Guest Blog: A First Grade teacher’s take on Handwriting Heroes

Explicit, Systematic Handwriting Instruction for Every Learner

Introduction: 

My name is Kristen Shawley.  I am a first grade teacher in a rural school.  I had the opportunity to first implement the Handwriting Heroes program in the spring of 2022.  I saw amazing results in the short time that we had to work through this program and I am looking forward to implementing it with a new group of students this coming year.  

First, a bit about my students. . . I teach first grade in a rural school.  As a result of the pandemic, my first graders spent much of their kindergarten year receiving virtual instruction.  We had some limited in-person instruction towards the end of the year, but social distancing guidelines made it very difficult to deliver developmentally appropriate instruction. 

Throughout their first grade year, I was tremendously impressed with the growth that they made in reading and math, but handwriting was an area that consistently seemed to be a deficit for most of my students.  The way that they formed their letters was so inefficient and incorrect that in many cases, their handwriting was barely legible.  Learning proper letter formation in a virtual environment resulted in students who were drawing letters like they would copy a picture and I saw so many bizarre things – like the letter e being written using three separate strokes and never really looking like an e.  I had tried various programs and we spent time working on handwriting, but nothing seemed to really work for the majority of my students.  Plus, my students dreaded that time, did the work just to get it over with and it wasn’t improving their handwriting! 

From the very first moment that I saw the Handwriting Heroes program, I knew there was something special about it!  This is not one of those dry, boring programs that kids dread.  In fact, they looked forward to that 15 minutes a day and they would often sing the songs together during their free time!  

Things I Love

Low Prep:  Truly, one of the most amazing things about the program is the ability to print and go.  To prepare for each week,  I just printed and slipped the letter pages into a dry erase sleeve for each student and I was ready for the week!   After the first week, I like to print the summary page on the back so that we can flip it over and review all of the letters that we have learned!  I had my students use the thin dry erase markers so they could be more precise and attend to the sky, cloud, grass and dirt lines when practicing.  

Printer Friendly: You really only need to print a few things and many of the materials are reusable throughout the week or even throughout the program, so that is awesome!  I chose to print the workbook pages in black and white (although color would be ideal). I do believe that the color is important, so we spent a couple of minutes color-coding the lines before slipping them into the dry erase sleeves.  This activity seemed to help my students really pay attention to the lines!  

  

 

Simple to Implement with Predictable Routines: This is a plus for teachers and students!  Students quickly catch on to the steps in the lesson.  The repetition helps students learn to form the letters correctly and the videos and materials keep things engaging and exciting for students.  

Phonics Reinforcement:  As a teacher, I love that the songs reinforce the letters sounds – For example, k skydives down.  A little bird kisses k and flies away.  This not only helps students remember how to correctly write the letter, but it also reinforces the sound for the letter k.  I like to reinforce the key words while practicing the letters each day.  

Multisensory: The program incorporates air writing, finger tracing, and crossing midline which are great skills for young learners.  Plus, the songs are fun, catchy and help reinforce the basic strokes that the letters have in common along with the letter sounds!

Fun and Engaging: This is absolutely the biggest plus of the program because my students would literally cheer when I said it was time to do our handwriting lesson.  They loved “graduating” from one letter group and learning the song for the next letter group.  They even loved reviewing, practicing and singing the songs for the letters that we had already covered!

You can trial the entire first module of the program for FREE by signing up to the trial – https://handwritingheroes.org/pricing/

Data Collection: The data collection spreadsheet is simply amazing – so amazing that it deserves its own section which can be found below.  

Results:  I have never used a handwriting program that provided such amazing results in such a short time.  Plus, this program helped my students learn their letters and sounds!  Check out the sample from one of our phonics assessments below.  This student had only mastered 11 sounds by January of first grade.  You can also see how many of the letters from the January sample are floating above the line.  Also, pay close attention to how this student formed the letters u, s (in box 29, you can see how they started at the middle and used 2 lines to make the s) and e. These formations were corrected completely by the May sample.   This student also participated in Tier 3 intervention from January to May, but I believe that the Handwriting Heroes Lessons really helped this student master most of the letters and sounds.  

Note how the letters h, u, e, s, and a on the left are formed with multiple strokes. In contrast the letters on the right side are ALL formed correctly.


