When Your Student Experiences Difficulty with Handwriting
Manuscript Versus Cursive
While tossing a basketball into a basketball hoop requires eye-hand coordination, it is not the same as the fine eye-hand coordination that is needed to develop good handwriting skills. Often we find children who are great in sports but when it comes to putting a pencil or pen in their hands to write, it is a painstakingly slow process for them. Many factors contribute to good fine eye-hand coordination.
The number one concern for parents and educators is to be certain that their child does not have a vision problem interfering with the development of this skill. An eye-examination by a physician who is a child vision therapist is in order. These physicians have had many years of training to pick up vision problems such as eye-teaming, focusing, eye movement control, eye health, eye structure as well as visual acuity (physically seeing clearly with the eyes) for distance and near point vision.
What does this all mean? Focusing involves rapid automatic focus adjustment. This relates, for example, to the ease with which a student can sustain his visual attention on a word he is about to copy. Students need to be able to focus on print that is near for sustained periods of time and then rapidly shift focus from distance to near. All of the above vision skills are essential for the development of good handwriting skill.
Another consideration is to determine if your student has a visual perception or visual memory problem that may be interfering with his handwriting development and copying skills. A visual perception weakness has nothing to do with visual acuity (eye-sight) but rather with how a person perceives what he sees. Perception and memory are essential skills and in the book, Learning Disabilities: There is a Cure, you will find an entire chapter on each one of these skills, how it affects students’ reading and writing abilities and what parents and educators can do to help improve these skills.
Once you are certain that your child does not have a vision, perceptual or memory problem, the next step is to be certain that the student is holding the pencil or pen correctly. Incorrect pencil griping can affect the ease at which a student writes. The proper positioning is to have the thumb and first finger on the writing instrument and to use the second finger as a rest.
This position makes it easy for the student to wiggle his fingers and glide his hand as he writes.
When handwriting instruction begins, the instructor should set aside at least ten to fifteen minutes every school day for the student to practice handwriting skills. The old adage, Practice Makes Perfect is true and especially needed for those students who do not have good eye-hand coordination. It is just like any physical sport, generally the more you practice, the better you get. By practice, I mean formal practice with good handwriting workbooks. The Palmer method of handwriting is still one of the best but there are other programs that also work well. Students should be involved with tracing letters, tracing words and then writing the letters and words that they have traced. The old Palmer method of making rows and rows of L’s on a page is still a wonderful way of helping students develop good handwriting skill. In addition, practicing the writing of combinations of letters is very important. For example, students should work on combinations of letters that are similar but different such as om and am. Students should be taught all of the letters that stays up and horizontal when adding the next letter. They are the letters b as in baby, o as in open, v as in violet, and w as in wagon. For all other letters we move the writing instrument down for the next letter. As students progress in their handwriting abilities, they should trace short paragraphs, and then write their own paragraphs using their best handwriting skill.
There is evidence to prove that it is much more advantageous for all students, including learning disabled students, to learn to write in cursive rather than to continue to write in manuscript (to print). Cursive writing, once mastered, can be written in a shorter amount of time than is physically possible with printing, and with much less effort than printing. With manuscript writing students must continuously lift their pencils for each stroke of each letter. With cursive writing, because the letters are connected to one another, students can establish a flow and ease that is impossible with printing. Because there is much less effort involved with cursive writing, students' writing hands do not become as crampy and tired. As a result students who write in cursive are much more apt to write longer essays and compositions than students who write in manuscript. In addition, because the letters of each word are connected in cursive writing, a much greater speed, ease and fluency can be established with cursive writing than could ever be established with manuscript writing. Lastly, with manuscript writing it is sometimes hard to decipher where one word stops and another word starts due to the fact that the letters in the word are not connected. With cursive writing, because all of the letters in the word are connected, it is easy to decipher where one word ends and the next word begins. An easier to read essay or composition, often, makes a better impression on the teacher and may even influence the teacher's consideration of a higher grade for the written material.
The beneifits of mastering the art of cursive writing are plentiful. Educators and parents, need to instruct, and encourage all students, learning disabled to gifted, to master the art of cursive writing.