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

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should we worry about pencil grip?

“Should we worry about pencil grip?”

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

balanced-literacy1Handwriting mastery has been determined to be a leading factor in literacy.  Research has proven that early handwriting instruction, if done right, improves students’ handwriting and that poor handwriting skills place the earliest constraints on writing development. (1)  Writing* instruction, and its favorable effect on improving reading fluency, has been given the rating of “strong confidence” among research experts. (2)  This is significant in the light that reading skills lie “at the heart of education,” with learning to read and write providing the foundation for both academic and economic success. (3)  Such as that is, handwriting mastery continues to remain a skill that 10%-34% of school-age children continue to fail to achieve, (4, qtd. in 5) with handwriting problems being prevalent in up to 25% of typically developing children. (6) That may explain why results from a survey of 167 occupational therapists revealed that 98% reported problems with handwriting to be the most common reasons for referrals from teachers. (7, 8)

Handwriting is a complex skill that involves sensory, perceptual, motor, cognitive, and language functions and encompasses many layers of prerequisite skills.  These include the ability to

  • balance without use of the hands,
  • grasp and release an object voluntarily,
  • use of the hands in a led-and-assist fashion,
  • interact with the environment in the stage of constructive play,
  • hold utensils and writing tools and to form basic strokes smoothly, and
  • perceive letter and orientation to printed language. (9)

It is the role of the occupational therapist to evaluate these underlying skill areas to determine the student’s strengths and weaknesses and to develop a remedial treatment plan to address those needs that are preventing him from achieving handwriting mastery.  Among the ergonomic mechanisms that affect the production of handwriting are body positioning, pencil positioning, pencil grip positioning, and pencil grip type. (10)  Each of these factors has been considered to be a significant factor in determining handwriting mastery and, hence, an assessment of each has been included in the traditional occupational therapy evaluation of handwriting development skills.  Pencil grip efficiency has been the long-established benchmark for “good handwriting,” with the dynamic tripod grasp encouraged by teachers and occupational therapists.  Therefore, when a student fails to achieve Abby for Website 2013-10-23that level of mastery, his pencil grip is the first factor that gains attention and at times claims the lion’s share of time, energy, and resources.  If he is not using the “optimal” pencil grasp, then changes are implemented.  Pencil grip adaptations can be easily and inexpensively obtained and sent into the classroom or to home as quick remedies for illegible and incorrect handwritten work.  And hours of extra practice with a grip or a “better pencil grasp” are often prescribed as a plan to fix handwriting problems.  But, is the pencil grip the most advantageous aspect to review when a student presents with a poor handwriting style?  Should that be the first place to start when he is referred to us for services or the teacher asks us to suggest classroom adaptations?  Does pencil grasp, or the dynamic tripod grasp in particular, have a major impact on handwriting mastery?

Not according to the research.  In fact, research suggests that 50% – 70% of children in a given sample use the dynamic tripod grasp (11), with more than half of second grade children surveyed using the dynamic quadrupod grasp.  (12, qtd in 13).   The results of a study conducted with 4th grade students determined that there were four mature handwriting grasps that were equally functional for children of that age:

  • Dynamic Tripod
  • Dynamic Quadrupod
  • Lateral Tripod
  • Lateral Quadrupod. (14)

Most importantly, the researchers also found that “no relationship was found between grasp and handwriting legibility or sped when children used of the mature grasp patterns” (Collmer, p. 29) below:

Grasp Patterns for Functional Writing. Adapted from “Effect of pencil grasp on the speed and legibility of handwriting after a 10-minute copy task in Grade 4 children,” by H. Schwellnus et al. (2012). Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 59(3), 180-187. (PHOTO PROPERTY OF COLLMER, K., REF. 18)

In another study conducted to discover the “Effect of Pencil Grasp on the Speed and Legibility of Handwriting in Children,” (15) it was found that although the fourth-grade participants utilized the dynamic tripod and lateral quadruped grasping patterns equally, they also displayed the use of the other two mature grasps identified in the study above.  In addition, this study found that 20% of the participants switched grasp patterns during the writing, with an equal percentage switching between the dynamic and lateral tripod and between the dynamic and lateral quadrupod.  Analysis of the results indicted that grasping patterns did not have an effect on legibility or speed.  This study used a 2-minute writing task for assessment.  The authors of the study indicated that alternating between two grasping patterns with the thumb position switching from opposition to adduction across the top of the pencil may indicate the need to cope with pain or discomfort during a longer-writing task.  This would presume to result in a slower writing speed accompanied with periods of rest.  However, in an additional study of fourth graders who participated in a 10-minute writing task, it was found that while the quality of the legibility of the handwriting decreased after the copy task, the speed of writing actually increased.  After analyzing the results, the researchers concluded that there was no difference in the quality or speed scores among the different pencil grasps before and after the task and questioned the practice of having students adopt the dynamic tripod grasp. (13)

Photo is property of Handwriting With Katherine.

