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Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Told You So!

Maybe it's because I started teaching long before computers and tablets were available to the public...

Maybe it's because both of my parents had beautiful, award winning, Palmer method, cursive writing that I admired (and practiced endlessly in my free time)...

Maybe it's because I'm a professional calligrapher...

Maybe it's because I have decades of elementary experience that simply bears the proof...

I firmly believe...
Handwriting instruction and practice are essential to the education of our children.

Today I came across a NY Times report that adds even more credence to my long held and soap box professed belief.

I won't paraphrase or interpret the report for you.  Instead, I urge you to read it.  It's concise.  I will, however, preach a little bit.

When I first started teaching, cursive writing was introduced in 3rd grade. My students were excited to learn cursive. Starting 3rd grade meant they had reached a milestone. Enthusiasm was inherent. Motivation was keen. Thus, success was almost guaranteed, even among reluctant learners.  Having taught 3rd grade for 9 years, my experience on this subject has credibility.

Then I became a 1st grade teacher and eventually a reading interventionist and Reading Recovery(TM) teacher.  After nearly 20 years in those roles, I became adamant about the value of handwriting instruction!  So full of conviction am I that I find this subject to be a battleground I visit often in my role as Literacy Coach for my building.

Admittedly, I have not conducted scientific research to support my position.  I simply have years and years of experience and anecdotal evidence.  So here's my litany: 

*Consistent, logical, progressive instruction and practice allow everyone to participate and experience a sense of accomplishment and success.  Even learning disabled students can master this and there is a body of evidence that supports the conclusion that handwriting practice improves their reading, writing, and cognitive skills.    Certainly I found that Reading Recovery students, those most at risk for failing in school, benefited vastly from direct instruction on letter formation, especially with reversals.  (My Teacher Leader stressed spending a precious minute or 2 of our 30 min. lesson creating a "mental recording" of letter formation for students.  Example for child with b/d confusion -- d is around, up, down.)

For all of the years that I taught 1st grade, we had handwriting practice as soon as we returned to the classroom from lunch recess. This provided a perfect means of calming the children and settling them back into the task of learning.  Just as with the 3rd graders referenced above, my charges were excited and engaged; a perfect recipe for learning.

Instruction progressed not alphabetically, but in a manner that created a scaffold.  Thus, we began with l/L; a simple line that starts at the top line and ends at the bottom line.  Stop for a minute and think about all the learning you can stuff into that simple letter form: concepts of top and bottom, up and down, straight and curvy, upper and lower case, phonetic sounds, ...  Never did we study a letter without recognizing the students whose names began with that letter.  In doing so, we added beginning sounds and early concepts of proper nouns to our learning, not to mention the warm feeling of being recognized by your classmates.  During this quick 15 min. lesson, I also found an opportunity to provide individual reinforcement to those who needed it, whether that involved holding the pencil correctly or remembering to start at the top.

I find this litany is growing into a sermon. With just a week until Christmas, I have too much to accomplish before my 22 guests arrive. Hence, I will continue this post at a later date. I hope you'll come back for more.

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