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Handwriting & the Common Core: Instruction Vs. Practice

Students need help learning to write

Feeding off our previous RTI Tier 1 post, in this post I want to discuss the failure of the Common Core to address handwriting and how all education providers (especially those working in grades k-2) can assist students with handwriting difficulties.

Recently, I was reading a study published in the "The American Journal of Occupational Therapy" (AJOT) and it was all about how the Common Core fails to address the needs of our young students by omitting any core standards related to correctly forming, spacing, and sizing letters.


Article Citation:

Debra Collette, Kylie Anson, Nora Halabi, April Schlierman, Allison Suriner; Handwriting and Common Core State Standards: Teacher, Occupational Therapist, and Administrator Perceptions From New York State Public Schools. Am J Occup Ther 2017;71(6):7106220010p1-7106220010p9. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2017.021808.


You should have seen me reading this article. So many of my beliefs were affirmed that I couldn't control my excitement. I'm pretty sure I threw my hands up in the air out of joy at least a half dozen times. The employees at Starbucks must have enjoyed my animated gestures.

Anyways, I found 3 key takeaways from this study were:

1) There is no common core standard directly related to the foundational skill of forming letters and there should be at least one standard addressing this.

2) Teachers do not feel that there is enough time in a day to work on this skills due to the other demands placed on them by the Common Core.

3) OTs have the skills required to not only assist students who need to build handwriting skills, but also to help teachers develop a plan to teach handwriting.

The third takeaway is where, on this website, we can help make a difference.

While I have not kept a detailed record of referral reasons at my district, I would guess that 80% of referrals are generated due to poor handwriting. And at the end of each of these evaluations I recommend "Daily handwriting instruction for at least 10 minutes."

Along with that recommendation, I also have to add "OT consult with teacher once (sometimes twice) a month to develop a handwriting plan."

I do this because I have seen how little time teachers have to instruct kids on items not directly related to "The Core" and as a related service we OTs are in the business of supporting our teachers as well as our students. Also, I know the term "Handwriting instruction" sometimes gets interpreted as "Handwriting practice"


"Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent"

-People much wiser than I


So if a student forms an "i" with a giant dot sitting on the little line rather than above the line, practicing this is only going to reinforce the bad habit unless he/she is instructed otherwise. So having student a student trace or copy the letter 10 times likely isn't going to change the students habit.

Instead, we have to instruct the student or students how to correctly form the letter ("small line in the gray, small dot in the white space" if using Gray Space Paper) and then we can have them correctly practice the letter.

This can be done one-on-one, in a small group (IEP or RTI- Tier 2 group potentially), or in a whole classroom co-teaching Tier 1-RTI setting. The instruction can also take on many forms. Dancing, air writing, ipad games, stories, and visual demonstration can all be effective.

I prefer the whole classroom setting because teachers have told me that their students are much more attentive when they have a guest and also, the teacher and I get to learn from each other. Oh, and we get to help more than just 1 or a few kids at a time which is truly the best part.

One other thing I often do is create a personalized worksheet for a kid directed toward the letters the student is having the most difficult with. While it does entail tracing and copying, I do not let them do it independently until they have proven to do it correctly. I also include visual cues such as a starting dot and/or arrows. The ipad applications, Letter School and Writing Wizard can help in this manner as well. The teacher can then have the student correctly practice these letters daily.


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Alright, that's all for today, but I really wanted to share that article with you. And if it seems like more and more kids are struggling to write letters, it's not just you.

Many people are noticing this and many are doing their best to help students just like you and I. So keep on instructing and make sure your students are practicing the write way. And please, be sure to read the article I referenced to here on AJOT (Click here). I don't get anything for you reading it, but I just think it's that good of a read for OTs, COTAs, teachers, and administrators.

And finally, let us know how you are helping your teachers and students improve handwriting skills for all. Tweet us @OTSchoolHouse or find us on Facebook


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