Right-Brained Math and Writing Standards

Homework seems to be getting harder and harder for Gabriel.

I was originally just stoked on the fact that his homework was primarily math, but even that seems to be a challenge for him these days.

It isn’t exactly the “math” portion, it is the right brained explanation that is required that gets him every time.


We had done three of four math problems—all story problems about coins. I do the writing for him, time saver and with handwriting issues it provides frustration relief. OK, so we had agreed on using “hash marks” to log our numbers.

15 whatevers plus 16 whatevers gives us 31 whatevers when we count up the hash marks. Easy.
For both of us.

Then we move to the last problem, it says that Dave had 22 apples, but used 7 of them to bake a pie. How many left?

I say, “Should we use hash marks again?”

Gabriel says, “No.”

“No?” I say confused, as this is the established format.

“We should count.”

“Sure, but how are we going to write that?”

He looks confused.

“We need to use the hash marks so we can tell how many we have. Right?”

“No, we just need to count.”

“Should we draw apples?”

“No. Count.”

“Ok, Gabriel, I get that we can count the answer in our head, but the work requires us to write down how we got to the answer.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Whatever we do, we have to write it here (as I place my hand on the paper). Whatever we do to solve the problem, must be written down.”

He is visibly frustrated.

Gritting his teeth at me.

Tearing up.

“Fine.” He grabs the paper and begins to write on it.

I look at it, it says “C” and “o”…

“What are you writing?” I ask, clearly this wasn’t hash marks or apples.

“ I am writing ‘counting’.” He responds.

“You can’t just write the word.” I tell him, although I completely understand why he thinks that is a good solution.

“I just don’t get it!!” He yells and storms out of the room.


How do I explain to my little black and white thinker that math has to be so right brained?

I know that we all have to learn the “process” of math so that we can build on each skill, but in some ways I call BS on that.

When I was a kid, I saw the answers in my head too. I got that 7 came out of 22 easily—but I had to show my work too. And that drove me nuts.

My mother was the same way. She could do my math problems virtually through calculus—in her head—no equation.

At some point, for my kid, I think knowing the answers trumps knowing exactly how he got there. But that’s just me.

Our other homework issue is obviously all of the writing.

There is no way we can write as much as is requested of us.

We have been struggling on a book report for two weeks.

Yesterday I broke down and wrote all of it for him (his words, my writing).

I know that is a solution, but I sure wish he had some kind of endurance.

Gabriel has an amazing amount of things to say—like most kids his age he is always thinking of something new and wants to share it.

Having him tell me his monologues verbally is OK (kind of grates your nerves some days) but if he could write it down that would be even better.

I got contacted by Handwriting Without Tears yesterday—a program Gabriel has been using since Kindergarten (over 3 years now) and that our school district adopted as curriculum last year.

This is a program I am very familiar with, but that isn't what they wrote about.

What they shared is that Handwriting Without Tears has created a new website (www.handwritingstandards.com) that is aimed at getting the educational community together to support implementing a Writing Standard for each grade level Kindergarten through 4th grade in each state.

My initial reaction was, “Oh great, another thing my kid can’t do.”

But after reading more about it, I am leaning the other direction.

Gabriel’s handwriting has been “behind” but “legible” (which is all that is required to deny him services--"legible") by school standards for his whole life (up until now maybe...lol).

During our IEP meeting this year, the school OT brought out a writing sample that was only 1 year old of Gabriel’s and it was obvious how far he had regressed—which is only ironic since last year’s sample was “on track” because he had been held back a year, so he didn’t receive additional writing help--didn't qualify for small motor skill writing support by law.

I put him in private OT all summer (and still this year in addition to school) to keep his handwriting moving forward, or at least not slipping further backwards.

The HWT Company aims to help this problem by outlining specific and measurable goals for kids’ handwriting by grade level.

An example that would’ve gotten Gabriel more help earlier in his life, and is PRETTY DAMN BASIC for kids in the 1st or 2nd grade would be, “Writing all of the letters of their first name correctly, without reversals or omissions”.


If we had specific guidelines, attainable goals to work toward in Kindergarten, Gabriel would’ve qualified for help. He would've qualified in first grade too. And first grade the second time as well. : )

He would’ve had an IEP sooner.

And potentially had goals that could’ve really helped his writing.

That said, I should reiterate here that I have been more than impressed with Gabriel’s IEP “Team” at his school. They have always given more than was required. Always.

But not all schools work like this.

What about all of the other kids I hear about with SPD or PDD or a combo of other diagnosis’s that aren’t getting services they need because of this or that?

I am not sure exactly what my "official" stand is on this new Handwriting Standards, but I know that more help for my son is rarely a bad idea.

There are tons of arguments about whether or not kids should be forced to write. And I have to say when it comes to cursive, I think it should be an optional program—like an elective—in my opinion. I think cursive is a thing of the past—a dead art for many.

