Posted in Occupational Therapy

To all the Lefties Out There! Yes, Our President is a Lefty!

Check out the President's position.  His paper is set up for a right-handed writer.
Check out the President’s position. His paper is set up for a right-handed writer.


Recently we celebrated Left-Handers Day.  There were a number of articles written about those who write with their left hand.  Some articles talked about the psychological differences between lefties and righties.  Other articles discussed the statistics of lefties vs. righties. BUT what about the functional aspects of handwriting for lefties?  This is really a world made for righties!  Just look at notebooks and binders.  The rings of a binder and the spiral of a notebook are all on the left side of the book.  The left handed writer must learn to navigate around and through these obstacles.  Do you see how this young woman is attempting to write in a binder awkwardly navigating her hand through the rings of the binder?

Lefty with binder

There are a few ways to solve this problem without having to torture your students:

  • Flip the binder around so that the rings are on the right side (upside down to a righty).  You will be writing on the backside of the righty page (front side for a lefty).
  • OR Take a page or two out of the binder to write on then replace them when you are done.  Some times it helps the quality of the handwriting by having a page or two under the one that you are writing on.
  • OR Use a loose-leaf pad for notes and (easier to carry than a binder) then place the notes in the binder at the end of the day.

If you must use a notebook, you can use the following tips:

  • Start at the back of the notebook instead of the front.  Particularly if you use one of those wire spiral bound notebooks.
  • Use a notebook that has the spiral at the top instead of down the side.

Spiral on the top Notebook


Stay organized.  Keep your binder neat and tidy so that you can use it as a slant board.  A slant board will help extend that wrist a bit.  By extending that wrist, you can prevent smudges and fatigue from that lefty flexed wrist.

lefty on a slant board


Lastly, if you are a lefty, elevate the corner of that paper.  This may also help you extend that wrist a bit.

Lefty paper position


Happy Belated Left-Hander’s Day!


Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Taking Notes from an Occupational Therapist’s Perspective


Taking notes is a very complex skill rooted in abilities developed in infancy.  While sitting in a classroom, a student is expected to have appropriate cognitive and motor responses to the teacher providing the lecture.  That is easier said than done!

As an infant, we are supposed to alert to a sound, respond to that sound with head turning in that direction, differentiate pleasant sounds from unpleasant sound and learn to express pleasure or displeasure.  Visually, we are expected to respond in a similar way: alert to a visual stimulus, respond by following that stimulus by turning our head to follow it, differentiate pleasurable from displeasing.  Infants are expected to demonstrate a motor response to the stimulus, i.e., eye opening, finger splaying, and activation of limbs.

Just as an infant is expected to display a motor response to stimuli, a student is also expected to respond motorically to stimuli provided by the teacher.  Students learn to respond to certain cues, i.e., “This is important,” “Conversely,” repetition of the information, etc.  It is very difficult for student to respond if he or she lacks the prerequisite skills.  Alternatives for taking notes should be offered to the student.  The least invasive is to have the student copy notes from the board (far point).  Some students have difficulty with visual skills such as pursuits and saccades (visual tracking and changing fixation from one target to another) making this difficult.  First a slant board (often a binder) can be used to address this issue.  If that doesn’t work then maybe copying from near point will work.

The next more invasive intervention might be providing the student with some form of prepared notes, i.e., Cloze Notes.  Cloze notes are fill-in the blank notes.  Students are only required to add one or two words to a statement rather than copy the entire statement.  The next level might be providing the student with a copy of teacher generated notes prior to the class for the student to highlight during class.  The next level might be having the student attempt whatever he or she is able then giving a copy of notes to the student, usually a copy from another student who takes very good notes.

Another strategy is to use on-line notes for a site like  You may be lucky enough to find course notes similar to class notes with flash cards. is a site where you can buy electronic textbooks (usually at a reduced cost), this site also provides lecture (from the book), study materials and social networking for studying. is iPad friendly.  Along with programs like Evernote with Penultimate, this maybe all the student needs to be in class.  A student could photograph handouts and never have to carry another piece of paper.  Assignments could be entered into Everstudent (a digital assignment book/agenda).

