Sunday, December 29, 2013

What about handwriting?

In my post Teaching the Writing Process, you sat with me while I taught my 11 year old daughter how to write.  I know what you're thinking.  The 11 year old hasn't done a stitch of handwriting.  Isn't that cheating?

First, I know where each of my kids are with handwriting.  This particular child can take a pencil and fill two pages with lots of words.  When I think that this assignment will cause frustration to my prolific writer, I'm pretty comfortable taking away the handwriting part of the writing process.  I believe that eventually the skill of planning, writing, and editing a paper will become second nature.  When this beautiful event happens, I will turn the handwriting part of the assignment over to her.

Second, she gets ample opportunities to practice the handwriting/writing hand/brain connection.  I'm not minimizing this, because I think it is important.  When I was a student, I memorized things by writing them, over and over again.  There seems to be a unique learning experience that the brain experiences when the hand is writing and the brain is thinking.  Studies show a special connection with Cursive Handwriting (Psychology Today).  My 11 year old practices the skill of handwriting and thinking in multiple ways.  She is a Writer of Letters; she writes letters to friends, penpals, relatives, etc.  She is enrolled in a letter writing class at co-op, which takes letter writing even further: she's written some heartwarming letters to shut ins, soldiers, her favorite book's author, and more.  She writes summaries of favorite facts from books like the Encyclopedia or her Timeline cards.  She has plenty of handwriting practice thrown in the mix.

If you want to implement something similar, but don't know how to add the handwriting aspect, you could start with a handwriting book.  We used Handwriting Without Tears for several years.  Grocery stores and book stores often carry handwriting books (hint: look at the style of handwriting you wish to teach, NOT the grade level. Many over-the-counter handwriting books don't progress past 3rd grade, which is probably the grade level you'd want to pick up.)  Other handwriting series might include: A Reason for Handwriting, Horizons Penmanship, or any school or private school curriculum books like Zaner Bloser, D'Nealian, BJU Press, or Abeka.  Or, you can add copywork by assigning Bible verses, famous quotations, or a paragraph from a favorite story.  Another way to add handwriting/writing is to assign a summary of something the student has read.  Read a two-page spread from a Science Encyclopedia like Kingfisher, or a history text like Story of the World and write 3 facts that the student found interesting (increase the number of facts with age and ability).

The beauty is, this can be adapted to any student.  It is a go-with-the-flow methodology.  If this were a student with learning challenges, you could do the same thing, and then treat handwriting separately, developing a program of skills for the student to work on.  It would be counterproductive to take a learning disabled student and throw them into any writing program, expecting them to think, plan, develop, handwrite, and edit their own writing, from start to finish.  I think this is an end product skill that we are here to help them learn.  The secret is giving the student activities to grow their writing skills AND handwriting skills, until the two skills are ready to merge as one.  That takes time and a lot of help.

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