Is Penmanship Obsolete?

Is it still worth the time for children to learn cursive handwriting in this day of computers? What do you think?

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Remember learning to print when you were very young, and later switching to cursive writing, which also had to be learned? Many of us were raised before children had access to keyboards and we learned to use typewriters when we got to high school unless we didn’t want to. So our entire elementary school success depended on our ability to write with pen or pencil on paper. Even in college, we used composition books for tests. 

Today things have really changed. Some schools believe cursive writing is obsolete and no longer worth teaching in the schools.  Has Handwriting Become Extinct? explains some of the reasons that it’s still worthwhile to learn this skill.  Handwriting seems to be especially valuable in helping us organize our thinking and in helping those who are beginning to suffer from memory loss. Seemingly writing our lists and notes by hand imprints them more firmly in our minds.

What do you think? Is handwriting obsolete or not?

 

 

How to Take the Joy from Literature

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences.

Snowy Woods

This afternoon I’m weeding through some of my books and came across one by a favorite children’s author, Jean Little — Hey World, Here I Am! On page 28 I came across a poem, “After English Class.” It’s written in the first person in the voice of Kate Bloomfield, who describes how she used to like the Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” She liked the sound of the words and their rhythm, and the imagery. She could see the snow and hear the jingling bells. I think that’s what Robert Frost would have wanted.

The next lines explain how the teacher ruined the poem for her:

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep—
They all have ‘hidden meanings.’
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences. Just as a student of biology may prefer a living whole frog to the dead one they have just dissected, the students who read a poem may just want to enjoy it and respond to it with  their own imaginations. Does the dissection the teacher provides keep students from gleaning meanings they might have discovered on their own?

Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/en/users/PublicDomainPictures/

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother – YouTube

Watch Patricia Polacco’s picture book My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother expertly read aloud in this video. Use it as a role model for reading to your own children.

I’ve always loved Patricia Polacco’s books. Her illustrations are a perfect complement to the stories she writes, and both the stories and pictures tell us a lot about the author herself. In the video you see one of her favorite themes, that of the love that binds families together. You also get an example of how to read aloud with expression. Watch the video, but don’t let it be a substitute for reading aloud to your children yourself.

You can learn more about Patricia Polaccoand find her books, new and used, at Tomfolio.com’s Patricia Polacco’s Biography page

 

Lies About Public Education: Socialization

So what about socialization? Is the socialization in schools a good reason for children to be there rather than be taught at home? How much does school socialization help students get along with people in the real world of work?

Lies About Public Education: Socialization

Many people believe one of the virtues of sending children to public school is their socialization. This article claims this is not necessarily a good thing.

Home schoolers have known for years that life in the real world does not consist primarily in dealing with people the same age you are. I had a public junior high school teacher tell me that he has little influence over his students — that the real influence on them is the peer pressure from the other students. When my daughter was in fourth grade her elementary school principal told me there wasn’t much that could be done about the sexual harassment Sarah got from the older boys on the playground, since the teachers couldn’t see everything that happened during recess periods. That was the last year my children attended public schools. The next year I discovered that some private schools also have problems with socialization that’s not well supervised.

It’s my opinion that no student should be forced to go to an unsafe school when there are alternatives parents could choose. No student should have to face cruel peers for months on end because a law meant to be a blessing has become a curse for many children and their parents. Public education used to be a privilege and students and their parents could choose to drop in and out of according to their families needs. It would be interesting to see how many of today’s public school students believe getting their education is a privilege.

The River as an Educational Resource

There’s a lot of science to be discovered around a river in winter, even if it’s half dry. Check the tree branches and trunks for mosses and lichens and even buds. Explore large rocks near the river for life, and if part of the riverbed is dry, check for interesting rocks and notes their differences and learn how they were formed. A science teacher with a camera can produce a lot of her own visual aids on one river walk.

Whether you are a home educator or a classroom teacher, if you have a river nearby, you have a wonderful educational resource. I live near the Salinas River and often hike the Salinas River Trail in Larry Moore Park in Paso Robles. It normally has water only a few months of the year, and only if there’s a normal amount of rain. Most of the year the Salinas River is subterranean. You don’t see the water. The river normally appears during winter, and I usually start searching for water around January. This year, though, we had our heavy rains start earlier than usual. So I went out in search of the river today, December 28, 2012. I found it.

