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Handwriting, A Complete Guide to Instruction Review by John Wheeler

Rand H. Nelson and Charles H. Trafford
Peterson Directed Handwriting
315 South Maple Ave.
Greensburg, PA 15601

Many students find writing painful and difficult, but not because they don't like to think, or because they are lazy. It is because their minds and bodies have not been trained in the physical act of handwriting. The flow of ideas in their minds is distracted by the obstacle of actually putting the letters on the paper. They hate to write because of handwriting!

Peterson Directed Handwriting has an answer for these students. But it is not an easy, quick fix. This is not for the faint of heart. This is a serious program intended to "teach pupils how to move with vocal chants to emphasize the letter rhythm." Authors Rand H. Nelson and Charles H. Trafford write, "The pupil needs to understand the letter as a pattern of movements rather than a picture to be duplicated." This is what sets Peterson apart from so many other programs. In the Peterson method, fluency - the ability to write smoothly and quickly - is the primary goal, and it is achieved through rhythm and through developing an "internal model."

Students learn to move their hands by chanting "action words" like "tall down," "slant," "loop top," "round top," and "roll top." This establishes a rhythmic pace and pattern. Students learn to form letters through physical drills like "finger-tracing" and "air writing." This allows them to internalize letter patterns and frees them from relying entirely on "visual feedback" (watching intently as letters are formed). This is a research-based program that dates back to 1908. It includes lots of references to research, and there is a glossary of "unusual and new terminology."

The book is written more for teacher training students than it is for home school parents, so its technical language will be challenging for many. Some will struggle to grasp an understanding of terms like "ballistic movement," "anchoring," and "non-visual advantage." It is not a self-driven program; teacher direction is critical.

Peterson employs the American Standard cursive alphabet, an attractive, traditional style. Cursive writing is the long-term goal, but younger students start with vertical print, move to a slant print, and, finally, cursive. The paperback volume Handwriting, A Complete Guide to Instruction can be purchased, but is also available on the website. It opens with an introductory section that discusses many topics including: The Importance of Handwriting Lessons, What is a Motor Pattern, Automating the Transcription Process, Building an Internal Model, The Peterson Method, Developing Patterns for Fluency, From Print Writing To Cursive, and many others. After the introduction comes "For a Specific Sequence of Lesson Plans," and it includes the following sections: Pre and K Lesson Guide, Grade 1 - Vertical Print Lesson Plans, Grade 2 - Cursive Readiness Lesson Plans, Grade 3 - Cursive Transition Lesson Plans, and Grades 4 - 8 - Cursive Skill Development Lessons.

It is very thorough and systematic. In addition to the teacher's book, you will need the pupil book, an inexpensive pamphlet of brief lessons designed to systematically train the student to write rhythmically and fluently. Many other products are available at the Peterson Handwriting website that can help with the development of writing fluency. E-Learning courses are available, like one called "Why Teach Hand-writing?" There is also an 800 number in order to provide support, and the assistance will be friendly and helpful.

If you want a handwriting program that emphasizes fluency, this program is for you. Peterson Directed Handwriting is designed to eliminate the physical obstacle writing can be when a student is attempting to gather, organize, and communicate ideas. This is research-based, tried, and true. It may not be easy; it will require steady, consistent routine, but it has many advantages. It will provide the necessary training to eliminate one of the greatest obstacles to clear writing composition - the physical act of writing by hand

--Product Review by: John Wheeler, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine