Have you seen the child who:
• Takes ages to write
• Has difficulty “getting” it all out on to paper (Some people refer to this as an “elbow” block…where it gets stuck somewhere between the brain and hand.)
• Presses very hard when he writes
• Has a very messy handwriting
• Usually has a large, clumsy handwriting
• Labours over any aspect of the writing process
• Appears to be much stronger verbally than what he presents on paper
• Starts avoiding all writing tasks because they fit into the “too hard basket.”
Generally, children who present with the above symptoms, have grapho-motor difficulties, or in simpler terms, difficulties with the mechanics of writing.
I have had huge success managing these difficulties in the following way:
A Handwriting Speed Test
I complete the ‘Quick Brown Fox Handwriting Speed Test’ as a baseline assessment. This is the only standardized handwriting speed test I have come across. I use it as a pre and post intervention test.
I use pictures of the first ever printers we used (remember those dot-matrix ones?) and I even demonstrate the noise it made (more like a screech than a noise.) I show students a variety of printers right up to the modern 3D ones…these pictures and my sound effects normally engage interest straight away.
I explain to the kids that if their brains are computers, then their hands are the printers and that we are going to be completing the drills to make their hands be the best possible printers that they can be. We complete the drills to also make their hands work automatically to free up their brain so that what they write on paper matches all the great thoughts they have in their brains.
C. Tools and Weapons
I explain to the kids that in the same way our printers need ink, we need to find the right “ink” for our printers. I have a large variety of different writing instruments (pens, pencils, pacers, felt tips etc) and during drill sessions, students are allowed to choose their “weapon.” In the same way that we, as adults, prefer certain pens, students with grapho-motor difficulties need to find the writing tool that suits them best. Most kids prefer pacer pencils and 0.4mm fine liners. Ball point pens are not preferred.
I teach kids, that in the same way they need to have all parts of their body doing the right thing to score a goal, they need to remember the four S’s when writing: Small, Soft, Sharp and Sit.
Small: as in write smaller
Soft: Press softly. I demonstrate this…really…as if I was at gym pressing a 20kg weight and a 2kg weight. Of course I can do so much more with the 2kg weight. (The kids always laugh at my pressing weights – I am beginning to get a bit complexed.) For students who have difficulty with this, I place a tissue under their page and the goal is to have no marks on the tissue.)
Sharp: Use a sharp pencil…blunt pencils make your work look messy. You also don’t need to push hard with a sharp pencil.
Sit: Sit properly so that your whole body is focused on what you are writing. I like to tell them to sit like an important person so that their work will look important. You will find more information on the post Pencil Grip, Posture and Peacocks.
E. Process and Drills
We complete the following drills in numerous sessions. We use the timer to promote automaticity. Children record their speed and try and break their records each week. They never compete against each other, only themselves.
1. Timed writing of the alphabet
2. Timed writing of ten word sentences (I have made a booklet of these. For younger children with severe difficulties, I start off with five word sentences.)
3. Timed writing of the sentence : Pack my box with five dozen lacquer jugs. (This sentence, like the quick brown fox test, has every letter of the alphabet in it.)
4. Question answering: This is not a timed test. Students answer a question using a full sentence, but concentrate on using all the above strategies while writing their answers. I try and make the questions fun and interesting.
5. Copying of sentences: Once again, not a timed activity. Students copy sentences aiming to use their neatest possible handwriting while doing so.
Some teachers award students with an amazing pen license when they graduate from using a pencil to a pen. Students with grapho-motor difficulties may need to gain this license earlier to accommodate their writing tool of choice.
Good luck! Let me know how you go. If you have any other strategies to aid grapho-motor difficulties, please share them with me. I would love to hear.