No more tears?

So, I’ve mentioned once before that my school system uses Handwriting without Tears to teach handwriting. My teacher gave me her teacher’s guide at the beginning of the year, but I haven’t had much time to look through it.

My school finally got the student workbooks this month, so my teacher started teaching it one Wednesday that I was there.

And I have to say, I’m horrified.

Handwriting WITH Tears

All the reasons to not buy and implement a system like this are there: it’s expensive (a $6 workbook for every student in grades K-2 plus a $6 teacher’s guide for each teacher and whatever other materials they purchased), it’s vocabulary-heavy, and it takes just as much time (if not more) to teach them how to use the method as it does to just teach them how to write.

Plus, it’s everything I hate… cutesy phrases that only vaguely relate to their purpose, lack of meaning, and boring repetition.

I remember learning how to write in elementary school… I hated it. “Write the letter p exactly this way 10 times. Now do it again. And again. Oh, no! you didn’t bring the tail all the way down to the line (that won’t appear on any actual paper you’ll ever use for anything other than handwriting practice)! Start over!” It’s ridiculous and impractical – and kids hate it.

I realize that being able to write legibly and consistently is important, I do… but can’t we, after decades of doing it the boring way, figure out a better way to teach it? I know you have to practice, by why can’t you practice using words and situations (and paper!) that the kids will actually use? Why can’t you just model the correct way and tell them you want them to write the letters the way they appear on their nametags or on the wall or wherever you might have the alphabet hanging in your room?

And, honestly, do we need to confuse them any further with the “magic c,” “frog jump capitals,” and “up, up like a helicopter, slide down, bump”? I mean, seriously – what the fuck does all that even mean? I remember, when I was learning how to write in cursive, my teacher kept telling me a cursive “r” was supposed to look like a chair, and I kept fucking it up. I just didn’t understand how what she drew looked anything like a chair, so I tried to draw mine like a chair instead of like hers, and she kept telling me it was wrong, and I still have trouble writing the cursive “r”. All because my teacher was so concerned about the vocabulary used in whatever system my school adopted to teach cursive that she didn’t notice that it wasn’t working.

I feel sorry for any kids who come in new in the second grade that aren’t familiar with Handwriting Without Tears. They’ll be lost and confused and frustrated. The funny part – the teacher’s guide actually states (on page 23 for those following along), “…there is no strange jargon or indecipherable terminology.” HA!

Ha ha ha! Ha HA ha HA! HA!!!

I don’t know if they’re fooling themselves, but they certainly haven’t fooled me – this system is so FULL of strange jargon that you spend half the time teaching them what it means to “frog jump up” and what the fuck a “magic c” is. I tried explaining this system to some of my adult friends (both education majors and not) and they were perplexed.

I don’t know of any “standardized” alternative to the program, myself, but I’d rather just teach them how to write my own way than use this… though, I’m sure there is something better out there. Any ideas?

6 thoughts on “No more tears?

  1. MacHett says:

    Wow. Ouch. I’m glad you didn’t try to show me that crap.

    I remember having banners or signs on the classroom walls, and maybe a booklet, each showing examples of the letters and how to draw them. They had those kindergarten “highway” lines, like so:
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    There were no special programs to learn how to write; we just did it.

  2. hawk says:

    I got here through other blogs somehow….Hey!—slow down on your rush to judgment on HWT…the letters I use to refer to the regrettable name Handwriting Without Tears. Check in with the OT at your school. She/He will share with you the benefits of the program. And time spent on handwriting? I say no more than 10 minutes per day. You are correct in saying that the kids have an opportunity to practice throughout the day. It seems that your district is on the cutting edge, however. HWT is the program many high achieving districts are using now. PLCs are only implemented in districts that follow current research. You should have an opinion—but remember, as you stated in one of your posts, you are new at this. Your opinion will probably change on many things you think you believe to be true right now! Good luck with the rest of the semester. And do another post on HWT in few months!

  3. Miss Fox says:

    I can see your point, hawk, but I really think there has to be some middle ground – something between a proprietary system that is difficult to get used to and figuring it out on your own. I can see how standards are important, but even I’m having trouble getting used to the system – and I think many people, once they get into it, forget how difficult it is, at first.

    Ideally, a handwriting system, like any learning system, should feel comfortable and be picked up quickly. You shouldn’t have to spend a great deal of time getting used to it, or teaching the method. I’m not convinced that the time it takes to learn HWT is worth the benefit of the program – not just for me, but for the students. Especially since the process is started over, again, every time a new student steps into your class (which is quite often in my school). It also doesn’t help the ELL students to have a vocabulary-heavy system that they struggle to figure out.

    However, my opinion might change – I’m open to that. At the moment, though, I see my confusion reflected in my students’ faces, and I feel horrible for them.

    Thank you for your advice, I will certainly consider it. And I really do think the idea of PLCs makes so much sense – child-centered is always better than curriculum-centered education, and I’m thankful to be in such a progressive program. However, there is the fear that our district won’t stick with it. They have a tendency to snap up the “next best thing” and let previous systems crumble before giving them time to make change. Unfortunately, in today’s climate of “We must do better than all previous years RIGHT NOW,” and the need for immediate, drastic results, I know we’re not the only ones playing “musical quick-fixes”. I just hope they stick with this one.

  4. In my 20 years as a handwriting instruction/remediation specialist, I’ve found ample reason to share each and every one of your concerns over HWTears: as well as finding many more concerns than you mentioned (e.g., HWTears’ ultra-high-pressure marketing tactics and other actions of theirs that I regard as ethically questionable.) To have a structured and effective handwriting program, consider the following which have served well for an increasing number of the teachers, schools, and (above all) students who noticed HWTears not living up to its ads:
    Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting –
    Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting –
    Handwriting Repair individual/group training –

    Kate Gladstone – The Handwriting Repairwoman

  5. Many of the kinesthetic exercises in Handwriting without Tears are beneficial to beginners, but they differ little from other programs that focus on pre-writing exercises. And yet, I am in agreement with all of your critique. In my experience (nearly 40 years with handwriting instruction) hand and finger strengthening, and development of rhythmic movement are vitally important for beginners if they are to easily learn efficient letterforms—and it can be great fun. In a school for which I am the handwriting consultant, children leave 1st grade with a method of writing that will serve them throughout their lives. You mentioned cost. I hope you will contact me, as that one area that I can definitely help with!

  6. David M. says:

    Wow, dude. Your blog is awesome! These comments are awesome!! But I don’t know why anyone would waste any time teaching kids to write?!?!?

    Srsly, these youngins y’all talkin’ ’bout taint never gonna see a piece of paper. And probably not a pen or pencil either. Think ‘stylus.’

    What children of the future need are strong typing and technology skills. (FYI – these days, “skills” is often spelled as “skillz”). You need to teach these kids amazingly good keyboard skills, then probably basic UNIX commands, and then either programming, network or systems administration. Without these vital skills, children of the future are doomed.

    Great job taking on the establishment, however! Kudos!!

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