Is “Handwriting without Tears” a Good Program?

The Handwriting without Tears curriculum  is currently being implemented in many schools throughout the United States.  Is it a good program?  I have been asked to give my opinion.

I am an expert teacher of handwriting, and have over 20 years of experience in teaching both printing and cursive at both the Kindergarten and Grade Three levels.  So the opinions below are my impressions from what I can gather about the program from the Handwriting without Tears website and from online information (at present I live and teach overseas, and have not seen or used the program myself, nor ever heard of it, before being asked for my opinion).

This Program Directly Addresses a Major Problem

One of the main problems with teaching handwriting (both printing and cursive) is that most current teachers have never had any instruction themselves in how to teach these skills.  This program takes students from Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade.  It appears that the program is well-thought-out in terms of appropriate motor skills for preschoolers.  Specifically, it appears that the program TEACHES THE TEACHERS HOW TO TEACH IT.

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

It is not so important which program is used in teaching handwriting (although I personally found D’Nealian more difficult than other styles to teach well).  The important thing is, does the TEACHER feel confident in his or her own handwriting skills, and with the methods to be used in communicating and practicing those skills with students?  These days, most teachers do not feel confident with these skills (either because they were never taught as students themselves to the point of mastery, or because they had no instruction in how to teach it, and they don’t remember it from when they were young).  This program DIRECTLY addresses these problems, which I would say is a big plus.

The other big plus with this program is that all teachers in the same school are being trained in use of the SAME program.  It can be frustrating and confusing for students when they go from class-to-class, and each new teacher has a completely different type, standard, method, and approach to teaching handwriting.  So this factor is especially helpful for students.

Handwriting Standards By Grade Level

This programs sets in place standards to be achieved between Kindergarten and Fourth Grade.  Frankly, these standards do look a bit low to me, speaking as a veteran teacher of many years.  However, their video (on home page) mentions that the program only takes ten minutes a day.  Looking at it from this perspective, the standards are good.

Writing Style

Printing Style for “Handwriting without Tears” (as found on the internet).

This printing style is the same as traditional printing, as it was taught before D’Nealian style (slanted, with tails on the ends of letters, which most probably CREATED all the handwriting “tears”).  This vertical block printing is both the most legible, easiest to master for the student, and easiest to teach for the teacher.

Desk strips in the new “Handwriting without Tears” cursive style.

I do not like the new Handwriting without Tears cursive style at all; in fact, I find it quite ugly.  It is completely vertical, and devoid of both lead-in strokes or tails (lead-in strokes are used in the traditional cursive methods, while tails replaced lead-in strokes in more recent methods such as D’Nealian).  My thoughts are that the vertical style was adopted in this method to do away with the need to turn the paper.  Slant is not very difficult to master on a sheet of paper, but is nearly impossible in a workbook, such as is used in this program (and other recent programs).  No doubt a simplified style was adopted to help students with dysgraphia.

Conclusion

In recent years, it seems that the major problem in teaching handwriting has not been whether the students learn cursive at school; it has been whether the students’ writing is legible at all!

Speaking as a veteran expert cursive (and printing) teacher, looking through the program, it seems very expensive with many unnecessary bells and whistles (expensive manipulative and workbook materials and expensive workshops).  None of these things are at all necessary to teach cursive effectively.

Preschool manipulatives for the Handwriting without Tears program.

For teachers who have no idea how to teach cursive, and who have never been taught, this program does offer good support.  The use of manipulative materials can be fun for students and give new teachers of handwriting confidence in what they are doing.  (I was fortunate to recall how I was taught as a child; I also had the support of another cursive teaching expert, a generation older than myself, who still happened to be teaching in the same school).

Overall, I would come down in favor of this program because it addresses the following issues:

1.)  Handwriting instruction IS being given to students, with a focus on at least achieving legibility.

2.)  Teachers ARE being given good support and training.

3.)   The program seems to be well-thought-out over several years, and all teachers in the same school are being asked to use the same teaching methods, and same style of printing and cursive.

4.)   The program maintains an emphasis on the positive and fun aspects of handwriting, with students and parents,  through use of manipulatives, and by working only ten minutes a day (according to the video.

–Lynne Diligent

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16 Responses to “Is “Handwriting without Tears” a Good Program?”

