduct the game as originally presented. As you point out the words, the student is actually recording his own original story.
Be Patient! Sometimes the “Turtle Game” strategy very quickly accomplishes its goal of alerting students to the need to slow down. Other times, it can take a while but then it clicks in. Be patient – with yourself, the student, and the game. There will always be a learning curve and it’s best to just let the learning take its course. Remember, each student learns differently and that approaches to the game need to take those learning styles into account.
Be Prepared! As an introductory preparation for this game, its best to begin with an activity that focuses on gross motor skills, especially those that include a visual component that requires diminished speed and precision.
• Let’s say for the little ones, the activity can be as simple as having them carry small objects across the room with a spoon to deposit into a small container. This can work for older children, as well, if the props are appropriate.
• For older children, try a tether ball activity. Hang a soft baseball-sized ball by a string from an overhead light or a ceiling tile at a height slightly above or at the students’ eye level. Have your students stand about an arm’s length away, slightly less, and bat at it lightly. Explain to them that the object is to have the ball cross just over their midline, back and forth just traveling from shoulder to shoulder. Speed will need to be slower in order to maintain shoulder width and to keep the ball in control. To help the students measure their speed, have them recite the alphabet slowly with each tap. It also helps to enter into a conversation with the students, demonstrating speed by measuring the timing of your words. As they converse with you, the students can model your speed.
I feel it’s very important to keep the functional aspect of therapy in the forefront of the student’s mind. Why do we need to write slow? For the same reason we need to walk slowly with the spoon or tap the ball lightly – to maintain control and accuracy. During the “Turtle Race,” discuss the reason why control and accuracy are important – many times! It’s the ultimate object of the game, after all! Enjoy!
The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published and is the property of 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.
Reference: Thomson, P., Gilchrist, P., ed. Dyslexia – A multidisciplinary approach. Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd., United Kingdom, 1997.
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