We joke that Size Matters comes packaged as a song and dance. Here are the Lyrics to the Size One Rule… and trust, me, when I sing them, I’m dancing! Size One letters…
The Size Matters Handwriting Program approach pays tribute to multiple theories of MOTIVATION.
- Self-Actualization. The drive to master something new. The belief by Whole Language and similar anything-goes philosophies that children should never be corrected was so misguided. Kids want to learn how to print. And when they are young, they want very much to get it right.
- Goal or Achievement Theory - This is about Reaching an end. There are 3 components to Goal or Achievement Theory.
- The first is Proximity. How long will it take to get to the end. Well… in the Size Matters Handwriting Program, whatever number you roll on the dice is the endpoint.
- Difficulty refers to whether the challenge is achievable. In SMHP, kids are given anywhere from 1 to 2, 3, 5, or 20 letters to print at a time. Therapists should not assign any more letters/words than those in which children can score 80%. Don’t advance to the next step until they reach that.
- Specificity means that the end must be clearly defined. That’s where the Rules come in. It is very clear what you have to do to earn a STAR.
- And Self-Determination is the need to feel competent and validated. Size Matters is all about putting control and knowledge in the hands of the children. It’s no small thing to tell a child, “I believe in you!”
Lastly, it reflects MOTOR LEARNING THEORY. Constant and blocked practice followed by random and variable practice. In other words, start with the same conditions and order of practice so children remember the Rules. But to make printing a skill that they own, you have to change the order and the conditions. Practice printing at times other than printing practice time. Embed handwriting practice into the curriculum so the words and sentences practiced are meaningful and fun! The common ingredient… practice, practice, practice.
As for the OT PRACTICE FRAMEWORK… SMHP works because it is about respecting our students, their interests and values, and addressing their habits in their natural contexts. Toward that end:
- Include children in the process
- Teach them the Rules
- Let them determine their practice
- Give them tools to score their progress
- Only hold them responsible for letters learned
- And make it fun.
So how do we do this already?
This is a very meta-analytic approach. There is a lot of upfront teaching. The idea is to give students they information they need so they can critique and score their own printing. Instead of a nebulous directive to “Make your printing look better,” but students have no idea what they did wrong in the first place… the Size Matters Handwriting Program gives students a language and concrete observable goals that specifically detail what neat printing looks like. We’re invested in making them as smart as us regarding how to earn a 100. In fact, it’s like we’re actually giving them the answers to the test.
But once you know the concepts, the learning curve takes off. This is especially true for the older students who don’t believe… at first… how literal you are when you say their letters have to touch the writing lines. They’ll initially think they’re close enough. Of course, they won’t earn any stars. (And I’ll explain what I mean by that shortly). But once they realize how easy it is to get a high score, they do it every time.
Focus on Size and form will follow. This is our mantra. We repeat it over and over again. Focus on Size, form will follow. It’s not a secret. It’s just that it’s been overshadowed by our preoccupation with letter shapes and the directionality of stroke. What you will find, when you shift the focus to making letters of uniform size, is that the identity of the letters themselves become clearer. Become more readable and more consistent. And correcting errors in letter-size, as I said before, is what is going to change the overall appearance and readability of the written page.
So let’s look at those concepts one at a time.
Whenever I do a Size Matters lesson, I start off by making sure everyone is on the same page. This includes using a common terminology for the names of the WRITING LINES. When I do a Size Matter lesson, I always start by drawing a series of writing lines on the board. And I ask the students what they typically call these lines. Pointing to the bottom line, I might hear things like foot line, grass line… There’s a program that has a descender line which they call the foot line so this becomes the Knee line. I ask the kids, “If it’s alright with you guys, can we just call the bottom line, THE BOTTOM LINE. This is a plain vanilla program. And I do the same thing with the top line… gathering names. Head Line, hat Line, attic, skyline, cloud line. Again, I ask the question…
”Would it be alright if we just call the top line, THE TOP LINE.
The middle line is fine as either the dotted or middle line. It’s important to confirm the names of the writing lines because TOUCHING the writing lines in all the right places is going to determine whether you made a letter the right size.
- At the same time, especially when working with younger students, I introduce the concepts of Go Lines and Finish Lines. Go Lines are green lines that indicate where printing should start. Finish Lines are checkerboards that indicate which direction printing should go. Essentially, you’re insuring the left to right progression across the page.
- Reference to Go Lines or Finish Lines can be helpful for correcting reversal issues. We’ll talk more about Letter Lines in a minute, but for now, know that some letters or numbers are made with Forward moving lines. That means the pencil moves toward the Finish Line.
Check out the top line in number 7, the diagonal line in upper case R, and the curve in lower case h. All are formed while moving toward the right… that is, forward… toward the Finish Line. Some letter lines are made moving backwards… toward the Go Line. Look at the hook-on lower-case g, the top slant line on upper case K, the diagonal on z. Among the verbal directions given to children when learning how to form the letters may be reference to the Go Lines and Finish Lines.
- The Letterbox Worksheets, the preschool level wipe-off book, and the first step in the Size Matters Handwriting Program introduces the concept. Therapists and teachers are encouraged to point out the Go Lines and Finish Lines on each of the pages.
- The Student Workbook, the Kindergarten level book, also includes Go Lines and Finish Lines. Here, the Go Lines and Finish Lines start and end each set of Writing Lines.