  1. raindancer86 Says:

    This is a very interesting article, Lynne.
    I was never taught how to handwrite! I remember the teachers would ask us to follow the lines on the notebooks, but I never seemed to be able to do it correctly. I also remember that my teacher at second grade always insulted me for my ugly handwriting. Dad, on the other hand, said it was a skill and had nothing to do with how intelligent or stupid one is, and that for this reason I didn’t have to worry about it. He’d ask me to practice more by copying long reading texts.
    Practice does help indeed, but it’s nothing like being formally taught how to handwrite. I think our education system would never think of a whole program dedicated to handwriting only and this is why I find the differences between our education system and that of the Us so interesting.

    Thank you, Lynne. I loved your article.

  2. niki hayes Says:

    As a special ed teacher, I had long heard kudos for Handwriting without Tears, yet never used it myself because I worked with grades 6-12. Research has shown that learning cursive, if taught well, can improve overall cognitive ability. For that reason, I would agree with Lynn’s recommended use of the program, particularly for untrained teachers (which will likely be 90%+ of them).

  3. Adventures (@in_expatland) Says:

    This post took me back to kindergarten and first grade (umm, quite awhile ago), learning neat, exacting, cursive handwriting. By junior high I had a more rounded personal style of my own. (It also looks youthful and, dare I say, immature to me now.) Somewhere between college and the working world, I developed a more relaxed style of writing. That, too, is ‘mine’.

    Of course now we type far more than we write by hand. When you realize how many fonts are out there, and how use of different fonts can actually affect our interest in reading something, it has a tendency to open our minds to other ways of writing. I agree with you that the cursive of H without Tears doesn’t seem as attractive as what we learned, but that is primarily a result of our age.

    I say anything that actively encourages written communication among people, especially without judgment or negative connotations for the students, is heading in the right direction.

  4. M. Schalk Says:

    HWT was forced on our elementary school because the kindergarten teachers were introduced to it as a intervention to students who did not have strong small motor skills. They did not want to teach two styles of writing so they did not discuss it with the rest of the teachers and campaigned to the principal that it was the most wonderful program around. Of course, it was adopted. All the teachers who now have to teach it do not like it. We voiced our thought to deaf ears. There was nothing wrong with Zaner Bloser. I want my Zaner Bloser back.

  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    I think I would feel the same if I were at your school. I agree with you that there was nothing wrong with the old methods, and that they are superior to modern methods. But considering that there are few people left in schools who know how to teach the older methods, I would come down in favor of this new method when it is a choice between this and not teaching cursive at all, which has apparently been the case in most American schools during the past fifteen years.

  6. NYC OT Says:

    Hello. NYC Schools OTs have been pushing HWT very hard. It is almost like a cult. I see it as indicating weak therapists!
    There are many problems with HWT. The manuscript letters and numbers are very oddly shaped, and could cause other problems for the students. The cursive lack proper lead in strokes, and have other such problems. The very costly instructional materials and many of the techniques are only good for preschool or maybe K, due to being silly and infantile. For manuscript, try Rinehart – [also has good cursive]. The best cursive system is from Mary Benbow, Loops and Other Groups.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      NYC OT, I don’t disagree with you about the points you have mentioned. Personally, I much prefer the older styles of handwriting (pre-D’Nealian) which all have lead-in strokes. D’Nealian got rid of those lead-in strokes, and put on “tails” instead, to join to the following letter. I thought D’Nealian was MUCH harder to get a good result with than the previous styles. However, these days there are so many young TEACHERS who never had correct or complete handwriting instruction themselves. Personally, I would rather ANY form of cursive be taught, rather than to have it thrown out all together. It’s my understanding that they are bringing cursive back into schools now because they can’t read students’ SAT essays!

  7. kategladstone Says:

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? Research finds that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)

    Research further shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive (though they are not absolute print-writers either). Highest speed and legibility belong to those who join only some letters, not all: joining the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, using print-like forms for letters whose printed and cursive forms disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters: but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Simply reading cursive can be taught in 30-60 minutes: even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching how. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)

    So why not simply teach children to _read_ cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive that’s loved by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: BFHhandwriting.com, handwritingsuccess.com, briem.net, HandwritingThatWorks.com, italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some features resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (An ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, not restricted to teachers — is at http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 — the One-Question Handwriting Survey. So far, results show that most handwriting in the real world consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)

    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, teaching cursive to schoolkids is like teaching them that our current president is Richard Nixon.

