Handwriting Skills for Students

When a child lacks a skill, you either teach the skill or make accommodations for the lack of skill. Or, you can do both. Handwriting is a good example of this, but many schools and parents fail to realize this. Handwriting does not have to be ‘either, or.’ In that the child either learns to write or they learn to keep board or use voice to text.

Common Core Standards only call for teaching handwriting in Kindergarten and First Grade. Because of this, many schools are leaning away from advanced handwriting skills. But at what cost?

girl student using a slant board to practice handwriting

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. According to the New York Times:

2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write. By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Handwriting and Reading Fluency

We also know that handwriting is connected to reading fluency. Research has demonstrated a correlation between letter-naming and letter-writing fluency, and a relationship between letter-naming fluency and successful reading development. There’s a strong connection between the hand and the neural circuitry of the brain—as students learn to better write the critical features of letters, they also learn to recognize them more fluently. This recognition of letters leads to greater letter-writing fluency, which leads to greater overall reading development. (Edutopia)

Determining Handwriting Needs

A reminder that IEPs are needs-based and needs-driven, not diagnosis-driven. And, schools are required to evaluate in all areas of suspected disability. Handwriting issues can be much more than a fine motor planning issue. It could be dysgraphia, dyslexia, vision issues or something else entirely.

If your child is struggling with handwriting, ask for a comprehensive educational evaluation. Not just an OT eval for handwriting.

Handwriting Accommodations

As stated earlier, you can be evaluating a child and providing interventions or accommodations at the same time. There are many Assistive Technology options available, both low tech AT and high tech AT.

If you are adding Handwriting Goals to your IEP, here are some ideas to get you started.