Although 40% of teachers surveyed identified “uncorrect” pencil grasp as a common handwriting difficulty” (16 qtd in 13), researchers found that pencil grasp played a significantly less role then is perceived in a child’s ability to master handwritten tasks.  Instead, it was revealed that body positioning, pencil positioning, and consistency of pencil grip presented a significantly higher correlation with the measure of handwriting efficiency – legibility and speed. (10)  The implication of the findings of these studies for pediatric occupational therapy is that we must look beyond the seemingly obvious and traditionally accepted cause for handwriting problems.  Handwriting development skills can lie deeper than pencil grasp and their needs can be uncovered only with an assessment that targets them.

* Handwriting vs Writing:  Handwriting  is the process through which the writer uses his hand to produce letters, words, and sentences on the page in order to create, whereas writing is the skill  that “enables him to express his knowledge and thoughts.”  (Clark, Gloria Jean, “The relationship between handwriting, reading, fine motor and visual-motor skills in kindergarteners” (2010).  Graduate Thesis and Dissertations. Paper 11399. p. 1)

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

  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.  Photos that include links to an outside site are the property of those sites and should not be used in any fashion excepts when they include links to those sites.

References:

  1. Graham, Steve. “Want to Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting.” American Educator Winter.2009-2010 (n.d.): 20-25. Web. 26 June 2015.
  2. Graham, Steve, and Michael Hebert. “Writing to Read: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading.” Harvard Educational Review 81.4 (2011): 710-44. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
  3. Gentry, J. Richard, Ph.D., and Steve Graham, Ed.D. Creating Better Readers and Writers: The Importance of Direct, Systematic Spelling and Handwriting Instruction in Improving Academic Performance. Saperstein Associates. Saperstein Associates, 2010. Web. 24 June 2015. <http://www.sapersteinassociates.com/downloads/Color%20National%20Whitepaper%20Executive%20Summary.pdf>.
  4. Smits-Engelsman, B.c.m., A.s. Niemeijer, and G.p. Van Galen. “Fine Motor Deficiencies in Children Diagnosed as DCD Based on Poor Grapho-motor Ability.” Human Movement Science 20.1-2 (2001): 161-82. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
  5. Schwellnus, Heidi, PhD, Heather Carnahan, PhD, Azadeh Kushki, PhD, Helene Polatajko, PhD, Cheryl Missiuna, PhD, and Tom Chau, PhD. “Effect of Pencil Grasp on the Speed and Legibility of Handwriting in Children.” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy 66.6 (2012): 718-26. Web. 11 July 2015.
  6. vanderMerwe, Joanne, BScOT, M OT, Neeltje Smit, B OT, B Hons OT, MBA, and Betsie Vlok, M OT. “A Survey to Investigate How South African Occupational Therapists in Private Practice Are Assessing and Treating Poor Handwriting in Foundation Phase Learners: Part I Demographics and Assessment Practices.” South African Journal of Occupational Therapy December 41.3 (2011): 3-11. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <http://www.sajot.co.za>.
  7.  Case-Smith, J., (2002). Effectiveness of school-based occupational therapy intervention on handwriting. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 17-25.
  8. Hammerschmidt, S. L., and P. Sudsawad. “Teachers’ Survey on Problems With Handwriting: Referral, Evaluation, and Outcomes.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 58.2 (2004): 185-92. Web. 15 Aug. 2015.
  9. Chu, S. “Occupational Therapy for Children with Handwriting Difficulties: A Framework for Evaluation and Treatment.” The British Journal of Occupational Therapy 60.12 (1997): 514-20. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
  10. Rosenblum, S., S. Goldstand, and S. Parush. “Relationships Among Biomechanical Ergonomic Factors, Handwriting Product Quality, Handwriting Efficiency, and Computerized Handwriting Process Measures in Children With and Without Handwriting Difficulties.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 60.1 (2006): 28-39. Web.
  11. Zivani, Jenny, and Margaret Wallen. “The Development of Graphomotor Skills.” Hand Function in the Child: Foundations for Remediation. 2006 ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier, 2006. 217-36. Print.
  12. Benbow, M. (1987). Sensory and motor measurements of dynamic tripod skill. Unpublished Thesis, Boston University.
  13. Schwellnus, Heidi D. “Pencil Grasp Pattern: How Critical Is It to Functional Handwriting?” Thesis. University of Toronto, 2012. Print.
  14. Koziatek, S. M., and N. J. Powell. “Pencil Grips, Legibility, and Speed of Fourth-Graders’ Writing in Cursive.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57.3 (2003): 284-88. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
  15. Schwellnus, Heidi, PhD, Heather Carnahan, PhD, Azadeh Kushki, PhD, Helene Polatajko, PhD, Cheryl Missiuna, PhD, and Tom Chau, PhD. “Effect of Pencil Grasp on the Speed and Legibility of Handwriting in Children.” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy 66.6 (2012): 718-26. Web. 11 July 2015.
  16. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., Mason, L., Fink-Chorzempa, B., Moran, S., & Saddler, B. (2008). How do primary grade teachers teach handwriting? A national survey. Reading and Writing, 21(1), 49-69.
  17. Sudsawad, P., C. A. Trombly, A. Henderson, and L. Tickle-Degnen. “The Relationship Between the Evaluation Tool of Children’s Handwriting and Teachers’ Perceptions of Handwriting Legibility.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 55.5 (2001): 518-23. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
  18. Collmer, K.  Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.

