Handwriting Summit

On January 23, 2012 a Handwriting Summit took place in Washington, DC. It is the firm belief of the www.blendphonics.org website that handwriting, cursive in particular, is an indispensable component of good phonics, spelling, and reading instruction.

The decline in good, directed handwriting instruction is an unmitigated disaster for the school children of America. Much of the illiteracy in our country is directly attributable to the decline.

The sample handwriting is from my Uncle Albert Potter, my seventh-grade teacher and principal. The long document is handwritten. Every word and every letter is just as beautiful, legible, and fluent as you see on this cover page. He had a cursive handwriting lesson every day in our seventh-grade classroom. He taught us correct, light grip, and fluent letter formation: under-curve, down-curve, over-curve, slant.

I was taught cursive-first beginning in 1953 under the careful oversight of Mrs. Pearl Monroe at the Cass Union Elementary School near Rising Sun, Indiana. I am blessed to teach at a cursive-only school here in Odessa, TX – where I see the overwhelming benefits of starting with cursive with every paper the children write.

The Three Pillars of the Blend Phonics Nationwide Educational Reform are:

  1. Phonics-First
  2. Elimination of Sight-Word Memorization
  3. Restoration of Cursive handwriting

I have sought to collect all the information available on the advantages of teaching cursive-first over manuscript-first. Read Samuel L. Blumenfeld’s article, How Should We Teach Handwriting? Cursive First, Print Later, which I have augmented with information from numerous other scholarly sources.

My new (2013) Shortcut to Cursive is my contribution to restoring cursive to its proper place of pride in American curriculum.

My newest (2014) Direct Path to Cursive is designed to smooth the path to fluent cursive handwriting. It is similar to Shortcut to Cursive above but teaches the strokes in a more economic manner for the most rapid skill acquisition possible.

My Alpha-Phonics Cursive program was designed to go with Samuel Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics. It follows a phonetic sequence. The details on stroke production are more detailed than my Shortcut to Cursive and can be used to help with the teaching of that program.

The leading cursive handwriting programs today are Peterson Directed Handwriting and Zaner-Bloser. I have collected a lot of information on handwriting on Don’s Handwriting Page.

I was watching TV at my father-in-law’s farm house near Bremen, Indiana, when I heard that Indiana was no longer going to require cursive handwriting instruction. I was pretty shocked since I had learned cursive first in first-grade in Indiana back in 1953. I did not realize that education in my beloved state had deteriorated to such a low level. I love my state, but they are going to pay a high price for neglecting this essential pillar of a strong education.

See my Blend Phonics Handwriting Sheets near the end of the Blend Phonics Supplements page.

Pen Grip Videos: Proper pen grip is exceedingly important. It should NEVER be overlooked, but monitored continual so the children develop the proper grip from the very start before difficult to break poor habits are established. Here are two YouTube Clips on Proper Grip, Proper Grip 2. It is impossible for a child to make progress until a correct grip is established. Here is another excellent, very detailed, and highly convincing presentation Proper Grip 3. Some times kids can teach better than adults: Proper Grip 4. Here is an excellent animated grip video: Proper Grip 5.

How do You Measure Administrative Incompetence?

Poetic Reflections on a quote
from The Administrator’s Guide to Whole-Language,

            “In primary school classrooms there is no need to teach handwriting formally.”

I hate to admit it, the truth is right there,
The kids don’t know their letters.
They’re all up in the air.

They hold the pencil like a screwdriver
Turning a screw,
Watching their knuckles all turning blue.

Their letters are jumbles like jack’s in a box,
Tumbling out
Without attention or thought.

Since good handwriting’s the foundation,
Of good reading and spelling,
Why was it forsaken without consideration.

Who stole our handwriting books long years ago?
From our classroom they took them,
And ripped out our soul

I know an example close at hand,
It starts at the top,
Draw a line in the sand.

The name of  a book tells it all very brief,
The Administrator’s Guide to Whole-Langauge,
Make no mistake, that’s the thief.

On page forty-eight, you can read it yourself,
Just get a copy of the book,
Take if off the shelf.

Ask your administrators, look them straight in the face,
“What have YOU done with our handwriting books?
Can you explain this disgrace?”

By Donald L. Potter, 3/8/12. Written in response at the poor handwriting of ALL the students coming to me for tutoring and out of deep appreciation and respect for my elementary teachers in the 1950′s who were highly skilled in the fine art of teaching fluent penmanship. The Administrator’s Guide to Whole Langauge was written by Gail Herald-Taylor, 1989. I am not joking. Check it out for yourself.

Couplets Dedicated to My New 21 Year Old Tutoring Student

I take a young adult and show her how to write,
Then throw in some phonics to turn on the light.

To illuminate a thousands words, long hidden from view,
And liberate her intellect, in a daring rescue.

So take all your iPads, and IBM’s, too.
Givum to the monkeys and chimps in the zoo.

I’m tired of you messing with our little kids,
Stealing their brains and flipping their lids.

So here’s a pencil and piece of paper, too.
We’ll take back our kids and give you the zoo.

