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R is for Repetition

Repetition is defined as the action of repeating something. With handwriting, repetition is KEY to automaticity and fluency (will describe this later). But WAIT, I am not talking about writing the same letter 30 times in a row or copying a sentence 10 times just for repetition's sake! Gone are the days where we give a student a word and require them to copy until their hand is throbbing with pain. This only serves to reinforce bad habits and lead to a general avoidance or dislike of handwriting altogether.

The repetition I am talking about is quality and monitored writing practice. To give an example, we can have a child write thirty lowercase /b/'s in an effort to "reinforce" their formation of /b/ and eliminate reversal of /b/ to /d/... but if this repetition of the letter isn't first explicitly taught with quality practice monitored and edited or cued when needed, then it only reinforces incorrect or inefficient writing patterns, and the child may end up with a page full of inconsistent /b/s and /d/s.

What we want is quality repetition. Once we have explicitly taught the formation of letter or number or other handwriting skill that we are working toward, then we want to engage the child in multisensory practice with that letter/number/skill. We monitor the child as they practice their new skill, provide feedback and cuing (this means giving them verbal or visual feedback). Only after this repetition of quality practice should we offer independent practice of their new knowledge. By using quality repetition, we are building neural pathways in the brain to teach the correct movement strokes, pencil pressure, pencil control, line placement, etc. so that our child can carryover these new skills into everyday life.

A great example of using quality repetition is when I use Handwriting Without Tears Wet-Dry-Try method in my handwriting sessions. With this technique the student is getting at least 3 (usually more) repeated attempts at correct formation of a letter or number using chalk, a wet sponge, a towel, and a chalkboard. Their body is learning the motor steps, their ears are hearing the auditory cues repeated each step, their eyes are visualizing the strokes to make the letter, and their senses are perceiving the chalk to board sensation which altogether creates brain connections leading to memory and carryover of skills! Fascinating right?!

There are many days that I work with clients and only put a pencil to paper during the last 5 minutes of a session, because we have been building up these quality repetitions in a multisensory environment so that when the pencil hits the paper, the student will produce consistent and quality work. Next time you think about repetition, remember that it is the QUALITY of repetition that makes the difference NOT only the amount!

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