Handwriting and Learning: A Vital Link to Skilled Writing

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 second article in our series will explore the vital role that the process of learning to write by hand plays in our students’ ability to adequately present their knowledge and thoughts.  I look forward to your comments and feedback – in handwritten form, if possible!

 

Handwriting and Learning:  A Vital Link to Skilled Writing

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

Wrist & Hand anatomy clinic hq
Picture courtesy of Clinic.hq.co.uk

Frank R. Wilson writes in his book, The Hand:  how its use shapes the brain, language, and human culture,

 

“Where would we be without our hands?  Our lives are so full of commonplace experience in which the hands are so skillfully and silently involved that we rarely consider how dependent upon them we actually are.”

 

 

He goes on to say that “any theory of human intelligence which ignores the interdependence of hand and brain function, the historic origins of that relationship, or the impact of that history on developmental dynamics in modern humans, is grossly misleading and sterile.”  Studies have shown that the hand plays a major role in learning.  And research is uncovering the impact that it has on the process of reading and writing.  The hand, as it is utilized in the mastery of handwriting, is involved in the development of motor memory for letter recognition.  And letter recognition has been found to be the most reliable predictor of future reading success.

 

writing upsplash pixabayHandwriting, by definition, is writing done by the hand, in some cases that which characterizes a particular person.  The hand has been described as giving “the upper limb its importance and originality.” (1)  It is a complex unit comprised of intricate muscle, joint, and ligament components that create movements so flexible and dexterous they allow us to manipulate a grain of sand.  The inside of the hand is innervated with neurons that relay signals to the brain relative to contact with objects, while proprioceptive information relative to finger and thumb positioning is transmitted through the joints, muscles, and ligaments.  The tactile sensitivity of the fingertips (2) detects spatial differences allowing for receptive touch such as that used to read Braille characters.  The hand extends from the body to engage, react, and defend.  And, it is continuously working together with the other senses to enhance learning.

 

From birth, infants discover the world through their senses.  They move their head toward a sound.  Their vision guides their eyes toward movement or light.  They maintain life through their sense of taste.  As they grow, they begin to explore the world with the addition of their vestibular and proprioceptive systems – rolling over and pulling up to become active players in the world in which they live.  And from the moment that they discover their hands, they begin to stretch and reach to learn more about the objects around them.  From this time on, their hands provide the medium for manipulation, exploration, and expression.  Learning through the use of their hands, as well as their vision, opens the door to curiosity and creativity.

