Last week I responded to a WSJ article which noted that writing by hand activates certain brain centers that promote learning. My response was that handwriting trains the brain because it provides additional motor-memory pathways and associations. My blog entry also discussed suggestions for boosting writing skills.
Follower comments: Susan, wrote that
"I found writing by hand arduous, so I took cryptic notes...Recopying by hand didn't work for me as I spent more brain cells on creating the perfect document than on absorbing the materials...My son...described...'I can't think and write at the same time'... While I'm not disputing your evidence or even your pro-handwriting argument, I do believe there are exceptions..."Insights and Alternatives for Dysgraphics:
- Make visual representaitons - I assume that Susan's first comment about recopying was directed toward my suggestion that making study notes can help create memory and recall paths. While this is true for most students, Susan is correct -IF your child directs most of his or her attention to spelling and forming letters, this method of study will not be effective. What may work better is making visual graphs/charts/diagrams/time lines when applicable. The point is that by creating different ways of visualizing and or summarizing the material you provide additional paths for memory and recall. What may also work is not caring about the neatness or spelling (at least when writing for him or herself) and making study notes for personal review. [I realize not all dysgraphics can or want to do this - it is merely a suggestion.]
- Attention: Susan's son's quote, "I can't think and write at the same time" clearly illustrates the demands on attention that writing places. For many, especially dysgraphics, so much attention must be placed on recalling sequences, shapes, size, available work space, sounds, and patterns, that little is left for cognition and learning.
- FIRST get thoughts down. When, as with Susan's son, attention is so drained, I recommend that first your child get his or her thoughts down and organized. This can be in what my husband calls, "chicken scratch" or on a computer. It can be written in outline, in graphic representation, or on post-it notes (that can be shuffled and organized when expressing sequences of thoughts or events). Don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation - just get the ideas down. Focus on spelling, grammar, etc. can occur during the editing phase (which we all must do regardless of strengths and weaknesses).
- Keyboarding. One obvious alternative for dysgraphics is to keyboard information. Note, however, that some dysgraphics (my son and twilightme's grandchild are two) still prefer taking notes by hand (which only they can decipher) over keyboarding. For school papers, however, my son keyboards. [Note that because handwriting was so arduous for my son, he learned to express himself succinctly and accurately - the less he had to write the better.]
- Pen/pencil grips - When handwriting sometimes the pencil grip is an issue. In this case try using different types of pen/pencil grips. My son had more of a sensory-integration issue (he was too sensitive to the paper and grip and pencil) and the grip did not help. As with most interventions, some help some but not others, my advice is to try and if necessary move on if not effective.
- Graph paper - For those who have trouble with letter size, experts suggest practicing print hand writing on large-boxed graph paper, using one square per letter. IF you want to pursue this, I recommend this practice be done at home in private, without worrying about teachers or peers looking on.
- Provide work space - In sixth grade my son had a lovely seasoned, dedicated, sensitive math teacher. My son, who is actually quite good in math was failing because this teacher put 30 problems on one page with _______ spaces for the answer and no room to work out the problem. The teacher expected his students to turn the page over and show work there. My son's problem was that his 3's became 8's and 4's became 9's, etc. At that point his teacher was testing my son's copying ability (which he obviously failed). After convincing the teacher to keep the same problems while providing work space directly on the page (and not have students turn it over or recopy to work) my son earned A's not F's. The point: make sure your child has enough space to work in. If not, talk to his or her teacher about it.
- Sequencing - IF your child has difficulty with letter sequence, please go through earlier blog entries as many recommend fun activities are provided to help boost sequencing skills (and note that more entries will follow).
- Twilightme, in her comments made another suggestion:
I'd like to mention a product to add to your list. I co-write a blog for an inventor who developed a dry erase paddle that is ideal for many of the things you suggest in this post. Here is the link to KleenSlate Concepts http://www.kleenslate.com/index.html Check out the products and the blog. The paddle and the erasers definitely promote active writing and active learning.