What My Students Loved

“I liked the songs because they got stuck in my head.” -C

“I liked the songs because they helped me remember which group the letters were in and they helped my figure out my 9’s and my p’s.” -B

“I liked the songs because they were really nice songs.  They helped me write my letters right because the words inside of the songs told me what to do.” -S

Here are a few pre / post tests to show some of the results that my students achieved in just 6 weeks!  


This student struggled with placing the letters correctly on the line – especially the descending letters. She responded well to the concept of the letters “falling into the dirt”.

This child was particularly anxious and would often erase and re-write her letters She also wrote with very hard pressure which caused her hand to hurt. Her confidence improved and she became a lot more willing to write. 


This student “drew” his letters and required a lot of support to even attempt writing the letters. He made the most remarkable progress and would say the stories to himself as he wrote each letter.

This student formed the majority of his letters from bottom-to-top. The letter groupings helped him to learn the first stroke of the letter, which led to proper letter formation .

 

Data

 

I’m a data person.  I want to know that the time that I am investing is resulting in the best learning experience for my students.  Handwriting Heroes has an amazing data collection spreadsheet.  It is designed to be teacher-friendly.  You simply click the boxes to indicate the letters that students are able to write correctly and the form calculates their accuracy for you!  You have a couple of options within the form.  There is a pre-test form that includes all letters organized by their letter groups.  This assessment does need to be done individually with each student, but I did find ways to streamline the process.  I was able to complete the assessment with two students at a time.  I just put a divider between them.  Then, I would tell them the letter that I wanted them to write and have them take turns writing it.  You can see my pre-test results below.  Keep in mind that this is after having spent time using other programs to teach handwriting in my classroom.  

 

Along with the number correct and percentage correct, you will also be able to view the pre and post test data in a bar graph.  This is a quick and easy way to see the progress your students have made and to determine who may need intervention after the initial 6 weeks of the program.  The blue bars below show the pre-test data for my students and the red shows their post test data.  Looking at this data, there are a couple of students who could benefit from small group intervention to continue their progress.  If I had this group of students for additional time, I would continue reinforcing the stories and letter formation as a warm-up in our small group instruction, or I would pull those students in a small group for 10-15 minutes daily and continue to monitor their progress.  

On Friday (or day 5), I would play the weekly letter group song for students as a quick review and then complete the assessment.  For an average student, the assessments took me approximately three minutes per student in week 3.  If a student showed mastery of a particular letter for 2 consecutive weeks, I did not ask them to write that letter during the weekly assessment.  For the post assessment, I asked all students to write all letters to be sure my ending data was accurate.  

For the weekly check-ins, you can use the tabs on the data collection sheet to assess each letter group that you have taught up to that week.  Below is an example of what my Cannon Pops data looked like.  The data collection form automatically generates the percentages and the bar graph for you so you can easily track growth and even pull students for some small group intervention if you notice that they are not making progress.  I love how everything is color-coordinated and how the form is so simple to just click the boxes.  This simplified my weekly assessments and saved so much time!  



 Whole Group Instruction Tips and Tricks

Implementing the program with an entire class is simple and my students really looked forward to our handwriting time each day after I started using Handwriting Heroes with them.  Below is an outline of how I chose to implement it.  I tried to keep lessons to 15 minutes as we have many other things that we are required to teach during our whole group instruction.  One of the benefits of the Handwriting Heroes program is that students are not just reinforcing handwriting, they are also reviewing letter names and sounds as you do the songs, air writing and review the key words.  The multisensory components along with the movement and spiral review of letters that students have previously mastered all help make the program more enjoyable and more effective!  I also love that this program continuously reinforces top to bottom and left to right which is another thing that supports beginning reading skills.  

Sample Whole Class Lesson Plan:

Week 3 – Approximately 15 minutes

  • review all songs (play just the beginning part of each letter group video to review the songs for each group)
  • play the video for the weekly focus letter group
  • sing the song
  • air write
  • say the story

 

Conclusion

I hope this helps you see the features and benefits of the Handwriting Heroes Program.  There are so many things that make this program different from everything out there – the songs, the ease of prep, the multisensory components, the reinforcement of letters and letter sounds, the data collection and especially the student engagement! I truly believe that all students would benefit from this program!  

How can I help you?