We’ll teach them how to read, write , and spell,
Gaining knowledge too precious to sell.

And to top it off, we’ll throw in cursive.
To make sure we’re truly subversive,

In our plans to undermine ignorance and crime,
Taking literacy to levels sublime.

Don Potter 3/29/2012.

The couplets above were partially motivated by another student coming to me from an elementary school where every student has an iPad, yet the little lad could not write more than six poorly formed letters from memory, nor could he sound out a word as simple as bag. I have an iPad, but to teach reading and spelling, nothing can beat a good phonics-first teacher at the chalkboard and attentive students writing at their desks.

Joy Over Recent Zaner-Bloser Adoption

I was almost in despair
Thinking miracles have ceased,
With God’s power on hold,
Nothing left but grief.

But then it happened,
Right out of the blue.
Zaner-Bloser shows up,
And kids get their due.

Let’s pray this keeps up,
This miracle of old,
Where kids learn the basics,
Their writing’s pure gold.

Now how about spelling,
Math algorithms, science & history.
Let’s take it over the top
With poetry and mystery!

 Don Potter, 7/4/12 Written upon hearing that the teachers in my district had wisely decided to adopt the Zaner-Bloser handwriting program.

                         An Earnest Plea to Curriculum Directors

I know you think you’re doing right,
Saving lots of money.
Buying material for the tests,
Thinking handwriting’s just baloney.

But cutting edge cognitive research,
Makes it as plain as day,
To cut out handwriting instruction,
Learning will delay.

Don Potter 10/21/12. Written in response to having my hopes dashed to the ground when I learned that my school district was not going to fund the purchase of the handwriting adoption. Is it not ironic that my district uses cursive with all their dyslexic kids, but denies it to regular students, who also would benefit? Perhaps we would have less dyslexia if everyone learned cursive.

On June 30, 2013, I received distressing news from Zaner-Bloser that my district was not going to fund the purchase of the handwriting books for the year 2013-2014. Let’s hope they have a change of mind before schools begins. Can anyone tell me what an “embedded handwriting program is? I haven’t found it yet.

Reflections on a recent (8/20/13) spelling workshop where I learned that the only children in my district truly learning cursive
are in dyslexia (Take Flight) classes.

                                                  It strikes me as odd.
I can’t figure it out.
Dyslexic learn cursive
While Johnny’s left out.

                                                  If it’s good for dyslexics,
As everyone admits.
Then teach it to everyone
For the the full benefit.

                                                                     by Donald Potter, 8/23/13

Special Note: Handing a student a cursive worksheet sheet and telling him or her to trace and copy the letters is NOT true cursive handwriting instruction. Cursive handwriting is a skill that can ONLY be taught by direct instruction in the hands of a well trained teacher. Anything else less a cruel farce.

 Special Report on My 2015 Kindergarten
Cursive  Handwriting Experiment 

This year I taught two classes of kindergarten students the Spanish alphabet in cursive. I wanted to see if I could apply some basic principals of cognitive psychology and motor skill development to improving the students’ cursive. I am happy to report that the results met and even exceeded my expectations. My procedures are in certain aspects quite different from the typical handwriting instruction used these days, cursive or manuscript. I wanted to emphasize motor skills rather than visual skills so I eliminated all trace and copy from the instructions. I feel strongly that motor skills are better taught beginning with gross motor movement so I taught all the letters on the whiteboard in large letters before asking the students to write any letters on paper. The students wrote the connected cursive letters on the whiteboard first. The letters were taught in the following groups: abcd, efg, hijk, lmnop, qus, tuv, wxyz. A traditional slant cursive was taught. Each group was taught as a connected unit. As the students mastered each group, I taught the connecting stroke to join each group. When they had mastered the groups at the board,  I passed out plain printer paper with no lines. They wrote with inexpensive ball point pens. I was very careful to teach them proper posture, angled paper position, and the standard grip (ergonomically preferred tripod grip). One of the most unexpected aspects of their writing was the fact that they can write connective cursive letters across the page in a straight line. They are all able to do this. I taught them to write the entire alphabet and then go back and cross the x and t and dot the j and i. Later when I started having them write words (Spanish and English) they were immediately able to write the words in lovely and fluent cursive. I believe this is a ground breaking experiment that can lead to a major advance in kindergarten instruction with cursive-first.

Given the ability of all my students to write the alphabet in cursive fluent, I see absolutely no good reason to continue teaching manuscript in kindergarten. In fact my kindergarten cursive students write far better cursive than the average kindergarten students writes manuscript. They even write better than ANY tutoring student coming to me from the local school district.

Notice that no handwriting book or special handwriting paper was used. Other than markers, inexpensive ball point pens, and a few pieces of plain paper, there was no expense to the program. The form of cursive that was taught is that of my Shortcut to Cursive.

The elimination of trace and copy and lined paper was based on the idea that those things tended to reinforce a visual mode (or external model) rather than a motor mode (internal model or representation) of the letters and their connecting strokes. I even have the children practice writing the connected cursive letters with their eyes closed, which again reinforces the motor skills we are trying to develop.


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