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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Climbing Back on my Soap Box or I Told You So! Part Two

Phew!  I survived Christmas, although the 22 expected guest morphed into 28 and 8 of them are still vacationing in my home.  No problem as the left-overs continue to spill out of my refrigerator every time the door is opened.  I am a bit exhausted, though.

I find I have just enough energy to climb back on my soap box and continue my sermon on the virtues of handwriting instruction.

In my last post, I professed:
*Consistent, logical, progressive instruction and practice allow everyone to participate and experience a sense of accomplishment and success.  Then I started to explain how I construct my instruction so that it best supports my students.  Let me continue from there.  

After teaching l/L, I revisit the concepts from that lesson the next day as I teach h/H.  The same concepts are practiced:  start at the top line; go straight down to the bottom line.  We just add the short hump, thereby drawing attention to the dotted mid-line on our writing paper.  The mental recording I hope to instill goes something like this: down, up, over and down.  On subsequent days, we learn b/B and k/K.  

Having laid the foundation for the mid-line, our next step is short, straight line letters: i/I, r/R, n/N, m/M.  I still teach t as a 3/4 letter, so it comes last in this sequence.

Next up are letters that start like c.  Obviously, we start with c/C, then move on to a/A, d/D, e/E, and o/O.  All of these lower case letters start with a c and I stress that daily.  This really helps with the Reading Recovery students and those needing reading interventions.

Next I introduce letters with tails: g/G, j/J, p/P, and q/Q. I typically teach g and q in sequence since they both start like c. Similarly, j and p both start with a straight line that commences at the mid-line. While I realize that y/Y also has a tail, I refrain from teaching it yet.

f/F is an anomaly, so I teach it in isolation. The upper case F fits well with the letters that start like l, so I may teach it after b/B and k/K. Then again, I may teach it after t/T.  It all depends on the needs of my students.  

Similarly, s/S is rather unique.  It can start like a c, but must fit itself all within the lower half of the writing line.  This can be difficult for young learners, so I typically delay teaching s/S until the children have a good sense of the short letter spaces.  

Because the remaining letters are used less frequently in early writing, AND because they involve diagonal lines, they are reserved for the later lessons.  The usual sequence for diagonal letters is v/V, w/W, y/Y, x/X, z/Z.

Having worked with student teachers for many years, I am always surprised to learn that they have never considered teaching the letters in any order other than alphabetical. Similarly, many new teaching professionals have given little thought to building a scaffold with their instructional sequence.  That's a lesson that is applicable throughout their teaching and, to my mind, critical to success.

Neither did these neophytes consider all the basic skills they could squeeze into a simple handwriting lesson. Through these lessons, students can acquire the concepts of top/bottom, tall/short, begin/end, straight line, curved letters, tails/below the bottom line, middle, mid-line, diagonal, capital/lower case, proper nouns, spacing, ...

There's more to my sermon on the soap box. Please come back soon.

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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.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's About Time, Teachers, for 2015

It's about time, teachers, for 2015.  Are you ready?

Every new year, I make a teaching resolution to work smarter, not harder.  To that end, I have some suggestions that may help YOU work smarter, rather than harder.  

*Before you leave your classroom for the last time in 2014, remove all traces of the holidays. Upon your return in Jan., such leftovers will be about as welcomed as the proverbial fruitcake.  If you can rustle up enough energy, change your bulletin boards now.  You've earned a break. You need a break.  Don't go into school during your break!

*After decades in the classroom, the thrill of changing bulletin boards has long passed. To that end, I like to get as much mileage out of my bulletin boards as possible. So, I have created boards that work as learning centers, anchor activities, and/or enrichment experiences. Moreover, I like boards that last the whole month long.  

This one is from How Many Ways? -- Jan. EditionSimilar to Boggle(TM), the challenge in this activity is to arrive at a given number in many different ways. It readily provides differentiation by allowing the teacher to choose between 2 questions: one asks students to count to the target number; one requires students to use basic operations to arrive at the target.

Reproduce the mitten icons and place them on a bulletin board along with the How Many Ways? question of your choice. When using the basic operations challenge, select the math operation(s) appropriate for your students and post them, as well. Then invite your students to determine how many ways they can reach the target number. Enough target numbers are included to allow you to change the target each day, if you so desire.

This activity is CCSS aligned. It requires students to think critically while practicing math skills. What could be better than an activity that challenges your students in multiple ways?  

*Prepare all the materials you will need for the 1st week back.  If you employ thematic units, you may be interested in starting the new year off with Hats! Hats! Hooray for Hats! in preparation for National Hat Day on Jan. 15. This unit integrates ELA, math, HOTS, and creativity. The resources include:
Language arts
· Book links
· Compound words 
· Idioms 
· Vocabulary
· Comprehension
· Poetry
· Riddles 
· Handwriting practice
· Alphabetical order
· Writing
· Verbal fluency
· Counting
· Computation
· Graphing
· Patterns
· Venn Diagrams
· Math Journal prompts
· Sorting
· Measurement
· Money
Higher Order Thinking Skills
· Analysis
· Evaluation
· Creation
· Arts & crafts project

Materials for literacy and math centers are included, as well as homework assignments. A perennial favorite of my students are the hat riddles we use for critical thinking, morning message, and handwriting practice.  Here's an example:

          His hat is striped in white and red.
          He put a pink stain on mother’s bed.
          Who is he?

My kiddoes can hardly wait for our morning meeting to share the answer to the riddle. (The Cat in the Hat)

*Another teaching resolution I make is to stretch my teaching repertoire into a new area.  So 1 year I resolved to incorporate more creative thinking opportunities.  The result was Destination: Imagination via Creative Thinking (Vol. I). (Vol. II will be launched soon.) 

This is an eclectic collection of activities originally developed for use with my gifted and talented classes. The goal of these activities is to promote the 4 traits of gifted children: fluency, flexibility, elaboration and originality. But really, what child wouldn't benefit from working on those aspects? I have found the project works very well with heterogeneous groups and have successfully used it with 1st - 5th graders.

These activities are structured to be used in 1 week intervals: assignment sheets go home with a due date; products are shared one week later. This product includes copy ready assignment sheets in color and black line, notes to the teacher, and participation certificates. Some are designed to be used seasonally; others are appropriate to any time of the year.

To ensure that you enjoy your winter break, plan for January NOW! It's about time -- your time!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rudolph's Red Nose & Ho-Ho-Hos

It’s about time, teachers, for Rudolph's Red Nose and some HO-HO-HOs!

It's gift giving time and I have a gift for the teacher: 2 printables for this holiday season.  

Both activities exercise students’ vocabulary, spelling, and critical thinking abilities as they use the clues to find the answers.  In Rudolph’s Red Nose, the letters R-E-D are part of each answer.  In HO-HO-HO, each solution includes the letters H-O.

Use these activities at a center, for an anchor activity, or as seat work when you need a little quiet time. You can pick up your FREE gift on TPT or TN.

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