One of the greatest challenges of attending a homeschool expo is picking which workshops to attend. I wished I could split myself into twins and cover twice as much. There was one workshop I had circled and highlighted and marked with stars in my program--I wasn't going to miss it. It was titled Smart Kids Who Hate to Write and presented by Dianne Craft. My Schnickelfritz would work through Math U See from sunup to sundown my his own choosing, but getting him to fill a page from Handwriting Without Tears takes cajoling, reminding, etc.
I felt better as soon as I sat down in the room because I knew I wasn't alone in the struggle--there must have been 300 parents in there looking for answers. Mrs. Craft proceded to demonstrate a typical child she would evaluate by his writing the lowercase alphabet. Now I don't recall her ever being at my dining table, but she'd obviously seen my son writing before--starting letters and numbers from the bottom, making his "o" with a clockwise circle, substituting capital letters seemingly at random. I've shown him and drilled him in the correct way to make letters, but he never seems to do it that way when writing on his own. I'd almost decided to let him write however he wanted and just be glad he was putting pencil to paper at all (technically it was usually marker to white board).
Mrs. Craft refers to this as a blocked writing gate. The movements necessary to form letters have not moved to the automatic side of the brain. My son is having to use way too much energy and thinking to push his pencil around--no wonder he gets drained and cranky. Other clues of a blocked writing gate include: solving math problems in the head instead of writing them down, poor spacing of words in a sentence, digits that don't line up when they do write math problems.
The good news is there is an exercise we can do every day to help solidify the muscle memory and make writing automatic. It involves tracing a large sign for infinity three times and then practicing forming the letter. I really can't do it justice trying to explain it. If you recognize this problem in one of your students I would read the article Smart Kids Who Hate to Write at Dianecraft.org. Be sure to look at the photo of the writing excercise.