Thursday, May 11, 2017

Handwriting and Copywork: Your Questions Answered

I get many questions through my webpage, RootedinLanguage.com Here are two recent questions from a parent:

Question 1--How do you recommend modifying Handwriting Without Tears?

Handwriting weaknesses seem to be connected to the phoneme-to-grapheme link for both letter names and letter sounds. Much of the research showing improved skills utilizes saying letter names while writing. We can’t ignore this key strategy.

I suggest that handwriting is viewed as a separate activity from Copywork and Dictation. Handwriting practice follows this rule: “Say your letters while you write.” This is a key strategy for two reasons.

First, I have seen kids produce more perfect letters while saying the letter name, then produce illegible letters while saying sounds. It appears that saying the letter name is easier than saying a letter sound, resulting in greater writing skill. Over time, this difference disappears, but informs me that it is best to let handwriting practice be as successful as possible.

Second, handwriting is a good place to learn letter names. Some kids have difficulty combining all they need to know about text: the word, its sounds, its letters, its grammatical structure, its relationship in word families, its denotations and connotations, etc. There is A LOT to manage while writing! Practicing the skill of letter naming in Handwriting, then letter sounds in Copywork, helps strengthen each skill so it can be combined with other skills in writing.

Third, saying letter names is helpful for spelling, especially for confusing suffix spellings or fornunexpected letter combinations.

Engaging in Handwriting is the practice of SKILLS for better CONSOLIDATION OF SKILLS in writing.

Some people refer to this theory as the practice of AUTOMATICITY for better CONNECTIVITY.

No matter the terminology, think of practicing writing the way you think of practicing music. Original writing is like an entire musical piece. To play the musical piece, we must practice our notes, our scales, difficult measures, difficult phrasing, entire portions, etc. Then we have to practice putting all those individual skills together. Which leads us to Copywork and Dictation . . .



Question 2--When doing Copywork, do you recommend sticking with one passage (1 or 2 sentences) all week? Copying the same passage each day?

When I ask kids to do Intentional Copywork, I give this rule: “Say your sounds while you write.” This is key to tapping into the language system while writing. There are many reasons we do this.

First, we need to hold phrases and sentences in our working memory while writing, so we learn to manage more text, without constantly looking back and forth. This is good training for when we create generative writing and hold onto our original thoughts.

Also, we solidify the sound-to-symbol (phoneme-to-grapheme) relationship in words. We practice breaking words into syllables, and other phonological strategies.

In addition, we hear the text. We hear the syntax. We hear the phrasing. These are all key skills connecting our written language skills to our spoken language skills.

I like to select a passage that would take my students 5-10 minutes to write, much the way Brave Writer recommends. In Intentional Copywork, we follow the schedule I outlined in my book and my March blog, in which we read and study one passage from text, adding bits and pieces of writing each day throughout the week.

On day one, we make notes or write on the passage’s meaning, using the ideas I share in Trees in the Forest: Growing Readers and Writers through Deep Comprehension.

Day two, we practice words from the Copywork passage, using Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study strategies. The Phonics strategies are available through our free Welcome to the Forest Video and our Laying a Path: Phonics and Spelling video series. These are both available on the website, in the Video Shop.

Day three, we practice studying the grammatical structures and punctuation in the passage.

Day four, we do Copywork of the entire passage (as able) and edit.

Day five, we use the same passage for Dictation, writing only as much as can be accomplished in 10 minutes. Then we edit again.

In this way, one passage is studied in depth throughout the week.


Rooted in Language is working hard to make more materials available, so you will have more ideas for all five days of Intentional Copywork and Dictation!

~Rita


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