One of the last options would be to type notes on a laptop or a computer.  If the student lacks the prerequisite skills for note taking, they cannot be expected to be successful if you give them something to type on even though they can type at a good speed with good accuracy.  A sixth grader is expected to type at a speed of 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy.  If a student has only handwriting concerns, is able to meet all the prerequisite skills for note taking, can type 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy then maybe the option for using a keyboard or laptop is the answer.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Dictation is a Necessary Note-Taking Skill

What?  Dictation you say???

Yes absolutely, being able to take dictation is an important part of taking notes.  After all, isn’t the teacher talking about subject matter, while moving about the classroom?  Isn’t the student supposed to be writing some of the things that the teacher is saying [not all, but some].

Learning to take dictation is simple.  You should start in kindergarten and 1st grade.  Yes, this young.  Remember, taking dictation is a motor response to an auditory cue.  When a child is young, learning to take dictation should be fun.  A scavenger hunt in the classroom, the house or in the backyard is a perfect way to begin.  First, dictate letters [no more than 5], have the child write the letters that you dictate and then have the child locate an item that begin with each letter.  Make sure that you are using the letters and words that have been practiced in class to reinforce what has already been learned.  Also, turn the tables and have the child give you 5 letters [words] and you must also find items.  You may also make the sound of a letter and ask the child to write the letter that he or she thinks it is. While some say that this is too early to learn dictation, it is not.  As long as you are using the same material learned in class and make a game out of it, you will be fine.  ALWAYS follow the child’s lead.  Never push a child to go faster.  The object of this exercise is for the child to write what he or she hears and not speed.  I would also include using a keyboard to type the letters.  First we want to create letter recognition and then familiarity with the keyboard.  As the child becomes more skilled in keyboarding, allow the child to choose the fonts and colors that he or she likes.  Again, this must be a fun activity.  If it is not fun then you are not reinforcing the excitement of learning.  Learning is not always fun and some students struggle immensely.  When working with a parent or therapist, learning should reinforce school skills and be fun.  We do not want the child to lose interest and shut down.


As a child grows and develops additional skills, vocabulary words can be used for dictation. Not only does this increase the amount of handwriting and keyboarding practice that a child gets, it also helps to learn study skills.  If your child is having difficulty with spelling, you can get a parent account on to practice spelling and vocabulary with computer games.  They have an iPad app, if you choose.

Increasing the complexity of the task, I would start with sentences in the 3rd grade. Sentences should be very short and be related to the vocabulary being learned in school. You can make a sort of Mad Libs and have the child insert silly words into the dictation. Again, follow the child’s lead and give him or her the time to write what you have said.  The goal, again, is for the child to reinforce what is learned in class and to be able to write what is heard.  By 4th grade, I would take a very short paragraph from the material that is used in the class and dictate from that.  I would also have the child dictate to me.  Again, it needs to be fun, a game.  I might also have the child correct my handwriting, to help them be more observant in making corrections on their own.  Even if you are perfect, make some mistakes that your child has already learned for editing their own work.  If you are at a loss for material, many of the local newspapers are written on a 3rd grade level.  Pick an interesting human interest or sports story and dictate a very short excerpt.

By the time a child reaches middle and high school, I work on dictating and entire paragraph from the newspaper, often something related to a DBQ [Document Based Questionnaire] that they are working on in class.  I have them either type or write the material and begin to improve speed.  Up until this point, accuracy has been the focus of the dictation and not speed.  I would also practice using the prompt words for note-taking and have the child take down the important points [based on my prompts].  As a therapist, I would be sharing what I would be doing in a session, with the classroom teachers so that they can see the value of the therapy and also follow through.  As a parent, if you have any concerns with handwriting, spelling, listening skills, etc., please discuss these with your child’s teacher or therapist.