Water in Salinas River
Water in Salinas River flowing north toward Niblick Bridge, Paso Robles

I followed the river bed for some distance, since I always get excited about what I see. Today it struck me how much science there is to investigate in the river and the riverbed.

Is there a story under this willow?
Is there a story under this willow?

As I walked along the edge of the river, I saw these small clumps of willows everywhere. Those closest to the west channel, which always stays full of water the longest, seemed to live on top of brush piles. Let’s take a closer look at one of these. Do you think a child might wonder how all this material happened to be under this willow? Might one try identifying different types of trees from what’s in these piles? What might one learn about a river by observing this small tree?

What's under this willow?
What’s under this willow?

Although the overall impression as one walks along the river in late December is colorless brown and tan branches and dead leaves, some plants show they are very much alive, or host things that are. On the ground beneath are new weed seedlings. There are red buds on some of the twigs. Moss and lichens also add color. Children turned loose with a hand-held microscope would have fun discovering this variety of mosses and lichens of different colors and identifying the new weed seedlings.

Winter Color in the Branches
Do you see all the colors here?

Children would also be fascinated at all they can see growing on a rock.

What grows on a rock in winter?
What grows on a rock in winter?

Not all growing on this rock is moss or lichen. We also see green seedlings. They need soil. How did soil get on this rock? How about the weed seeds? Is soil created on the rock itself? Or does it all blow into crevices? And why does the rock itself look the way it does? How was it created? There is geology as well as life science to be learned. All these questions can be answered through research and observation. As a teacher, you can inspire the curiosity that will make students want to solve the mysteries.

If you aren’t in a position to take your students on a field trip, you can at least make the trip to the river yourself with a camera. Take the pictures that will arouse interest in what you want students to learn. And don’t forget the videos. Watch the river’s current. Study the rocks in the riverbed to try to understand how they became what they are. You can even collect a few rocks to bring into the classroom. Here are some specimens I found.

Egg-Shaped Rock
Egg-Shaped Rock and Some Other River Rocks
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings

Why Not a School Art Festival?

Every child should be lucky enough to attend an art festival like the one in Paso Robles, California every year. If that’s too far for your family to go, see if your area has one. If it doen’t , see what you can do about getting one started — even if it’s just on a school level at first. Every child is creative. Help your children to find an outlet for that creativity. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

Children Love Helping to Build this Sand Castle at Festival of the Arts, Paso Robles
Children Love Helping to Build this Sand Castle at Festival of the Arts, Paso Robles

I have just returned from the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts for 2012, and was full of regret that my children had never had the opportunity a local art festival presented to see how creative people could be. Both of my children had some artistic talent, but I was not artistic enough to help them explore what they could do to develop any but their musical gifts.

Children Experiment with Instruments at the Musical Petting Zoo
Children Experiment with Instruments at the Musical Petting Zoo

Paso Robles held its first Festival of the Arts in 2009, and I’ve attended each one since 2010, making this my third. Each year it gets better. I always encourage people to come and bring their children because they will have the time of their lives. In my latest post in my local blog, Tidbits from Templeton, I posted pictures of  many activities that were available to children this year. I’m only able to include a photo of the 2011 musical petting zoo, which allows children to try out playing a wide selection of music instruments. I only have this year’s in video. I will be writing an article that incorporates video on  these activities as soon as I can get them processed.

Children Make Tie Dye Art at The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts
Children Make Tie Dye Art at The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts

The variety of hands-on activities ran the gamut from music and painting to wading in rose petal pools, building a super sand castle,  and making zany hats. There was also plenty to see that might inspire creativity.  The stilt walkers were awesome. There were performances of the high school jazz band, creative dance, dance teams, Singing Hands Children’s Choir, Mexican Folklore dance, and dance students on the Youth Stage. As I was walking near the center of the park there was someone juggling with a Chinese yoyo (forget the Chinese name for it) grabbing the attention of any young person nearby. There were also plenty of art forms on display in the more adult area of the park — painting, photography, mixed media, items made from found objects recycled into art, fused glass, sculpture, and more.