But printing is different. At some point, our kids have to write something. And they want to write. Gabriel WANTS to write what he is thinking down--but it frustrates him and makes him feel stupid when he can't.

Getting your ideas out on paper is self expression—it is showing the world you have something to say.

I am teaching Gabriel to type. That is good too, but that isn’t a permanent solution for him today.

And he will go to college. I hope.

So that means writing an essay for his SATs.

Basic printing would be a good skill by then.

And luckily, I think we are on track to be able to print legibly by about 2018—just in time for his junior year.

Until then, it is back to the homework grind for me. And Gabriel.

Maybe Nick will be able to scribe for Gabe soon?

My hand gets too tired. ; )

If you have any comments on the Handwriting Standards, I'd love to hear your feedback.

Hope school work isn’t getting the best of you,


Natalie said...

Can Gabriel speak into a tape recorder and then slowly, but surely copy the work himself that way his thoughs aren't slowed by his writing skills, but he still does the writing (or most of it) himself. He could even write part of it for practice and then someone else could scribe the rest of it for him. Just a thought. I've used this with kids in my previous classrooms before that were behind in handwriting or who simply had decreased stamina.

Hartley said...

Hi Natalie,

Using a tape recorder is a great idea. For Gabriel, it is one that we haven't used as of yet, simply because his articulation is still really bad. Most people have a difficult time understanding him (aside from those around him regularly!). I am not sure he would understand himself when he listened back (not to mention it would take him, litterally, HOURS to scribe down a paragraph, let alone everything he could rattle off).

His biggest challenge is actually getting anything on paper that is legible after he writes it. Even he can't read what he writes often, which makes him feel horrible.

Right now, to be honest, I am going with he writes (primarily on his own) all day, and then when he gets home he is done.

Any other ideas you have are WELCOMED and APPRECIATED!

Thanks for reading Natalie,

Beth Stevens said...

Hi Hartley!

I see your current situation in my not-so-distant future. Jen's still in kindergarten, so our writing needs are still pretty low. We're working with a heavy OT schedule to hopefully develop the writing skills before we get there, but I also have to face reality and be prepared for the future. I think we're hoping to move towards keyboarding skills if she is still having writing difficulties in 2nd grade. Do you have the option for that?
Looking forward to seeing you this weekend!

Becca said...

Oh we have dealt with this handwriting nightmare for years!!! It is actually the thing that first alerted his teachers something was wrong. Well, that along with his speech repetitions and awkwardness. But anyway, it was awful because the teacher kept on referring him for OT, but the OT kept dismissing him saying it wasn't that bad. So we never got any school help.

It took us 3 years just to get a 504 plan (not allowed an IEP), but we had it so written work was limited whenever possible, and timed assignments are not required unless giving extra time.

Regardless of that and before the 504 plan, we were typing all of his assignments and book reports anyway because we knew the teacher wanted neatness, and there was no way he would get anything neat if even legible from writing it.

The cursive thing is going on now and for the last year. It is interesting though because somehow his cursive is actually readable. I don't understand how because when he prints it is terrible. There are no spaces between words or maybe the spaces are in the middle of words and it's all jumbled up and down across a page. Terrible terrible! But then somehow the cursive I can make some sense of. I agree with you that the cursive stuff is dumb. Print is important. But what do you do?

Teachers and the school have suggested the use of a word processor that could be used in class to speed up work, but we didn't want to do that yet. We felt he needed to practice handwriting at least somewhat. So he is still given handwriting practice but it is limited as to the amount. Like he may write the word 3 times instead of 5.

As for homework, yeah, it could take 3 hours for him to write instead of what a regular kid could do in 20 minutes! It is so true and I have seen him in tears because of it.

What to do? Especially when this thing this year is everything must be written in cursive. You can't type assignments on the computer if they require cursive!

No way I would do the tape recorder. Similar to you guys his speech is often jumbled up and repetitive and I would go crazy.

What we do is I type while he stands there and reads and corrects how and what it should say. It is like a combined effort. It's all his work, but it's easier if he's seeing it as I type it so he can correct it to what I interpret wrong sometimes.

Future? I suppose he can learn to type, but right now that is slow going too.

I honestly believe our son's handwriting has gone way down hill since 2nd grade, but I think it goes to the fact of more pressure and homework required. It's like his handwriting was OK when he could go slow, but then they start making everything hurry hurry hurry faster finish this sooner, and I have seen his handwriting go down the toilet! It is so bad now that he can't slow down to make it any better. It is not super fast, but it's faster and sloppier.

Good luck to you! We struggle still everyday. I feel he is so smart yet this stupid handwriting affects the way people see him. Oh, and math, yeah, he gets so frustrated by the "show the work" thing. He thinks it's stupid as do I. I guess it is good how they are trying to break everything down so much to help those that need the absolute basics, but to a kid that can compute in their head, it's just dumb and confused them even more.

Sorry, I've written you a novel! Take care!