December 12, 2006

New Way to Teach Penmanship

Educators are finally realizing the folly of not teaching kids the mechanics of handwriting.

Realizing that when kids have not been taught handwriting skills, problems frequently crop up in students' written communication. In other words, students who struggle with the mechanics of writing, because they have not adequately learned the mechanics of writing, have difficulty expressing themselves in writing because they must expend an inordinate amount of brainpower attending to the mechanics of forming the letters on the page instead of attending to the creative authoring skills.

Then, of course, there's the problem of not being able to take quick and legible notes in class which starts to become a problem at the high school level. As a result, teachers are going back to the time-honored practice of teaching handwriting skills as a sequence of basics skills and giving students sufficient practice in mastering those skills to the point of automaticity.

I'm only kidding. You don't really think that educators would ever do anything so sensible. No, there's an exciting new way to teach writing--Handwriting Without Tears-- in which kids learn handwriting skills through the use of:

wood blocks, puppets, songs and even dances.

Personally, I like the puppets the best. I almost had to resort to the hand puppets myself to get through the trauma of drafting this post.

I suspect that HWT will be popular with educators; it's directed to all their pet biases--silly manipulatives and activities. The hand-puppets are a bonus.

Read the whole story here and visiting Hand Writing Without Tears here. You'll also want to check out the obligatory "Research" paper in which nine of the ten pages are devoted to research that wasn't conducted on writing programs that weren't Handwriting Without Tears. The Handwriting Without Tears research is confined to two master's theses, one unpublished.


KateGladstone said...

During the past 15 years as a handwriting instruction and remediation specialist — — I've had to help many "successful" graduates of the "Handwriting Without Tears" program who showed up on my doorstep

/a/ with illegible handwriting,


/b/ with somewhat-legible-but-unbelievably-slow handwriting (one somewhat-legible alphabet-letter per minute apparently counts as "handwriting success" in the HWTears program although this rate does not succeed for handwriting in the great wide world beyond HWTears-land)

and/or in many cases weeping over their handwriting.

I've also encountered several HWTears program users (or former users) — parents, teachers, schools, and in some cases occupational therapists — who have informed me that, when they called the HWTears company headquarters to get help for students not doing well within that program and/or students showing signs of frustration with the program (e.g., crying in mid-lesson), the company very clearly informed the callers that it didn't want to hear "problem stories," only "success stories." The "advice" given to these callers consisted only of "Buy more of our products, make sure to try nothing else, get success, call us back with the good news and *then* we'll be happy to talk with you."
A couple of years ago, out of curiosity, I attended a day of training meetings for current and potential HWTears users. Although the organization advertised these meetings as training in how to teach handwriting, at least eighty-five percent of each meeting consisted of training in how to market the HWTears program.

Anonymous said...

I got lucky. I was right on the tail-end of real handwriting instruction in elementary school... and my mom would pay me a buck a page to transcribe my history book into cursive.

I really wish I had been taught shorthand as well, but that seems to have gone the way of Latin.

Anonymous said...

My students have a lot of trouble reading my handwriting, and it isn't because it isn't legible, but because they don't know how. No one makes them learn it anymore. I personally think it has some value, but this program you discussed doesn't look like it helps much.

Anonymous said...

I think you are being pretty harsh on HWT. I am the parent of a special needs child who really struggled with printing in Kindergarten/1st grade. Our private OT uses HWT and it *really* helped my child. Maybe it is not right for everyone, but the way our school district teaches writing isn't either. What I like about HWT is that it is multi-sensory, which makes it accessible for kids who can't just figure out how to copy letters by looking a them. It gives kids another way of experiencing the letterforms and it breaks up each letterform into smaller component parts. Each smaller part can be taught separately and then put together to form the complete letter. For example, the puppet photo you used shows an instructor demonstrating "magic c." once you know how to make the magic c, you can use it to make lowercase c, d, e, and q. And since it isn't any harder for kids to learn with this method, kids without special needs can benefit from it too.

KateGladstone said...

Re: "What I like about HWT is that it is multisensory" — you write as if no other multisensory handwriting program existed. Have you considered Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting and Getty-Dubay Handwriting? Each of these programs abounds in multisensory activities, sequences, and resources — without the flaws I've observed in HWTears.
Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting —
Getty-Dubay Handwriting —

The flaws of HWTears don't make the program impossible for all children, but they make it impossible for enough kids that I prefer to go for programs which have the benefits of HWTears without the drawbacks.

Anonymous said...

Although we do not use the HWT letter style, the "odd" paper was very helpful for my son with sensory integration struggles. He always struggled, in spite of much practice, to write straight across the page, whether with kindergarten-style paper with dots in the middle or regular lined paper when he was older. So many lines to keep the letters confined was confusing to him and his writing would drift from one line up to the one above it.

Once we switched to the HWT paper, he only had to focus on making the middle part of the letters fit, and there was also enough space between lines to not be distracting. The first time he used that paper he wrote straight across the page--which was also a first.

We used this paper for about a year, after which we tried regular lined paper again, and he has not had further problems with keeping the lines straight.

harriska2 said...

I've been enrolled in a handwriting correspondence class with Zaner Bloser. Don't ask. Anyways, the instructions are kind of interesting. I already know that fluency is an important aspect of most things, especially writing. So if you have a kid that knows what he wants to write (like a story) but the handwriting is slow, he or she can end up forgetting parts of the story due to slow handwriting. In this program, they break down handwriting into the main strokes. Kind of neat. Manuscript and cursive both require four basic strokes. Well then, now I know what to teach my son. By timing him, he can learn to the strokes with daily short drills (15 seconds then working up to 1 minute of several days or weeks).

Anonymous said...

It is obvious to me that my son is struggling with handwriting. I was amazed when I had to bring it up to his teacher who then suggested that we work on handwriting without tears at home. So I purchased a whole kit - most of which I don't use. The block paper is useful - but in the end, I would recommend a notebook, drills and practice - like we used to do back in the 70s.