 

Learning through the use of our hands continues to be a vital link for educational success throughout life, with handwriting playing a major role.  Efficient fine motor writing skills in pre-kindergarten have been found to be indicators for higher academic scores in second grade.  (3)    Recent research has uncovered its role in the process of skilled writing, an additional predictor of educational success.  Handwriting, with its tactile and  visual-motor integration skills, (4) addresses the perceptual and sensorimotor (5) combination of the complex process of writing. (6)

 

It is important at this point to make the distinction between “handwriting” and “writing” skills:

  • Handwriting it the process through which the writer uses his hand to produce letters, words, and sentences on the page in order to convey knowledge or thoughts.
  • Writing, on the other hand, is the vehicle that transforms handwriting into a means of expression.

 

Skilled writing requires the writer to utilize three cognitive processes:

(1) Planning to generate ideas and set goals,

(2) Translation to turn ideas into written text, and

(3) Revision to recreate the text for improved clarity and idea expression.

In addition, children’s translation has spirit-geralt pixabayalso been found to require text generation and transcription, which includes handwriting (letter production) and spelling (word production). (7)

 

 

 

Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, in the Foreword of Writing Next:  Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School, (8) stresses the importance of skilled written expression:

 

“…it is obvious that if today’s youngsters cannot read with understanding, think about and analyze what they’ve read, and then write clearly and effectively about what they’ve learned and what they think, then they may never be able to do justice to their talents and their potential….Indeed, young people who do not have the ability to transform thoughts, experiences, and ideas into written words are in danger of losing touch with the joy in inquiry, the sense of intellectual curiosity, and the inestimable satisfaction of acquiring wisdom that are the touchstones of humanity.”

 

In that same report, Graham and Perin site statistics that reflect Mr. Gregorian’s reason for concern.

 

  • Seventy percent of students in grades 4-12 are low-achieving writers.
  • College instructors estimate that 50% of high school graduates are not prepared for college-level writing.
  • The knowledge and skills required for higher education and employment are now considered equivalent.

 

Writing, with its requirement that the “writers formulate their own thoughts, organize them, and create a written record of them using the conventions of spelling and grammar,” (8) demands certain efficient cognitive skills.   Information about letter formations and sounds, word and sentence structures, as well as the principles of grammar, must be accurately stored in memory, available for quick retrieval, and produced automatically in order to free up the cognitive skills needed for the writing process.  Considering the evidence that handwriting affects the grading of a student’s work, (9) legibility must be considered to be an equal partner in the development of skilled writing.

 

keyboard-geralt pixabayTechnology, keyboarding in particular, has been suggested by many to be a viable, more timely substitute for handwriting.  Computers are expected to replace the need for handwritten work in the educational system due to the increased demand for keyboarding skills in the workplace.  And typewriting has been perceived to be equally as effective in the development of writing skills.   Considering the research that strongly suggests a tie between writing movements and letter memorization and the relationship of cognition with perception and motor action, (6) as well as the link between automaticy in handwriting and skilled writing skills, (10) the substitution of typewriting for handwriting warrants research.   Mangen and Velay, in their article, Digitizing literacy:  reflections on the haptics of writing,  (6) reported upon the significant differences between the motor movements involved in handwriting and typewriting.  Handwriting produces a strict and unequivocal relationship between the visual shape (of the letter) and the motor program that is used to produce the shape, with each letter associated with a given, very specific movement.  They report that typing is a “form of spatial learning” that requires the writer to transform the visual form of each character into the position of a given key, turning the movement to create thoughts into a visuomotor association linked with pointing movements and characters on the keyboard.  In that light, they felt that the less specific typewriting movements should provide little in the way of visual recognition and memorization – Memorization that is required for automaticy and skilled writing skills.

 

“Writing is an immensely important and equally complex and sophisticated human skill commonly ascribed a fundamental role in children’s cognitive and language development, and a milestone on the path to literacy.” (6)

 

Handwriting cannot be ignored as an important step on that pathway.

 

To read Week 1’s Posting in the Series, please scroll down past the references!