    At times, cheerleaders for cursive claim research support — citing studies that _invariably_ prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant or by a source that the claimant used. (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone interested in probing this serious issue.)
    By now, you’re probably wondering about signatures. Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (the specialists in identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) tell me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated; these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to support handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to support the art of tailoring.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Kate, thank you for your long response. I’ve approved it here for anyone who would like to read it. However, as an expert teacher of printing and cursive for the past 30 years, I have to respectfully disagree with you on just about every point, particularly on both speed and legibility. To reply to each of your points above would, however, require a long conversation for each one, and it sounds like there wouldn’t be any point to it, since we both clearly have strong opinions formed over many years of our own experiences. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      • kategladstone Says:

        Thanks for approving it despite disagreeing. Having studied and used cursive (and eventually succeeded therein), of course I’d be interested to know whether you’ve studied and used italic. Certainly do not feel bound to reply.

      • Lynne Diligent Says:

        No, Kate, I have neither studied nor used Italic, although I think it looks beautiful.

      • kategladstone Says:

        If you ever wish to create that particular beauty, I would be interested in guiding you (as far as you wished) and/or in seeing your progress and results.

  8. Chamaine Says:

    Hi Lynne,

    I really liked your review on Handwriting without Tears. It gave me some insight into what is missing and needed for the teaching of Handwriting.

    Chamaine Nelson
    Owner
    StartWrite, Inc.

  9. danakx Says:

    I was introduced to Handwriting Without Tears years ago when my firstborn had significant issues with writing–both print and cursive. We were living overseas at the time, and I’d never heard of dysgraphia, but I special ordered some HWT materials to be hand carried to us. In my son’s case, cursive was much easier for him than printing, because the letters stayed more “anchored” in his brain because of the connections. Although he continued to reverse numbers, he completely stopped reversing letters in his writing. The biggest advantage I found with the HWT program was the unique paper they use. By only focusing on situating the top and bottom of the “middle” parts of the letters correctly, my son went from writing all across the page (as if he didn’t even see the lines) to writing straight! That change was immediate, and I was sold on that kind of paper.

    Years later, my younger two children were in public school in the US and did not learn to write cursive beyond being able to sign their own names. I decided to devote one summer to changing that, and so I set aside 10-15 minutes a day for that purpose. Each day they would pick a paragraph from something they were reading for pleasure and I would type it up and convert it to the handwriting font style I liked (using the font and conversion tool for BJU handwriting from Educational Fontware https://educationalfontware.com/)

    I taught them the cursive alphabet in a day or so (they were late elementary at this point and in the BJU cursive style, most letters are similar to print but with connectors, so they picked it up quickly). Then, I would have them set a timer and neatly copy the cursive sample I’d printed of their selected quote. Because they were going by the timer rather than by a set number of lines or words to finish, they could focus on writing neatly, and when the timer went off they were finished for the day, regardless of how far they’d gotten in their quote. This paid off over time, as the amount they wrote increased, and they weren’t discouraged by having to write until they completed a whole worksheet. I actually think I only had them write for 5 minutes the first week, then 10, to build up their writing stamina. They wrote on the HWT paper that I had left from my older son.

    By the end of the summer, both of my children had beautiful cursive handwriting, and they have maintained that neatness, even though they’ve each developed their own personal style for writing. They also transitioned to normal paper eventually, and I still believe that using the HWT paper at first helped contribute to their neat, even style. While I realize a classroom teacher doesn’t have the luxury of creating individual writing sheets for every students, I was thrilled with how this worked for my children. I loved being able to connect their writing instruction to living books, and while they weren’t thrilled to spend 10 minutes a day writing, they enjoyed writing purposeful things and having control over the selection they would be writing each day.

    All that to say, I was grateful for HWT when I first received it, and I believe their line layout is the best for teaching cursive. However, I like other cursive styles better, and in the end wouldn’t invest in a workbook of any style, because I think writing real writing is so much better. (If I were a classroom teacher, I’d still probably create my copy worksheets from living texts, but use the same quote for the entire class).

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