IEP Handwriting Goals

  1. Provided with the systemic prompt fading strategy to form lowercase letters properly, the student will track the visual prompts, “starting at the star”, and then “tracing to the moon”. Every lowercase letter will be written as the visual prompts are fading. Accuracy is at 80% (4/5 opportunities by month and year.
  2. During classroom activities and therapy handwriting sessions, the student will have improved writing legibility by forming lowercase letters with distinct height differences between the tall and short letters, putting the letters g, j, q, p, and y under the writing lines, and putting the letters within 1/16” of the baseline, leaving an adequate ½ inch space in between words, and drawing an individual with 10 salient features. Accuracy is at 85% (measured once each month for 3 straight months.)
  3. In classroom and therapy handwriting assignments, the student is tasked to organize his written paperwork without much deviation from the horizontal and vertical lines (by not more than an inch), observe ½ inch right and left margins, and adjust his handwriting to fit into the designated spaces in the worksheets. Accuracy is at 85% (measured once each month for 3 straight months.)
  4. In classroom and therapy far and near point copying activities, the student will complete the task within the provided time by the therapist or teacher with 2 or fewer omissions or errors when copying 2 to 3 5-word sentences. Accuracy is at 80% (measured twice a month for 3 straight months.
  5. When provided with a set of lines for tracing, the student will show control and proper pressure using the writing tool (pencil, crayon, or marker) by finishing a tracing worksheet that has visual prompts. Accuracy is at 80% (by month and year.)
  6. When in the classroom and during therapy sessions, the student will write 3 5 to 7-word sentences, writing inside the designated boundaries (1/16” of the baseline.) giving a distinct height variance in short and tall letter sizes, showing better attention to the right margin, and refraining from writing within ½” of the margin, and maintaining horizontal handwriting to half an inch on paper without any lines. Accuracy is 85% (measured twice a month for 3 straight months.
  7. In the classroom and OT, the student will achieve better visual-motor skills and perception by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper form of 90% of the letters within 1/8” of the lines when copying a single six-word sentence on his first trial. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. The baseline is correct formation of letters 80% of the time, 50% of letters within 1/8” of the line in classroom writing samples.
  8. In the classroom and OT, the student will have better visual motor and visual perceptual skills by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper form of 90% of the letters and within 1/8” of the lines when copying a single six-word sentence on his first try. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. The baseline is correct formation of letters 80% of the time, 50% of letters within 1/8” of the line in classroom writing samples.
  9. In OT, the student will gain better visual perceptual skills through copying 6 to 10 cube styles from a model. Accuracy must be 100% on the first attempt. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: failure to copy six-cube pyramids and step designs.
  10. The student will achieve better visual perceptual and motor skills by writing all letters (both upper and lowercases) from memory with the proper formation on the first trial. Monitoring is done monthly for 3 straight probes. The baseline is forming 75% of all letters in both upper and lower cases with proper formation.
  11. When given a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately traces the sentence at 80% (by month and year.)
  12. When provided with a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately traces and copies the sentence from a sample at 80% (by month and year.)
  13. When given a picture and sentence for reading, the student accurately completes the set of writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) at 80% (by month and year.)
  14. When provided with Print Path handwriting instructions as well as an alphabet model, the student will come up with 24/26 proper uppercase formations.
  15. When given a visual, written sentence model, the student will replicate the sentence with proper letter formation, spacing, and punctuation at an accuracy of 80% or 4/5 consecutive tries (by month and year.)
  16. When given a sentence with sight words as well as visuals to help in word recognition, the student will accurately read the sentence 80% of the time or 4/5 consecutive tries (by month and year.)
  17. When provided with handwriting instructions and daily practice, the student will write legible and correct letters in 4/5 opportunities.
  18. When provided with a picture and long sentence for reading, the student will finish the set of writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) at 80% accuracy (by month and year.)
  19. When provided with a picture and long sentence for reading, the student will finish the set of writing tasks (trace/copy from sample/fill in the blanks) with proper letter formation and spacing at 80% accuracy (by month and year.)
  20. The student will have improved visual motor skills through copying one 4-sentence paragraph at a rate of 42 letters/minute with 4 to 5 letters per visual fixation on the first try. Monitoring is once a month for 3 straight probes. The baseline is 38 letters/minute, 2 to 3 letters for each visual fixation.
  21. Students will have better motor skills through writing their full name in cursive w/o a model on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: model and demonstration required to write the first name in cursive.
  22. During OT, the student will have better visual and fine motor skills through coloring a 2” round space via finger movements as well as coloring inside 1/4” of the boundary on the first try. Monitoring is once a month for 3 straight months. Baseline: use of vertical strokes, wrist movements, and colors within ½” of the border.
  23. In the classroom and OT, the student will achieve better visual-motor skills through writing 2 creative sentences on paper with dotted lines, letters on the line, proper spacing between words, sky letters at the top of the line, and diving letters under the baseline in a single random writing example. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight months. Baseline: Legibility inconsistent in the classroom.
  24. The student will develop visual motor skills through legible writing (letters on the line, space in-between words, and fully-formed letters in a single random written work in the classroom. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: Illegible writing at times in the classroom.
  25. The student will improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills by writing upper and lowercase letters at 90% accuracy with proper formation without using a model. The letters are on the line on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: requires a model for forming a letter for 30% of the letters.
  26. The student will have better bilateral hand skills through tracing grade-appropriate stencils, slipping no more than twice on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 straight probes. Baseline: 2 to 4 slips on basic stencils.
  27. The student will achieve better visual-motor skills through independent copying of a design w/ diagonal lines or overlapped shapes on dotted grids at an accuracy of 95% for the first attempt. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: moderate assistance.
  28. The student will improve his ocular motor skills through scanning a letter grid in finding consecutive alphabet letters in 2 minutes at 95% accuracy without help on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. The baseline is 165 seconds with help in finding letters.
  29. The student will develop better visual-motor skills through writing a paragraph with 3 sentences with 90% of the letters on the line, 90% of letter closures, and proper spacing between words after 1 self-edit on the first try. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: 50 to 75% on-line placement, 75% with space in between words, and 59% of letter closures in random writing samples.
  30. The student will improve his visual motor skills through drawing a cube design at 100% accuracy without using a model on the first attempt. Monitoring is monthly for 3 successive probes. Baseline: inability to copy the cube.

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