The Size Matters Handwriting Program is a reflection of BEST PRACTICE. SMHP extracts the essence of handwriting to its key elements.
To wit… as you know, every other handwriting program out there focuses on letterforms. Well… there are 62 letterforms including all upper-case letters, lower case letters and numbers. If you work on single forms, it is very possible that the letters or numbers will be identifiable in isolation… but in the context of the entire page….a mismatched mess!
It’s analogous to taking children into the great outdoors and having them focus on a single tree…. Without pointing out that they’re in the middle of a forest.
Size Matters IS the big picture.
When you focus on letter size, you will make an immediate difference in the appearance of the entire written page. Suddenly… and you’ll surprise yourself when you try this out with your students, correcting errors in letter size makes the greatest difference in the readability of a child’s printing. And in this day and age, we have to be about function… and achieving proficiency in as expedient a way as possible is BEST PRACTICE.
Why teach handwriting?
Before we go into HOW to teach handwriting… let’s talk WHY we should bother. In the age of technology, the 21st century, what are educators, neuroscientists and therapists saying regarding the merits of printing instruction as well as the evidence supporting the Size Matters Handwriting Program itself.
Also, in this section, we’ll discuss the theories that help explain why this SMHP is so effective.
1.Competent handwriting is not self-evident nor a logical consequence of normal development. This conclusion was from research by Marr and Cermak.
While this may seem simplistic, this is a crucial finding. For a long time, there was this erroneous belief that students should not be corrected if they form letters incorrectly; as if it would stifle their desire to try again.
Consequently, many schools simply abandoned formal manuscript instruction assuming that skill acquisition can be achieved through informal… or what we now call… incidental instruction. Unfortunately, the research shows that this is NOT TRUE. Children will acquire some way of forming letters on their own. But it may not be the best, most efficient or most recognizable way….
And when speed becomes an issue in higher grades, those letters are now totally undecipherable.
2.Writing letters by hand has been proven to help children recognize and remember letters more easily than if they typed. James and her team reached this conclusion as part of an ongoing body of research on the topic.
This is an important finding for those who feel that handwriting is antiquated. That keyboarding is a modern, if not more sophisticated way of learning today. It’s not. Especially for our earliest learners.
For more on Karin James’ research, I’d encourage you to go to her website and look at her NeuroImaging published studies. That’s spelled KARIN. We’ll get back to her. Her work is extremely validating.
3.Handwriting instruction supports automaticity, speed, and output. In other words, when students know how to print neatly, they do it quickly and without thinking.
Steve Graham published a number of papers on handwriting in different contexts.
He continued…. When students develop the fine motor skills that accompany learning to write by hand, their speed and output increase. This supports the premise that it’s worthwhile to build dexterity and in-hand manipulation skills.
4.Studies show that handwriting instruction improves legibility and fluency though grade 9.
In addition, Graham and Santangelo concluded that the overall quality of writing and the length of writing passages increase with background knowledge in how to print.
5.Peverly wrote that with consistent handwriting practice, the processes
involved become less demanding and more automatic, enabling students to devote higher amounts of neurological resources to critical thinking and thought organization.
This is HUGE!! If kids don’t ever reach the point of handwriting being a natural part of the learning triumvirate—listening, seeing and doing, the energy needed to learn will be redirected to the weakest link—the mechanical part.
6.So now I want to acquaint you with the thrilling research of Karin James from Indiana
University. She has a state-of-the-art Neuroimaging Center that has been looking at brain activity during various cognitive activities… letter recognition, reading and more… and has bolstered the above clinical findings with matching MRI results.
The MRIs of the children who were engaged in the manual task of handwriting were illuminated comparably to that of adults. She concluded that based on empirical evidence, handwriting seems to play a large role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.
So again, for the naysayers among your decision-makers, your communities, your skeptics, and anybody else who minimizes the importance of handwriting instruction in the 21st century…. There it is!!
Better than visually regarding letters, typing them, reciting them, or any other mode of learning, printing has a measurable advantage in teaching kids how to read, think and learn.
At this point, we’re going to move into research specific to the formation of SMHP, starting with my own EBP paper. These statistics may look familiar. They practically precede every article written about handwriting.
- 30-60% of the school day is spent in writing tasks.
- 25% of the typically developing population has difficulty with handwriting
- Up to 90% of children with learning differences have handwriting problems
- Now I find this next statistic to be the most fascinating one of all: 12% of surveyed teachers reported adequate preparation to teach handwriting. That means that 88% confess to not knowing what to do. Look… we all know how to read. But I don’t know about you… I don’t know how to teach it.
- Last… OTs report that 64% of their referrals are handwriting related. Does that feel about right to you? Is 2/3rds of your caseload about handwriting?
And these are the theories that have informed our practice:
- Handwriting is a complex task involving sensory, motor, perceptual, and neuromuscular systems. That’s our argument for wanting to correct all the deficiencies in these areas that turn up on all our assessments, isn’t it?
- Or… Poor sensory feedback interferes with visualization of motor patterns for consistent letter production. Yes, that’s it… we need more proprioceptive input so we can replicate our results. Maybe we should try printing on sandpaper or through a resistant media like clay, or even a weighted pencil!
- And… Distal mobility and fine motor skills must be built on proximal stability and neuromotor development. Proximal-distal, cephalo-caudal. If the foundation of neurologic control is sketchy, we’d better go back and strengthen the core, right?
- How about… Motor learning occurs through repetition. This is motor learning theory.
But wait, there are even more theories:
- Perceptual skills like visual memory, spatial relations, closure, and sequencing are prerequisites for developing competency in handwriting. No wonder their printing is illegible!! With TVPS scores so deficient, kids need more time with parquetry, hidden pictures, and spatial visualization games!
- And then… Inadequate handwriting stems from inadequate instruction… But before we start blaming the teachers, remember their own admission that this was not their area of strength. Besides, with no direction or information otherwise, it’s no wonder that handwriting instruction has been relegated to a Do-it-yourself course.
- The bottom line is that therapists are employing a variety of strategies but are not really sure of what works. What is best practice???
In light of all of the above, my research question became:
- What is the effectiveness of a Task-oriented approach (in other words, a drill and practice approach) compared to a Process-oriented approach (what we typically do… all the foundation perceptual, motor, sensory, developmental treatments) on handwriting legibility among elementary school children?