Sarah With Model Cliff Dwelling
Sarah With Model Cliff Dwelling

Sometimes all children need is an idea and available materials to execute it. I saw that when my daughter made her model of a cliff dwelling while we were on vacation in Colorado and had just visited Mesa Verde National Park. She went outside after dinner and then came in a couple of hours later to show us what she had done with just the materials she found around the cabin.

The children in every community should have such activities  available. If your city or county doesn’t have an annual art festival for the community, maybe your school or home school group could get the ball rolling.  There are many businesses that specialize in providing art experiences for children at large events or at parties. One of these is Paint Jam, which takes care of bringing everything to  your location that children will need to be an artist for a given time –paint, brushes, easels, aprons, etc. They take charge from greeting to cleanup, and the children each have a completed picture they created to take home. They are located in Santa Barbara and had to travel to participate in the Festival of the Arts. Maybe there is a similar group in your area. Maybe you could even start such a business yourself if it doesn’t exist in your area yet.

You can get great ideas for children’s art activities suitable for art fairs and festivals from the books on this web page.  These would also help someone wanting to start a children’s art party business or just entertain their own children over the summer. Consider a family art night where everyone participates in his or her creative activity.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

Is there anything more important to teach your students than how to break limiting thought patterns and believe they can actually achieve more in their lives than they thought possible? Here’s one suggestion on how to do that.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright FutureDo your students visualize bright futures for themselves? Or do they have low expectations? Perhaps you’ve made goals for yourself this year. But have you made measurable goals for your students beyond the objectives for individual lesson plans?  How about this for a starter? Challenge students to write what they want to be doing with their lives when they are 22 and /or make a visual page for it.

It’s easy to make a page to visually represent a goal in life, short or long-term, using pictures from newspapers or old magazines. If those aren’t available, students could draw their own pictures. Invite them to do this as homework on the first day of school or as a first-week project after coming back from the winter break.

Part of the reason our students don’t get where they’d like to be in life and have trouble breaking out of old family patterns is because they can’t visualize anything better. Even if they may secretly dream of going beyond where their parents have been in life, they may have no idea of how school might relate to getting there, or what baby steps to take or short-term goals to set in order to climb the ladder to where they’d like to be.

One of the most important things you need to do as an educator is to inspire your students to aim high and help them begin to see what is possible for them in life.  If they are proactive in setting short-term goals to achieve long-term goals, they have a target to aim at and the arrows to shoot at that target.

If taking some time to do this exercise with your students will help even one to break out of old thought patterns and a tendency to just drift toward the future, you will have given your students more than any math, social studies or science lesson could. Those who aim at nothing will achieve it.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

What will you do to inspire your students to build a better future?

One-to-One-Instruction

New research shows how important explaining things to mom is in a child’s education. Problem solutions explained to mom help young children retain what they have learned and be able to transfer that learning to new situations. Having to explain helps develop critical thinking skills.

One-to-One-Instruction

One-to-One-Instruction

A lot has been said about the importance of parents in a child’s education, but today I found an article that shows we were using the right approach in our homeschooling —Learning from Explaining: Does it Matter if Mom is Listening?

I’ve written a lot about the need to read aloud to young children often and in past posts we’ve given a lot of hints on how to to that, especially in When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up. I haven’t said as much about the other technique we used to see how much the children understood. That method was to ask the children to explain something to us or to put something they had read into their own words.

Now in the article referenced above,  a study suggests that explaining something to Mom (and I think the same would be true of Dad) is the best way to fix the  problem solving method a child uses in his brain so that the information will transfer to a different situation. The study used four and five-year-old children and gave them some classification problems to solve. Some were instructed to just solve the problems and repeat the solutions. Others were asked to solve the problems and explain to themselves how they did it (while recording), and the third group was asked to explain to their moms how they solved the problems. (The article will give you several pages of details on this experiment and the data generated.)

The results showed that those who explained the solution to themselves or their moms did much better at retaining the information than those that just repeated the solution. But those who explained to their moms did better than the other two groups at transferring what they had learned to solving different problems.

