According to Ford-Hebert “students must be able to rapidly recall and produce the plan and pattern that underlies the construction of each letter” to write proficiently. This is referred to as motor memory or the ability to store, retrieve, and execute a memorized plan. Ford-Hebert explains that students who have difficulty with motor memory typically draw their letters, creating them differently each time.
As a first grade special education teacher I am often required to teach handwriting and encounter children who lack motor memory. So, how can we help these children? How do we help to develop motor memory for handwriting?
So, how do we teach handwriting to all students? The following strategies, which are components of many handwriting programs on the market, have proven to be successful. Of course you don’t need to spend money on a program but you can borrow the great strategies and techniques! Follow this link for some of the research: http://www.hwtears.com/whyitworks/research
1) Teach similarly formed letters together. Handwriting Without Tears teaches the easiest skills first and then builds on prior lessons. Write-On Handwriting groups letters of the same basic pattern which helps develop motor memory.
2) Teach handwriting through a multisensory approach using “VKAT”- Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory and Tactile approaches.
- Visual- Provide students with a visual model for letter formation. Sequence the steps of the letter formation and use arrows to signal direction. Provide visual cues, in the form of words or pictures.
- Kinesthetic- One way to develop motor memory is through body movement and hands-on activities. Guide students in sky writing or imaginary writing of letters. Use large wood or felt pieces to build letters. Provide students with an opportunity to learn letter formations with their bodies before picking up a pencil.
- Auditory- Teach handwriting skills through song or rhyme. I have worked with several students who absolutely love songs and benefit tremendously when information is taught in this format. Use gimmicks or stories to connect learning and to help students make sense of handwriting. Use student friendly terms to describe the letter formations. Use the same language/terms consistently and make connections to previously taught skills.
Click here for a sample song.
- Tactile- Provide students with hands-on materials to explore letter formation. Use paper with elevated lines, sand trays to practice writing letters, and clay to practice forming letters.
Connection to UDL
Teaching handwriting through a multisensory approach provides students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement (Universal Design for Learning Guidelines).
Connection to Multiple Intelligences
When teaching handwriting using a multisensory approach, teachers are allowing all students access to the curriculum. The teacher is using a variety of approaches and strategies to meet the needs of all students. A multisensory approach to teaching handwriting taps into the following intelligences: visual/spatial intelligence, verbal/linguistic intelligence, logical/mathematical intelligence, bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, and musical/rhythmic intelligence.
I am fortunate enough to work in a school district that uses a multisensory program (Handwriting Without Tears) to teach handwriting to all students. The multisensory approach allows all students access to the curriculum. I feel like the students and teachers love this program. It is engaging and it works. The multisensory strategies and teaching techniques allow all students to develop motor memory for handwriting skills.
It is important to remember that you don’t need to have a specific handwriting program to use the strategies discussed in this post. All teaching techniques and strategies are adaptable to your current curriculum.
Check out a sample lesson from the Handwriting Without Tears program.
Dysgraphia Fact Sheet http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-language/writing/dysgraphia
Ford-Hebert, A. Write-on handwriting. Educators Publishing Service. Retrieved from http://eps.schoolspecialty.com/research/research.cfm on March 1, 2011.
Handwriting Without Tears. Retrieved from http://www.hwtears.com/on March 1, 2011.
Spear-Swerling, L. (2006). The importance of teaching handwriting. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/spearswerling/The_Importance_of_Teaching_Handwriting on March 1, 2011.