Guest Author - Valerie Shoopman
Handwriting seems to be becoming a lost art these days. I mean really, when was the last time you got a hand written thank you note? It’s probably very hard for you to recall the last time.
Mothers today don’t have time, or don’t take the time to teach their kids how to write warm, thoughtful thank you notes for gifts they receive. Teachers do not have the time in their daily schedules that are now crammed with content and test taking skills and strategies to spend quality time on teaching handwriting to their students.
I read a great article on newsweek.com “The Writing on the Wall” by Raina Kelley, which brought up some good points, but also left you to wonder if Ms. Kelley had ever met a special needs student. If she had, she certainly does not understand what it is like to have learning differences or special needs when it comes to education.
Kelley states “Handwriting is important because research shows that when children are taught how to do it, they are also being taught how to learn and how to express themselves. A new study to be released this month by Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham finds that a majority of primary-school teachers believe that students with fluent handwriting produced written assignments that were superior in quantity and quality and resulted in higher grades—aside from being easier to read.”
My take on this quote is that handwriting is important; however, it is just another task being taught, not a strategy on how to learn. As far as expressing themselves, handwriting is but only one of many ways a person can express themselves. One can express themselves through drawing, verbalizing, drama, or even writing through its various forms.
To address the issue of what the majority of primary-school teachers believe, it truly is much easier to produce more work quantity if you have handwriting skills and the requirement is to turn in only handwritten work. That is just a no brainer. In addition, when subjective grading enters the picture, easier to read work will usually receive a higher grade even if the content is not as good. It is just part of human nature.
However, if teachers were really interested in what the child knew about the subject or material being presented, they would understand that writing it out is not the only way to get your point across or show you understand a concept. If more teachers understood this fact, then they would allow various ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular subject or concept.
This is not to say that handwriting doesn’t have its place, it certainly does, but I don’t believe essays and tests should include handwriting as part of the grade.
For some special needs students, particularly ones with dysgraphia or other gross/fine motor issues, handwriting can be a real struggle. Students with dyslexia may know how to form their letters, but trying to spell words correctly is a difficult, frustrating and time-consuming task for them.
A handwriting program that works really well for Kindergarten through 5th grade is “Handwriting Without Tears”. This program involves teacher modeling, supervised practice, and hands-on learning in a progressive format. Breaking each task down into manageable steps and following a child’s natural sequence of learning: imitation, copying, and independent writing, allows the child to experience success at every step before moving on to the next level. This is crucial to their self-esteem and overall success.
Occupational Therapists love “Handwriting Without Tears” for its ease of use and successful implementation in an assortment of learning environments with a diversity of students and their varying needs. “Handwriting Without Tears” is the handwriting program of choice at Horizon Academy, the school where I work, for the students whom all have a learning disability of some type or another. This program has allowed us to successfully teach many students handwriting skills who may not have been able to write legibly otherwise.
For several students that could not find success with “Handwriting Without Tears” because of dysgraphia, or other fine/gross motor issues, Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software has been a great alternative to allow students to produce quality written work.
I believe the key thing to remember is that handwriting is only one of many ways to output the knowledge that is contained in a person’s mind. To constrict the flow of information to only one output format is doing a disservice to our quest for higher knowledge and life-long learning.