Explaining a solution forces a child to think critically about his method. Explaining to a parent is even more helpful. I would imagine that this would also extend to explaining to a teacher or tutor, but it illustrated once again how important  verbal interaction with significant adults is in student learning. It’s not just important to get an answer correct, but also to know the process of getting that correct answer.  Remembering that process is much easier if the student has explained it to an adult.

 

Oral Comprehension Lays the Foundation for Reading Comprehension

If we are trying to improve a child’s reading comprehension, we need to start with oral comprehension, and we should begin this when the child is still just learning to use language. This means parents need to be involved. They are their children’s first teachers, and they lay the foundation for all future learning.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If a child can’t comprehend spoken language, he’s not likely to understand what he reads, either. We all learn to use spoken language before we learn to read. Almost any parent or teacher has those moments when they are quite sure a child has not understood a word they said, though they also might believe the children did not want to understand and didn’t really listen.

It still follows, though, that if we are trying to improve a child’s reading comprehension, we need to start with oral comprehension, and we should begin this when the child is still just learning to use language. This means parents need to be involved. They are their children’s first teachers, and they lay the foundation for all future learning. One of the first things they teach children is how to talk.

I know few parents who have taken an educational methods course in teaching children to talk. They are able, instead, to zero in on the child’s own desire to interact with them. If the parents talk, the child  will want to talk. If the child wants something, he has to learn the words that will communicate his needs. He also begins to learn what the parent expects of him, and even the meaning of the word “No!” The parents will teach the names of the objects and living beings in the children’s world and some basic concepts such as over, under, through, run, push, and all the rest. By the time the child reaches kindergarten, he’s supposed to have that basic grasp of language.  He will, if the parents have spent enough time interacting with him.

However, many parents are too busy and too tired at the end of a day to meet all the child’s interaction needs. Many children live with a single parent who also works outside the home. At the end of a day, the temptation is to put the child in front of the television or a video game rather than interacting with him. Thus the child has no need to to actively use his brain to understand, but can sit passively and absorb or, in the case of the video game, develop hand/eye coordination, but not improve communication skills.

What’s the solution? Reading enjoyable stories to the child for twenty minutes each night, maybe just before bed, can be a big help. The parent can go to the public library once every couple of weeks and check out books that look not only appropriate for the child’s age and interests, but that also look like they would be fun for the parent to read. Keep these books so the child has access to them at certain times of the day, and then let him pick one of them for you to read to him. There are some good suggestions in this previous post: Choosing the Best Children’s Books, Part 1. Another previous post, When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up, might also inspire you — especially if’s there’s a bit of the actor or actress in you.

We found that our own children looked forward to story time, and when we read stories to them during summer vacation, they would often round up their friends to join in. As we discussed the stories, it was easy to talk about the meanings of words they might not know, ask what they thought might happen next, ask why they thought a character behaved as he did, and so on.

Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone
Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone

Let’s  take some examples from a story you may remember from your own childhood : The Little Red Hen.

As you sit with the book in your lap and your child next to you, begin the story. The  process of making bread as it’s described here may be entirely new for your child, so you can talk about what the hen is doing and why. Here are some questions that would be perfectly natural:

  • What is the hen doing with the wheat? Why?
  • What other jobs does the hen need to do to make the bread?
  • What does the hen ask the other animals to do?
  • Do they want to help her do any of  the jobs?
  • Why do you think they don’t want to help her?
  • When the bread is ready to eat, do they want to help her eat it?
  • Does she let them? Should she have shared? Why or why not?

These questions will not only help you make sure the child is understanding the facts in the story — what’s happening, but also will let you know what the child is thinking about the story line itself. Does the child think the hen should have shared? Did the child think it wasn’t fair for the hen not to share? Does he see the point that the animals didn’t want to help with the work, but thought they were entitled to the result of the work whether they had helped or not? This involves higher thinking skills than just knowing what happened.

Almost any folk tale lends itself to a good discussion as you read it aloud. If you have a discussion like this several times a week when you read a story together, your child will naturally learn the comprehension skills they will later try to teach in school : main idea, figurative language, context clues, reading for detail, inference, cause and effect, drawing conclusions, fact or opinion, logic and reasoning, and predicting outcomes. If he can figure out the main idea orally, it will be easier to find it in a passage he reads in school, because he will know what a main idea is. He has learned that the main idea in The Little Red Hen is that those who do not want to help with the work should not expect to share in the results of the work. To see if they can apply this to other situations, you might ask them for examples of this same main idea in what they observe from life. (If a child won’t share his toys with others, should  he expect the others to share their toys with him?) You get the idea. Now, if you apply it, your child will be well on his way to improving reading comprehension later on.

