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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.