Katherine J. Collmer
Accolades, Award or Notable Achievements
In 2016, I published my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists. It is the culmination of the years I have dedicated to assisting students, parents, and teachers in the attainment of handwriting mastery. I have presented my handwriting assessment and remediation strategies to OT and COTA students, as well as to peers at local and AOTA conferences.
Katherine J. Collmer
Handwriting With Katherine draws people who understand and recognize the important role handwriting plays in a child's literacy development.
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L Biography My pediatric occupational therapy career didn’t have its origins in an OT program. Instead, my interest in the use of occupation as a tool for learning began to flourish during my teaching years as the sole instructor in a group home for children ages 10-18. While my primary responsibility was to provide for their educational needs during their stay in the home, I understood that an underlying role was to guide my students in a successful transition from the group home classroom back to the public school environment. I further recognized that my daily objective, then, would be to provide them with the tools they would need to remain there independently. I didn’t know it then, but I was thinking like an occupational therapist. In my quest to build their self-confidence and level of responsibility, I drew on my business education background and began by designing interactive classroom lessons that encouraged the development of subject area skills in the performance of work and home-related tasks. I encouraged the students to participate in the creation and implementation of learning activities and offered opportunities for group work and self-assessment. But despite my use of hands-on educational tools and strategies that addressed individual learning styles, I found that my students were struggling with a significant educational challenge that my efforts were not improving—their inability to produce handwritten work that reflected what they had learned. They were discouraged by their failed attempts to write legibly and embarrassed about their poor spelling and grammar skills. Learning activities that included handwriting tasks were sources of frustration and often resulted in emotional outbursts. Their performance on the homework and tests designed to meet the school system’s grading requirements fell far short of their performance during oral and group work in my classroom. Instruction directed toward meeting their handwriting needs led to minimal progress and to an increase in frustration in both my students and me. My frustration resulted not from their inability to change their handwriting habits, but from my lack of expertise in helping them to achieve that goal. My education courses had not prepared me for the instruction, let alone the remediation, of handwriting skills. I’d like to say that in time I came to understand the process of handwriting mastery; but sadly, I did not. As the time approached for me to select a master’s degree program in accordance with my teacher’s license requirements, I discovered that my interest in the learning processes drew me toward the facets of education that addressed life skills and independent living rather than classroom teaching. I had been introduced to the field of occupational therapy by a friend and was encouraged to transfer the skills I had developed as a teacher to the practice of occupational therapy. Although I was initially skeptical, something about this profession called to me. Occupational therapy was a fertile ground that encouraged the use of my teaching skills in its practice and offered a myriad of opportunities for professional growth in areas that spanned the needs of newborns to the elderly. I ultimately realized that this was the right path for me and enrolled in Springfield College’s (Springfield, MA) occupational therapy program. I graduated in 1998 and began my career as an occupational therapist. After working with older adults for several years, I was offered an unexpected opportunity to return to the classroom as a school-based OT. Although I found it exciting and rewarding to re-enter the academic world, I was discouraged to find that handwriting difficulties would again become my primary focus in my students’ goals. I was further dismayed to realize that although my occupational therapy education had provided me with information about the underlying skills that influence handwriting mastery, it had not prepared me for the assessment or remediation of handwriting development. The misconception that the skill of handwriting is a simple one puzzled me as I attempted to help students to write their names, understand spacing and line alignment perspectives, and use their handwriting to share their thoughts and knowledge. I repeatedly turned to my teaching background looking for answers, but soon realized that if the students’ needs could be solved in the classroom, they wouldn’t have been referred to me in the first place. At this time, information on handwriting development was limited at best, and I once again found myself at a loss for how to help my students with what was arguably the most important subject area in their academic programs. My eventual move into a pediatric clinic setting further increased my interest in handwriting. Handwriting challenges came up frequently as a high-ranking concern of teachers, parents, and the children themselves. The concerns of both the parents and the teachers stemmed from their belief that students needed to learn to write so they could, in turn, write to learn. Fortunately, thanks to the internet and new training opportunities, I now had resources that could help me address those concerns. I examined the area of vision skills and their link to learning, as well as the impact of movement on childhood development, and eventually found my way toward a better understanding of the underlying developmental skills that can impact handwriting mastery. I studied vision skill assessment and included strategies for improving ocular motor and visual perception deficits, with the guidance of a developmental optometrist when necessary. I focused on body awareness and postural efficiency and added letters and numerals to my therapy strategies, filling my tool box with games that enhanced their identification and recall. The result? Children responded and parents applauded. It seemed I had finally begun to make progress toward my goal of providing handwriting remediation. Soon, I became immersed in the research and professional network surrounding handwriting development skills. I discovered that a void existed between the teaching of handwriting and the remediation of the underlying developmental skills that facilitate handwriting mastery. Teachers needed help with their students’ handwriting struggles and they were looking to occupational therapists for advice and guidance. However, I found that occupational therapists were asking for help as well. In fact, not surprisingly, I came across many occupational therapists who voiced a feeling of intimidation with therapy that addressed handwriting and the resulting tendency to avoid it. I launched the Handwriting Is Fun! blog to assist teachers, parents, and other occupational therapists who were suffering from the same frustration I’d once experienced. I then went a step further and opened my own clinic, Handwriting With Katherine, to work exclusively with children in need of handwriting remediation. When the first thoughts of writing a book about the handwriting assessment and remediation process began to develop in my mind, I considered the value of such a book, as well as the need that it might ll. I reflected on my initial experiences with handwriting struggles in the schools and the clinic. As I talked to my peers and professionals with whom I’d developed a networking relationship, I began to realize just how great a need there was for a structured, user-friendly process that not only facilitated the assessment and remediation portions of therapy, but also offered a structured and consistent approach to monitoring needs and progress. And Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists was born. Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L reprinted with permission from Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, p. xi-xii.