Handwriting instruction, once a staple of classrooms everywhere, has declined in recent years as schools focus more on preparing students for standardized tests.
It hasn’t died, though, as evidenced by a series of workshops being held this weekend in Baton Rouge by the Gaithersburg, Md., company Handwriting Without Tears.
Patty Bunce, an occupational therapist who spent 20 years working in Milwaukee, Wis., public schools and is now a national presenter for the company, said the pendulum is shifting back to emphasizing handwriting. Schools are seeking out her workshops increasing numbers, she said.
“We’re like exploding,” Bunce said.
Twenty-five educators gathered Friday morning in a chilly conference room at the Belle of Baton Rouge casino to learn what Bunce had to offer in the way of teaching handwriting skills. They came from public and private schools in Louisiana and from as far away as Texas and Florida.
Contrary to stereotype, Bunce said that, when taught right, children love learning good handwriting.
“They feel success. And when they can write well, they are willing to try other things in school,” she said. “It really has a broad-based impact.”
Educational historians say the increasing importance of computers, coupled with the heavy focus on standardized tests have led schools to de-emphasize instruction in handwriting, particularly cursive writing.
Zaner-Bloser, one the nation’s oldest and largest publishers of handwriting course materials, sells materials for third through eighth grades, but sells mostly to third grades where the subject is mostly taught.
Zaner-Bloser has been working with states to try to get them to add handwriting standards to their curriculum, especially in the 45-plus states, including Louisiana, that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a national curriculum the company views as insufficiently focused on handwriting.
Bunce, with Handwriting Without Tears, said standardized testing, especially those that include written essays, are where better handwriting can make a difference.
“Two essays, if one is well written and the other is poorly formed, they will be graded differently,” she said.
Handwriting Without Tears focuses on preschool to fifth grade. Friday’s workshop was filled with preschool and prekindergarten teachers, while Saturdays will feature teachers in grades K-5.
Bunce offered a fun approach to the subject on Friday, one that broke the writing process down to its simplest elements.
Teachers got a box of straight and curved wood pieces, or “manipulatives,” that can be used to form letters, plus a helpful song called “Wood Piece Pokey,” performed to the tune of “Hokey Pokey.”
Bunce also sung the praises of crayons as a great precursor to pencil and pen.
“The crayon is the Rodney Dangerfield of the early childhood world,” she said. “It gets no respect.”
When using a crayon, children also need to be taught a proper grip — half of children often have a bad grip. And, of course, she had an accompanying explanatory song called “The Crayon Song.’
“I tuck the last two fingers and take them for a ride” is on the lines from that song.
First Baptist Church School in Shreveport had four veteran teachers at Friday’s workshop. All had seen the pendulum swings, with handwriting not emphasized through much of their careers. They already been using Handwriting Without Tears materials but wanted more training.
“I personally think that handwriting goes hand in hand with reading,” said Melanie Smith, a preschool teacher at First Baptist.