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Today, January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. It seems like a great occasion for a celebration (and cake), but quite frankly, handwriting has gotten a pretty bad rap! Its previous status as a central pillar of literacy has been tarnished, and it is now considered irrelevant, and hard to teach! There have been plenty of studies that have stressed the importance of handwriting, and warned of the dire consequences of eliminating it from the curriculum. Instead of revisiting those well-made arguments, I’d like to entice you to rethink your commitment to teaching handwriting by providing five effective teaching strategies (along with a very appealing party favor!) that you can implement immediately to improve your students’ handwriting.
The following are suggestions on how you can help revive handwriting and return it to its former glory:
Letter formation is most efficient when letters are formed from top-to-bottom and from left to right. Without explicit teaching, many students will start their letters from the bottom which makes for slow, laborious writing. Show your students how the line starts on the left side of the page and moves across. Letters should move in the “right” direction. Whenever students make their letters from bottom-to-top, jokingly state that you are writing letters not growing trees (Get it? Trees grow from the ground up!)
Single stroke letters are formed with one continuous movement, except to cross the t, x, and f, and dot the i and j. In contrast, ball-and-stick letters require multiple pencil lifts and constant visual monitoring to assure that the circle/ball is placed accurately relative to the line /stick. Since the goal of handwriting instruction is to make the mechanical act of writing more automatic it makes sense to go with the flow!
The secret to teaching handwriting efficiently is to group letters that are formed with similar motor patterns together. This allows students to master several letters in one lesson. The following groupings are used in the Handwriting Heroes program:
- Skydivers: l t k i j all skydive down
- Bouncers: h b r n m p all drop down, bounce back up and over
- Cannon Pops: c a d o g q all start like “c”
- Skiers: v w x y all ski diagonally down
- Surfers: s u f e z “surf the wave” as they have various formations
Letters are essentially random squiggles that have no meaning. A great strategy for making sense of these squiggles is to create stories to explain why they are formed in the way that they are. Have your students contribute their own ideas so that they feel personally invested in the stories. Using slapstick humor is a foolproof way to make stories memorable. One of our most adored stories, for example, relates to the letter “r”: the ball drops down, bounces back up and onto the rabbits head!” The rabbit, in turn, roars “rrrrr”!
Kids love using wipe-off materials! Simply slip the worksheet into a dry erase pocket or plastic sleeve, or else laminate it. The write & wipe surface allows students to practice over and over again without a permanent memento of their errors. For students who struggle with handwriting, it’s truly a game-changer! Even students who “hate” writing respond positively.
I buy dry erase markers – the ones with the eraser on the cap – in bulk! They move smoothly and are great for students who have weaker fine motor skills and cannot exert adequate pressure when writing. After students write a letter, I have them erase it using the same strokes. I also like to use dry erase crayons – especially for rainbow writing.
So, now that you have some tricks up your sleeve, it’s time for the pencil to fight back!
Well, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic – especially since I love technology too! The point is we don’t have to let handwriting go by the wayside just because of technology. They can coexist so that our students have multiple means of expressing themselves.
Cheryl Bregman, a Handwriting Enthusiast
P.S. Your party favor is waiting for you in the App Store! Today only, from 9 am to 9 pm EST, the Handwriting Heroes iPad app is FREE!!!