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

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.
 (1) Wilson, Frank R. The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. New York: Pantheon, 1998. Print.
(2) Johansson, Roland S., and J. Randall Flanagan. “Coding and Use of Tactile Signals from the Fingertips in Object Manipulation Tasks.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience Nat Rev Neurosci 10.5 (2009): 345-59. Web. 19 July 2015. <http://130.237.111.254/ehrsson/pdfs/Johansson&Flanagan-2009.pdf>.
(3) Renaud, Jean-Paul. “Good Handwriting and Good Grades: FIU Researcher Finds New Link.” News at FIU Florida International University. Florida International University, 08 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 July 2015. <http://news.fiu.edu/2012/01/good-handwriting-and-good-grades-fiu-researcher-finds-new-link/34934?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-handwriting-and-good-grades-fiu-researcher-finds-new-link>.(4) Daly, C. J., G. T. Kelley, and A. Krauss. “Relationship Between Visual-Motor Integration and Handwriting Skills of Children in Kindergarten: A Modified Replication Study.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57.4 (2003): 459-62. Web. 19 July 2015.
(4) Daly, C. J., G. T. Kelley, and A. Krauss. “Relationship Between Visual-Motor Integration and Handwriting Skills of Children in Kindergarten: A Modified Replication Study.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57.4 (2003): 459-62. Web. 19 July 2015.
(5) The University of Stavanger. “Better learning through handwriting.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119095458.htm>.
(6) Mangen, Anne, and Jean-Luc Velay. “Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing.” Advances in Haptics (2010): 385-401. Web. 26 June 2015.
(7) Berninger, Virginia W., Robert D. Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia. “Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children With and Without Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 32.Summer 2009 (2009): 123-41. Sage Journals. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/32/3/123.abstract>.
(8) Graham, Steve, and Dolores Perin. Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School. Alliance for Excellent Education. Alliance for Excellent Education, Sept. 2006. Web. 24 June 2015. <http://all4ed.org>.
(9) Gentry, J. Richard, Ph.D., and Steve Graham, Ed.D. “Creating Better Readers and Writers: The Importance of Direct, Systematic Spelling and Handwriting Instruction in Improving Academic Performance.” Saperstein Associates. Saperstein Associates, n.d. Web. 07 July 2015. <http://www.sapersteinassociates.com/>.
(10) Graham, Steve. “Want to Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting.” American Educator Winter.2009-2010 (n.d.): 20-25. Web. 26 June 2015.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page, 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 authors 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.

Week 1 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 is a complex language.

Handwriting is a complex language.

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Language is defined as a “communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures or written symbols.”  This system includes rules such as words and sentences and is shared by a specific group of people or a nation.  Language allows us to tell others what we know, ask questions about things we don’t understand, and to make our needs known.  Language is a living component of our lives.  We learn it, develop it, hone i,t and expand upon it.  It is complex.  And it comes in many forms.

As I conducted my research for this article, I came upon this interesting diagram that defines language as having five components:

The 5 Components of Language
The 5 Components of Language (Originally appeared in an article by Glenys Ross)

This clearly points out the myriad of connections that take place in communication.  But it also provides some insight into the complexity of handwriting mastery.  The author of the article, Glenys Ross, points out that

Handwriting is not an isolated activity; neither can it be seen solely as a motor activity (all about movement).  It is part of language activity.” 

Handwriting, as a task, utilizes information from our eyes, our mind, and our auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive systems.  It is a language that uses movement (fine motor), thinking, visual processing, and attention.  It has symbols, rules, and sounds.  And when we come across a child who struggles with the mastery of handwriting skills, these layers of complexity need to be investigated and assessed to determine which ones are hindering his progress.

 

As Occupational Therapists, we work to discover the underlying culprits that require remediation and begin the process of developing a plan that will attend to the development and/or adaptation of a handwriting program to meet the child’s needs. 

1.  We take into consideration how the child’s struggles with handwriting are affecting his educational success, as well as his self-esteem. 

2.  We look at the goals of his parents and his teachers. 

3.  And we must determine the child’s developmental, physical, and cognitive skill levels. 

4.  At times, the hurdle appears to be the very act of handwriting itself.  It’s laborious and time-consuming.  Perhaps the child’s pencil grasp is inefficient and his hand hurts. 

In many cases, the child has already been offered an adaptation that provides him with a keyboarding option.  For some, this appears to be the “just right” fit.  But is that truly the answer to solving a student’s handwriting problems?

 

But is keyboarding the answer?

Many of my clients’ parents are on the fence about this adaptation.  While they do see the benefits of having their children use a computer or iPad for schooltypewriter retro D Gabi pixabay-79025_1280 and homework, they continue to have concerns about the underlying reasons why they had difficulty with handwriting in the first place.  And they rightly should. 

