Handwriting Tips for Older Students – Posters!
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
One summer, I came across a remarkable fourth-grade student who desperately wanted to increase her speed with cursive. We’ll call her Mary. When I assessed her handwriting skills, I discovered that her letter formations were superb, but she certainly attained that perfection at the expense of speed. We spent the summer building that skill and we were both thrilled with her progress.
But, the next summer, her parents came to me with their concern that, although she could produce legible and speedy handwriting, she was unable to construct a book report independently. It was evident to me that my work had not ended with handwriting skills. Functionality depended upon her ability to convey her knowledge through a handwritten product. After years of struggling with speed, my little gal had not achieved the requisite skills for creating content with her brain while she was using her hands to write. That summer turned my business focus from practice to function!
A strategy to move from practice to function
Book reports have been a part of students’ education since the beginning of time! Well, it seems that way, doesn’t it? Mary shied away from them not because they required handwriting but because they demanded her to use her handwriting and creativity together to develop a story of her own. As I reviewed her needs, I focused upon the fact that handwriting and writing are both complex skills that rely heavily upon gross-motor, fine-motor, visual perceptual, and cognitive skills. It was important to understand that older students who are continuing to master their use of handwriting to create written work do not benefit from simply having to write more book reports! So, I decided to address her parents’ concerns, while adding a little zing to her sessions, with a mix of creativity that included movement, fine motor, and visual perceptual skills!
As Mary and I chatted over the past summer about her joy of outdoor activities, I discovered that she had not developed a fine-motor hobby. I introduced her to my cross stitch and she was excited about trying it. Bingo! Right there I got the creative bug and began to develop our summer sessions! Here’s what I came up with:
A Visual Book Report Plan
1. First, I asked Mary to select and read a short-story from a list I provided. The story she chose was about a boy who helps his granddad build birdhouses.
2. Then, I collected my supplies:
(a) a beginner’s cross stitch pattern of a bird and a birdhouse to tie a fine-motor craft with our handwriting/writing project (above). My goal was to encourage critical thinking that linked the use of her hands
to the book report ideas that she was developing in her thoughts. (linking fine-motor and visual perceptual skills)
(b) a graphic organizer with the “bubbles” labeled as: main idea, characters, struggles, lessons learned, and impressions.
(c) a 3-fold poster board and art supplies for the completion of a visual book report.
3. As I suspected, Mary found the graphic organizer difficult to complete independently. So, we used her cross stitch learning experience as an opportunity to fill in a graphic organizer to outline the process. This exercise provided her with a way to refresh her memory as she worked on the project at home, while it mimicked the process we would use next time to complete her book report graphic organizer task. (linking fine-motor to both handwriting and creativity)
4. I took our next attempt at the book report graphic organizer to the chalkboard. I found that the move from chair to standing did wonders for her thought process, as well as the tactile experience she received from writing on the board. I introduced Mary to visualization, asking her to think of the story in her “mind’s eye,” visualizing what she had read and how the story flowed.
We practiced this skill with her cross stitch, transferring the skill to “see” the hole behind the fabric with her eye and her touch, without turning the fabric over. Then we brainstormed the “character bubble” as she wrote on the board, subsequently transferring the information to her graphic organizer. (linking fine-motor with visual perception; transferring visual perceptual skills)
5. Mary began to transfer her visualization skills independently at the board and with her cross stitch. At her seventh session she announced that while she was working on her cross stitch at home, she began to think about her story and remembered something that she’d left out of the “lessons learned bubble!” (Remember: The cross stitch was a bird and birdhouse!)
6. When the graphic organizer was nearly complete, we turned our attentions to the creation of a visual book report. The poster board caused a panic, as Mary stated that she was “not good at those” and found herself back at the beginning of the summer without tools to help her to succeed. I used the last “bubble – impressions” to regain her confidence and to encourage her to transfer her visualization and organizational skills to the design of the board. She suggested we use another graphic organizer to plan her design. Great thinking!
7. We got very creative with brainstorming about the poster, including her cross stitch, her written book report, and pictures of birds and birdhouses in the layout. The purpose of the craft activity was to encourage creativity and visual perception and to link what she had read to a visual presentation of the book. Mary’s choices for the poster layout indicated that she understood the part that each played in her book report.
And how did we do?
(1) Mary’s final handwritten book report at the end of the summer was an improvement over her initial work. She continued to require quite a bit of encouragement and brainstorming to turn her observations on the graphic organizer into an age-appropriate handwritten book report. It was apparent that she would continue to need practice on the processes we had utilized in our sessions.
(2) Mary advanced her skill for thinking creatively with the use of a graphic organizer during the design of her poster. She needed a bit of help with the physical presentation in order to display a pleasant and organized visual representation of her book. Again, her confidence and creative ability were improvements from the beginning of the summer; but she would continue to need guidance and encouragement to continue to explore her creative and informative writing skills.
And what did we gain?
After 12 weeks (2 sessions per week), Mary was exposed to a set of skills that she would be able to transfer to her classroom assignments:
(2) graphic organization
(3) use of handwriting for creative expression.
And the best part? Mary helped my occupational therapy practice turn the corner from practice to functional! And, that is the level of competence that older students need to achieve as well!
As always, thank you for reading! I would love to hear your impressions about our poster board book report idea, as well as any ideas you have used to turn practice into functional!
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; 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 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.