Sight Words or Phonics?

What’s the best approach to teaching children to read — sight words or phonics? Let’s take a look at Dr. Fry’s approach.

I just read a blog that discussed some of the virtues of rote memorization and it reminded me of the old question about whether children should learn to read by learning sight words or by learning phonics. Sight words are memorized and often learned by drilling on them. The late Dr. Edward Fry produced a lot of materials that help children learn sight words, but he also wrote materials on teaching phonics and spelling.

He recognized that some of our most often used words in English don’t follow the rules of phonics. He is widely recognized for his list of 1000 Instant Words which are intended for children to recognize by sight after a series of exercises, drills, games, flashcards, and other memorization aids. Some of these words, such as in, on, he, be and fish, also obey phonics rules and can be sounded out, but when a child is first learning to read, it’s discouraging to have to stop and sound out every word and lose track of the meaning. It’s very satisfying to be able to read a complete sentence or story without having to stop often and sound out words. Think what it would do to our adult reading speed and comprehension to have to sound out every word we read? By learning the most common words by sight, a child or illiterate adult can have the satisfaction of really reading, not just decoding words. She will understand “A doll is a toy.” if she reads it at a normal speed instead of struggling over every word.

On the other hand, as a child continues on the path of learning to read, it would be burdensome to have to memorize every single word he will ever need to read. Dr. Fry recognizes that understanding the sounds attached to letters is also necessary for a child to become an and independent and proficient reader. He brings these two approaches together seamlessly in his Spelling Book Grades 1-6: Words Most Needed Plus Phonics.

Let’s look at the first lesson for first grade. Only ten sight (or instant) words are introduced: the, of, and, a, to, boy, girl, man, woman, baby. Though the teacher is given teaching suggestions, this is not a workbook. The student pages may be reproduced for student use, but the teacher decides how to best teach the words.

Under the list of words is a list of phrases using the words so that the students can practice seeing and reading the words in context. Samples of the phrases are man and woman and to the boy and girl. Students could practice reading these aloud and the phrases could also be used for dictation exercises, since this book also teaches spelling.

The last parts of the lessons involve age-appropriate word study. In the first grade lesson we used as an example above, students learn about how the phonogram an is used in man, rancan, and pan. Then they learn in the phonics section below about the short vowel a. The included notes to the teacher in these sections spell out the rules and explanations, but I seriously doubt that the first graders will have to memorize, “The Closed Syllable Rule states that when the syllable ends in a consonant, the single letter vowel is short.” (Examples are taken from Lesson 1 of the book linked to above. ) At this stage of the game, the student may not know or care about syllables, open or closed.

That's me, with my book at the age of three.
That's me, with my book at the age of three.

When I learned to read I taught myself in much this fashion. First I memorized a very simple picture book my mother read to me over and over and then I read it back to her. She knew I’d memorized it, but I knew which word was which, so I had learned some sight words that I could recognize in other contexts. My mother would tell me about the sounds that the letters made until I was asking her for the ones I didn’t know yet. I started asking my dad about the letters I saw in the headlines of his newspaper. I was only three, but I could read. By the time I hit first grade, I was sitting in the class library section reading whatever I wanted while the teacher taught reading to all the rest of the class except another student who shared my first and middle name, who could also read.

My mother was a wise woman who realized that although I was reading above grade level, I had holes in my phonics understanding, so she sent me to a private school for a semester to learn phonics in a systematic way. (This was in the late 1940’s, when the “look, say” teaching method was in vogue.) After my phonics instruction, I flew in my reading skills. I think I would have thrived with Dr. Fy’s approach, since I would have learned the sight words in and out of context, as well as the relationships of the sounds to the words I learned every week. Seeing those relationships brings this method of teaching beyond rote memorization to understanding. I think Justin Snider, the author of the blog that inspired this one, could live with this approach. Maybe he will stop by and let us know.