In Part 1 of our series on Dysgraphia, we took some time to explore its definition, causes, and symptoms. In our second segment, we defined the three strategies most likely to help students with Dysgraphia. Then, we matched these strategies with activities that teachers and parents can use to help their students achieve their written expression goals.
In this final segment, we will discover ways that we can help students with their handwriting struggles.
A Quick Strategy Refresher Course
Strategies can only be beneficial if we understand what each one is designed to accomplish. Let’s take a quick look at the three strategies that we will use today to work toward handwriting success. Please remember that we must first determine the needs of the students and then decide which strategy, or combination of strategies, to choose for them. It is possible for students to benefit from a combination of the three strategies described here:
- Accommodations: This strategy provides different opportunities for a student to participate in a class or test without changing the educational standard or expectation. (This is “how” a student learns.) (1)
- Modifications: This strategy changes the classroom tasks or tests in order to meet the students’ learning needs by altering the educational standard or expectation. (This is “what” a student learns.) (1)
- Remediation: This strategy provides additional individualized instruction that focuses upon the student’s written expression and handwriting needs. These should be included in both of the above strategies.
Some Facts About Handwriting Struggles
- Poor handwriting does not mean that a student has Dysgraphia. And, a student with Dysgraphia may not have poor handwriting. Some students with Dysgraphia produce legible handwriting but with a very slow speed.
- Good penmanship is simply legible handwriting that is written in a timely manner. It does not need to be “pretty” or perfect. It just needs to be readable.
- More practice is not always the answer to handwriting struggles. It is important to address the underlying causes of poor handwriting, such as the students’ visual-perceptual and visual-motor needs.
- Handwriting isn’t just about letter formations and pencil grip. Mastery depends upon efficient body awareness, visual scanning, fine motor, and memory skills. And, let’s not forget good posture!
- Handwriting practice isn’t just about worksheets, paper, or pencils. Sensory activities can play a key role in igniting the memory for letter formations and to develop the fingers and hands for an efficient pencil grip.
Facts About Students Who Struggle With Handwriting
- Students with Dysgraphia can suffer from hand and finger fatigue caused by a poor grip and their difficulty with letter formations.
- They can spend too much time on written homework assignments, resulting in short, inadequate products. Often they erase too often and “redraw” each letter to make sure it is perfect.
- Students who struggle with handwriting mastery can have difficulty reading what they have written. This leads to poor editing and revision skills.
- Students with Dysgraphia can fall behind in their written schoolwork and fail to demonstrate their knowledge adequately.
So, let’s match each of the above strategies with activities that can help our students work through their handwriting difficulties.
Using The Three Strategies in School
Handwriting mastery has been a tough nut for teachers to crack! When extra practice does not help, it is a struggle to find the best way to help their students. Of course, accommodations or modifications for students with an IEP or 504 Plan must be addressed through the appropriate channels. However, the suggestions we have outlined below can help all students.
Ideas to Accommodate
- The most important and easiest accommodation you can make is to allow students to use cursive, manuscript, or any combination that works for them. Remember: Legibility is more important that a pretty handwriting style!
- Make room for creativity during written assignments by allowing students to use a writing instrument that is comfortable for them. Pencils and pens come in all shapes and sizes. And pencil grips are inexpensive accommodations. When an instrument is comfortable to use, it increases the likelihood that the final product will be readable.
- Provide various types of writing paper that offer different line widths, as well as tactile and visual cues to help with alignment and spacing. It is perfectly fine to offer raised line paper to both younger and older students. Graph paper can provide visual cues to assist them with math work and class notes.
- Consider the use of word processing equipment for homework assignments or library tasks. This option is not a “one-size-fits-all accommodation,” however. Some students with Dysgraphia can struggle with keyboarding skills, as well.
- Provide letter formation guide sheets that can be placed inside notebooks.
- Allow students to use seat cushions to enhance their posture and attention skills. A slant board or 3-ring binder can provide better hand positioning and more efficient visual attention.
Ideas to Modify
- Reduce the amount of written homework assignments by allowing students to record their answers verbally. Allow them to provide their written answers in a shortened format with phrases, lists, or drawings.
- Allow another student or a parent to handwrite or keyboard the students’ answers for homework assignments.
- Provide an outline of class notes and allow the students to highlight or fill in information during lectures.
- Offer students the opportunity to present projects orally or visually (e.g., art or video) with specific guidelines to help them meet the project goals.
Ideas to Remediate
- Provide structured, individualized handwriting instruction that uses sensory activities to work on letter formations, spacing, and alignment. If additional one-to-one guidance does not help, occupational therapy may be needed.
- Offer students the opportunity to experiment with a variety of writing instruments and pencil grips to facilitate comfort and flexibility.
- Continue to require some amount of work by hand, such as spelling lists or journal writing, to connect handwriting with their writing skills.
- Encourage students to use their handwriting for small tasks at home, such as grocery lists, notes to mom, or sports schedules.
Helping Your Child at Home
- Help your child to understand that handwriting struggles can be common and that you and his teachers are there to help. Discuss the way he feels when he writes, both physically and emotionally. Let him know that you understand that he is trying his best!
- Set up a quiet space where your child can practice his handwriting skills for 5 minutes a day. Provide various types of writing instruments, worksheets, sensory activities, and journals. This center works well for students of all ages!
- Be sure that your child’s writing surface meets the “90-90-90 Rule.” His feet should be flat on the floor with ankles, knees, and hips at a 90-degree angle. A seat cushion or a book under his feet can adjust the lower angles, while a 3-ring binder can create a slanted surface for a more comfortable angle for the wrist.
- Encourage “free-writing” activities that offer a small bit of practice without the worry about spelling or grammar. This can boost your child’s confidence with handwriting.
Dysgraphia is a life-long learning disability that does not have to stand in the way of a student’s learning experience. I hope that this 3-part series has encouraged you to try some new strategies to help the students in your life!
(1) Stanberry, Kristin. “Understanding 504 Plans.” Understood.org. Understood, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
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