Research
 
 
Teaching Handwriting with Path Letters
Background and Research
 
Teaching Handwriting with Path Letters, Books One and Two are handwriting practice books for beginning writers.  These books are designed for short, frequent, consistent practice to assist the beginning writer to learn to write the letters of the alphabet using a continuous stroke pattern. They have been developed in response to a need expressed by regular education kindergarten and first grade teachers for handwriting practice books that will more successfully assist them in teaching handwriting to their students.
 
Handwriting acquisition is actually a more complicated task than it may appear at first glance.  There are many small steps comprising the larger skill of handwriting.  Using the strategy of task analysis, some of these smaller steps have been identified for discrete learning.  Motor Theory (presented in Asher, 2006) suggests that blocked, structured, repetitive simple practice in the initial phase of learning a motor skill (handwriting) is helpful and desirable. It also suggests that with the development of skill, further practice under random conditions provides an optimal challenge point (degree of complexity) for learning.  Using this theory, the practice books provide blocked, structured, repetitive practice of discrete tasks and then move into more complex application and random, varying practice to further develop acquisition and retention of handwriting skills and transfer those skills to other situations when handwriting is needed for expression.
 
Coupled with task analysis and motor theory is the presentation of material in such a way that kinesthetic sensory input is systematically activated. Kinesthetic receptors are located in the joints and muscles of our body and are stimulated when we move.  The kinesthetic sensory system uses this sensory input to tell us where our body is moving in space and to develop motor patterns and motor memories.  
 
We know that the established writer no longer thinks about letter formation when writing. The skill has moved from the acquisition phase to an unconscious learned motor pattern (motor memory).  This is not only true to the point that we can write with our eyes closed but is also true to us as unique individuals.  Experts can determine our signature (because we consistently use the same learned motor memory pattern that is unique to us) from forgeries. This development of unconscious motor memories and patterns is accomplished in part by the sensory receptors in our joints and muscles and is referred to as kinesthetic learning.  This kinesthetic/motor memory is what we use when we learn how far we extend our legs and feet when going down stairs. Once we have learned this, we rarely look at our feet or the stairs as we go down and we rarely stumble or stub our toe. However, if someone creates steps that are not the standard height, we immediately notice this in a jolting/jarring realization.
 
The use of the kinesthetic sense has been used in other handwriting programs (Benbow, 1990) and can be created by practicing letters/movements in large to small patterns, in the air, with fingertips, and with writing tools but most importantly, by practicing similar letter formations and motor patterns together to kinesthetically develop motor memories. The grouping of those letters varies somewhat from handwriting author to author with the C-group being the most consistent. This practice book groups letters together that have similar motor patterns in their formation of lower case letters and are presented here in this manner to draw upon the kinesthetic sensory system to develop motor patterns and memories.  
 
Research is telling us that visual motor skills may play an even more important role in the development of handwriting than perhaps previously thought. “Visual-motor integration, defined as the ability to look at a form and copy it accurately, is the only sensorimotor component that is moderately to strongly related to handwriting” (Denton, Cope, & Moser, 2006). An additional study found a moderate, positive relationship between visual motor skills and handwriting in typically developing kindergartners (Marr, Windsor, & Cermak, 2001).  In a study conducted in the Netherlands, the impact of perceptual motor dysfunction on the quality of handwriting in children (grades 2 and 3) described as having handwriting problems, was examined.  Again, the visual motor integration abilities were the only significant predictor for quality of handwriting in the children with handwriting problems.  The control group (not identified as having handwriting problems) revealed fine motor coordination (unimanual dexterity) as the significant predictor of quality of handwriting (Volman, van Schendel, & Jongmans, 2006).
 
These studies not only tell us that a certain level of visual motor skills are necessary for handwriting readiness, they also tell us that a deficit in visual motor integration correlates moderately with children with handwriting problems.  The use of significantly wide path letters (1/4th to 1/2 inch width) throughout this book provides important visual cues in assisting the eyes to direct hand movement  during the early acquisition of handwriting. When used in combination with simple, blocked, repetitive practice (motor theory and task analysis) and letter groupings (kinesthetic sensory system), path letters assist in the development of visual motor skills concurrently with the acquisition of letter formation.  It is this progression and combination of learning factors that makes these handwriting practice books well suited for beginning learners across populations and varying learning styles of children.  They also lend themselves easily to adaptations for those children with more significant learning challenges (i.e. mental retardation, autism, multi-handicapped).
 
Teaching Handwriting with Path Letters is both a set of handwriting practice books and a method for teaching handwriting.  They have been developed by Janice Flock.  Ms Flock is a registered occupational therapist; having received her master’s degree from the University of Southern California.  She has 26 years of experience working with children in school settings and can be contacted at info@pathletters.com