[Homestead] Education---a lot of it is best taught by grim repetition
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Feb 6 12:54:22 EST 2005
Especially handwriting. There is a close correlation between good
handwriting, scholastic achievement and some rise in IQ. For any speed
and accuracy it is necessary to hold a writing instrument in flexible
fingers, not in a fist.
The Boston Globe
A change at hand
After years of neglect, penmanship makes comeback in
By Paysha Stockton, Globe Correspondent | February 6,
At a large, circular table in a kindergarten and first-
grade classroom, a girl in pigtails writes about singing,
using a pencil to fill the wide lines in her notebook with
At a table nearby, a first-grade boy makes only one ''s"
backwards in his notebook, while a kindergartner, perched
on a red rubber ball, practices his name with a
''squiggly" vibrating pen.
Every day, Geralyn McLaughlin gets her students at Mission
Hill School in Roxbury to write for about 40 minutes. On
Wednesdays, occupational therapist Deb Baye helps out,
working with children on letter formation, grip, and
The focus is efficiency and ease, not perfection, with the
teacher and Baye emphasizing the foundations for
functional, legible handwriting.
Children who don't learn to write correctly at a young age
often never will, say teachers and therapists working to
make sure handwriting doesn't become a dying art. They
fear that handwriting is becoming a casualty of the
widespread emphasis on computers and the need to master
math and English for standardized tests. Teachers reported
that between 10 percent to 20 percent of children have
trouble with handwriting, said Steve Graham, a professor
at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who has studied
Handwriting is making a slow comeback in some schools
after decades in which many educators shunned serious
penmanship studies. Tests, blamed in part for handwriting
instruction's decline, also are a part of the reason for
its return. This year, for the first time, the SAT will
require handwritten essays. Massachusetts, as part of its
MCAS exams, also includes handwritten essay questions.
Graders claim they require only that the essays are
legible, but specialists say multiple studies correlate a
neat hand with higher scores.
New state standards for fourth-graders pushed Newton
schools to rethink handwriting, said Barbara Golder, an
occupational therapist there. ''Before you had to write a
little essay on the MCAS, it was really getting to the
point where it wasn't emphasized at all," she said.
In recent years, teachers began referring more children to
her, Golder said. Many of the children, who were
struggling with fine motor skills, simply needed proper
instruction in handwriting, she said.
In local elementary schools, handwriting instruction
varies widely. Some districts, including Lynn, create
standardized systems. Some require widespread systems for
the entire district. Brookline, for example, generally
uses D'Nealian, a slanted script meant to transition
children to cursive easily. Natick, Needham, and others
use a system called Handwriting Without Tears, an upright
manuscript emphasizing correct letter formation.
Others districts, such as Boston, Cambridge, and Newton,
have no systemwide program, allowing individual schools or
teachers to choose their methods.
Time spent on handwriting also varies, but educators agree
the subject -- though it's gaining notice -- still
receives far less emphasis than it did years ago.
''Many schools are so concerned about these reading and
math scores and being on the failing list," Graham said.
''They've crowded the curriculum. Handwriting and writing
is not getting a lot of instructional time."
Computers are perhaps the most popular culprit in
handwriting's demise. And teaching colleges, which place
little emphasis on handwriting, haven't helped. Officials
at Harvard, Lesley, and Northeastern universities, and
Wheaton and Simmons colleges, confirm their teaching
programs don't emphasize handwriting. The result:
Instructors are uncomfortable with the topic, said Graham,
who surveyed 169 elementary teachers with fellow professor
Karen Harris two years ago.
Eighty percent of those polled said they received little
or no training in how to teach handwriting, and only 19
percent said they enjoy teaching it, he said. But 90
percent reported teaching handwriting. ''A lot of what we
picked up on was teachers teaching it on the fly, without
a regular program," Graham said.
While most teaching schools aren't teaching handwriting,
Bridgewater State College plans to begin focusing on the
craft. Professor Robert Sylvester recently identified a
disturbing trend: prospective teachers getting sloppy in
their own writing, said Nancy Witherell, elementary
education department chairwoman.
''He came to me and said, 'Our students can't write,' "
Witherell said. ''Their writing is not legible."
Sylvester plans to give his students a handwriting
assessment and may beef up handwriting instruction, she
Marty Guild, an occupational therapist who trained
Natick's elementary teachers to teach handwriting, said
she thinks the skill is regaining respect. ''We want the
child to be efficient . . . and be able to write with ease
and so it's legible," Guild said. ''In order to get that,
I think we need to reinstate a very good handwriting
Laborious handwriting creates other writing problems,
researchers Graham and Harris found.
A 1997 study of 600 elementary students indicated that
handwriting struggles can affect writing quality and the
amount of text children produce, Graham said.
Struggling to write also appears to interfere with
planning, coherence, and sentence structure, Graham said.
It's important to instill good habits -- a firm ''pincher"
grip, erect posture, and the ability to form letters from
the top down -- occupational therapists said. Watching how
children write is crucial, said Baye, who divides her time
between Mission Hill and other Boston public elementary
schools. Are they attempting cursive? Spacing letters and
words? Using the lines provided or creating their own
space? Making dark letters that may indicate posture
She said she feels like a detective, deciphering
handwriting for clues to what children are doing with
Parents should also monitor whether children write legibly
and correctly, said Olsen, who created a handwriting
program after her son came home crying over his
Some teachers now accept poor handwriting, she said. ''Do
you know the ruin you are visiting on young lives with
your attitude?" she said, jokingly.
Olsen worries poor handwriting could create low academic
self-esteem and a dislike of school. For most, neat
handwriting still equals smart, she said. ''Handwriting is
a very visible, physical indictor of success," she said.
The write stuff
How parents can help children learn proper handwriting
Do it correctly yourself Children learn by imitation, so
make sure you are holding your pencil and forming letters
Don't give 3- and 4-year-olds pencils Let them finger
paint or use crayons, which develop the ''pincher" grasp.
Give young children broken pieces of chalk or crayons,
they'll have no choice but to hold the small pieces
Encourage good posture Make sure your child's feet are on
the floor and their arms can move freely wherever they
Read Show children the importance of communicating through
Sing Show children letters during the alphabet song. Sing
songs that use fingers, such as ''Itsy Bitsy Spider."
Draw Children who draw often write better.
Move Teach spatial words, such as under, over, top,
middle, and bottom through visual representations. Put one
hand under another, etc.
Offer small bites Encourage children to pick up small
objects with their fingers, such as tiny pieces of food.
This develops writing muscles and coordination.
Play Encourage preschoolers to use finger paints and
sponges to strengthen writing muscles and reinforce
coordination. Do activities that require two hands, such
as lacing, to build foundation skills and muscle tone.
Sources: ''Handwriting Without Tears," occupational
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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