Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peterson Directed Handwriting Review

I was given the opportunity to use and review Peterson Directed Handwriting. This unique program of handwriting uses, what they call, a movement-based strategy. Unlike other handwriting programs that rely on memorization of images that are copied from a visual guide to paper, Peterson relies on muscle memory to learn handwriting. There are four steps involved in the Peterson method:

Step #1: Illustrate and Describe: demonstrate the start point and direction of movement using specified action words

Step #2: Air Writing: form letters in the air using hands, arms, elbows, etc. to create muscle memory. Using the action words, students fall into pace with the chanted instructions.

Step #3: Finger Tracing: trace the letter with fingers while chanting the movements

Step #4: Write and Say: use a pencil to create the letters. Chanting of action words continues in this step.

To begin using the Peterson method, I attended a 1 hour online presentation directed by Rand Nelson. This presentation was to explain the method and deliver the PDF By Hand E-Workbooks for Print Steps 1-3. After introductions, Rand launched into explaining the method and I was immediately lost in technical jargon such as threading, anchoring, muscle memory, goal-orientation, etc. I watched the demonstration but must admit feeling lost. I received the downloaded materials and waited a few weeks before opening and using them. When I opened the files up for the first time, I was expecting to see a layman’s instruction manual that would explain the methodology and technique. But again, you are immediately presented with the same foreign terms of threading, anchoring, grammar of action, etc. Rand had told me that if I had any questions, I could refer to the many presentations available on the website or chat live with him. I visited the website and watched several of the presentations which took about another hour. After watching them, I felt I understood the method and technique.

I am intrigued by the research and believe that the Peterson method does work. Prior to Peterson, my children learned to copy images from a visual cue without memorization of the movement. This resulted in letters started from the bottom rather than the top and/or backwards. Peterson’s method commits the motion of the letters to the brain before a student ever picks up a pencil. Additionally, I think the exaggerated action of forming letters in the air is fun for students and children learn better when they enjoy what they are doing. You are not limited to air writing, you can trace in sand, too! Any large movement that helps to create the muscle memory is beneficial. I really liked the E-Workbook because it allows you to print the workbook pages as many times as you like. Unlike a traditional handwriting workbook, you can review a letter over and over again until you’ve achieved mastery.

The only complaint I have regarding the program is the frustration I felt trying to understand the method and technique. It seems to be geared toward handwriting specialists who are already familiar with the aforementioned technical terms. As a homeschooler, I was not familiar with these terms. I believe this is an obstacle to overcome. If I was shopping for a handwriting program and someone directed me to the Peterson website, I would probably spend about ten minutes there and leave. The website is full of information but is not laid out in a manner that takes the layperson to mastery. It required a lot of digging to understand what I was looking at and what they were offering. I did this because I was asked to use and review the product as part of the Homeschool Crew. As a homeschooling mom with limited time, I doubt I would take the time to understand this product. If I had struggling writers and someone recommended the program to me, perhaps I would, but if I were just shopping for a handwriting program, I would probably pass this one over.

Pros: I think it is a great product. I believe in the research and technique and that it provides a creative and interesting approach for student and teacher. I like the E-Workbook format and the price of $19.95 is quite affordable. Customer support is a click away and Rand is a nice guy to work with.

Cons: The instruction manual does not impart a basic understanding of the product for homeschooling moms. The website is confusing to navigate when you are new to the product and unsure of what you are looking for.

Summary: I would recommend the product and suggest that you rely heavily on the website materials and Rand Nelson for your initial support.