The fact that handwriting is a complex language, and that it is one of our forms of communication,  indicates that the same facets that comprise it are also integral components of one or more of the other four languages identified above.

 

  • Reading is visual and cognitive. 
  • Listening utilizes cognitive and attention skills. 
  • Thinking requires movement and vision in order to access new information and to adapt stored information. 
  • Speaking requires thinking and listening skills. 

The languages we use do not stand alone.  They work together to provide a stage for learning and growth.  When the language of handwriting is deficient, it is most likely that another language area has been affected as well.

 

Removing the problem of handwriting with a keyboard does not address the underlying skills that stand in the way.  This strategy can certainly help a student over the immediate hurdle of completing class and homework in a timely and legible manner.  It can provide him with a means to keep up with his peers.  However, it does not work on the skills that he needs to address in order to solve his handwriting problems.

 

Why do we care if he can write by hand?

office building windows geralt pixabayIn a study headed by University of Washington professor of educational psychology, Virginia Berninger, (1) researchers found that children in the second, fourth, and sixth grades composed essays faster and more prolifically when using a pen versus a keyboard.  The fourth and fifth graders tested wrote more complete sentences using a pen.  Berninger found that the keyboard was better for writing the alphabet.  However, the results for composing sentences were mixed. 

Her research has shown that “forming letters by hand may engage our thinking brains differently than pressing down on a key.” She points out that written language in itself has “multiple levels like a tall building with a different floor plan for each story.”  For handwriting, the written language – letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs – comprise its set of complex levels.  She relates that although they appear independent of each other, they are actually related.  Spelling, words, sentences, and organizing sentences are located on different floors but can affect each other as a child begins to master handwriting and the written language.  Difficulty with spelling or composing text stems from skill proficiencies located on different levels resulting in transcription challenges.

 

Berninger stresses that transcription disability should not be ignored in children who struggle with the language of handwriting and that it is important to provide these children with the opportunity to form letters by hand.  She acknowledges that we still need more research to determine how forming letters by hand encourages learning differently than using a keyboard.  However, she points out that “Brain imaging studies with adults have shown an advantage for forming letters over selecting or viewing letters.”  The scientific reason behind this involves the reticular activating system (RAS) located at the base of the brain. 

  • As we perform any task, our brain is collecting information from our bodies, the environment, and from within the brain itself. 
  • Some of this information is essential to the task that we are engaged in.  Others are extraneous, such as the lawn mower in the neighbor’s yard, the student talking to the teacher, or our memory of yesterday’s events. 
  • In order for us to be able to effectively carry out the task at hand, the RAS filters the information we are receiving and places the most important to our task in the forefront.  It appears that the physical act of writing does just that. 

Berninger shares the thought that this physical act of writing – using your hand to form and connect letters – may provide the brain with a more active involvement in the process and brings the information being scribed to our attention.  Keyboarding is a passive activity where the “writer” touches keys and creates a letter or word with finger movement.  Handwriting provides the writer with the opportunity to “engage the hand” and the brain together in learning.

 

This is an exciting area of research into the areas of handwriting and learning. 

As we work toward developing handwriting mastery in children who struggle with it, it is important to remember the significance that handwriting plays in learning.  In a research study conducted by Laura Dinehart, an assistant professor at Florida International University’s College of Education, handwriting was shown to be a key indicator of academic success in elementary alphabet letters geralt pixabayschool.  Study results revealed that second-grade students who received good grades on fine motor writing tasks in pre-k had an average GPA of 3.02 in math and 2.84 in reading (B averages).  However, students who did poorly on pre-k fine motor writing tasks achieved an average GPA of 2.30 in math and 2.12 in reading (C averages) in second grade. 

 

Substituting keyboarding for handwriting can be a temporary accommodation for some children.  Let’s be sure to make that distinction as we assess and remediate a student’s handwriting needs in an effort to give each child the opportunity to use the language of handwriting effectively.

 

(1) Berninger, Virginia W., Robert D. Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia. “Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children With and Without Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 32.Summer 2009 (2009): 123-41. Sage Journals. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/32/3/123.abstract>.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting development skills.  Her book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, can be purchased on her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; 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 authors 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) Berninger, Virginia W., Robert D. Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia. “Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children With and Without Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 32.Summer 2009 (2009): 123-41. Sage Journals. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/32/3/123.abstract>.

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