Archive for the ‘Teaching Cursive Handwriting’ Category

Students Mourn Never Learning Cursive

April 3, 2013
Cursive - the new undecipherable secret code script!

Cursive – the new undecipherable secret code script!

Cursive was taught in my school until four years ago.  When I left, the school discontinued it as a regular subject.  Now those students are in upper elementary and early middle school, and can neither read nor write in cursive writing.

Among my tutoring students, several of them have expressed to me their sadness that their older brothers and sisters can read and write in cursive, and they cannot.  Still being in the first few classes not to learn cursive, they feel babyish and incompetent.  Perhaps in subsequent years, this embarrassment will disappear when none of the new students  have older brothers and sisters who know cursive, when they don’t.  In another six or seven years, no one will know it, and it will seem normal to upcoming students.  It’s only those in these transition years who will feel the loss.  But they will feel it for the rest of their lives.

How many adults remember the childhood feeling of waiting to learn “grown-up” writing, or scribbling to other young friends (at the age of five or six) on a paper and bragging, “I know how to write in cursive?”  Of course, at that age, no one knew, so your friends believed you, because they couldn’t read it, either!

When I tutor these students, I have to slow down and print (much more time-consuming).  Of course these students also will never be able to read historical documents or even old family letters. Furthermore, most European and Latin American countries don’t teach printing at all–they teach only cursive script starting at the age of five.  I feel this bodes poorly for a future globalized world.

I’d be happy to teach cursive to these students (being an expert cursive teacher), but that is not what I’m being paid to tutor in–we generally spend the time on math, science, reading, and writing. Furthermore, teaching cursive at an older age can be done, but it is not generally enjoyable as it is for children.  It makes children feel grown-up, and they enjoy learning it.

–Lynne Diligent

Is “Handwriting without Tears” a Good Program?

August 1, 2012

The Handwriting without Tears curriculum  is currently being implemented in many schools throughout the United States.  Is it a good program?  I have been asked to give my opinion.

I am an expert teacher of handwriting, and have over 20 years of experience in teaching both printing and cursive at both the Kindergarten and Grade Three levels.  So the opinions below are my impressions from what I can gather about the program from the Handwriting without Tears website and from online information (at present I live and teach overseas, and have not seen or used the program myself, nor ever heard of it, before being asked for my opinion).

This Program Directly Addresses a Major Problem

One of the main problems with teaching handwriting (both printing and cursive) is that most current teachers have never had any instruction themselves in how to teach these skills.  This program takes students from Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade.  It appears that the program is well-thought-out in terms of appropriate motor skills for preschoolers.  Specifically, it appears that the program TEACHES THE TEACHERS HOW TO TEACH IT.

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

It is not so important which program is used in teaching handwriting (although I personally found D’Nealian more difficult than other styles to teach well).  The important thing is, does the TEACHER feel confident in his or her own handwriting skills, and with the methods to be used in communicating and practicing those skills with students?  These days, most teachers do not feel confident with these skills (either because they were never taught as students themselves to the point of mastery, or because they had no instruction in how to teach it, and they don’t remember it from when they were young).  This program DIRECTLY addresses these problems, which I would say is a big plus.

The other big plus with this program is that all teachers in the same school are being trained in use of the SAME program.  It can be frustrating and confusing for students when they go from class-to-class, and each new teacher has a completely different type, standard, method, and approach to teaching handwriting.  So this factor is especially helpful for students.

Handwriting Standards By Grade Level

This programs sets in place standards to be achieved between Kindergarten and Fourth Grade.  Frankly, these standards do look a bit low to me, speaking as a veteran teacher of many years.  However, their video (on home page) mentions that the program only takes ten minutes a day.  Looking at it from this perspective, the standards are good.

Writing Style

Printing Style for “Handwriting without Tears” (as found on the internet).

This printing style is the same as traditional printing, as it was taught before D’Nealian style (slanted, with tails on the ends of letters, which most probably CREATED all the handwriting “tears”).  This vertical block printing is both the most legible, easiest to master for the student, and easiest to teach for the teacher.

Desk strips in the new “Handwriting without Tears” cursive style.

I do not like the new Handwriting without Tears cursive style at all; in fact, I find it quite ugly.  It is completely vertical, and devoid of both lead-in strokes or tails (lead-in strokes are used in the traditional cursive methods, while tails replaced lead-in strokes in more recent methods such as D’Nealian).  My thoughts are that the vertical style was adopted in this method to do away with the need to turn the paper.  Slant is not very difficult to master on a sheet of paper, but is nearly impossible in a workbook, such as is used in this program (and other recent programs).  No doubt a simplified style was adopted to help students with dysgraphia.

Conclusion

In recent years, it seems that the major problem in teaching handwriting has not been whether the students learn cursive at school; it has been whether the students’ writing is legible at all!

Speaking as a veteran expert cursive (and printing) teacher, looking through the program, it seems very expensive with many unnecessary bells and whistles (expensive manipulative and workbook materials and expensive workshops).  None of these things are at all necessary to teach cursive effectively.

Preschool manipulatives for the Handwriting without Tears program.

For teachers who have no idea how to teach cursive, and who have never been taught, this program does offer good support.  The use of manipulative materials can be fun for students and give new teachers of handwriting confidence in what they are doing.  (I was fortunate to recall how I was taught as a child; I also had the support of another cursive teaching expert, a generation older than myself, who still happened to be teaching in the same school).

Overall, I would come down in favor of this program because it addresses the following issues:

1.)  Handwriting instruction IS being given to students, with a focus on at least achieving legibility.

2.)  Teachers ARE being given good support and training.

3.)   The program seems to be well-thought-out over several years, and all teachers in the same school are being asked to use the same teaching methods, and same style of printing and cursive.

4.)   The program maintains an emphasis on the positive and fun aspects of handwriting, with students and parents,  through use of manipulatives, and by working only ten minutes a day (according to the video.

–Lynne Diligent

Why Teachers Should NOT Treat All Students the Same Way

November 25, 2011

When I first began my teaching career, I made a great effort to be fair with all students by treating them the same way under the same circumstances.  We all want to be fair with students if we are decent human beings as teachers.

However, over many years of teaching (and parenting) I discovered that treating all the same way was not producing the best results.  Over time, my focus changed from concentrating on being “fair” to doing whatever was necessary to bring each student to his highest and best performance in my class.  Furthermore, each student’s best performance was not at the same level as any other student.  This is where teaching becomes an “art” rather than a procedure, or a delivery.

Let’s look at some specific examples.  If students don’t do their homework (math, for example), they arrive in class unprepared to learn from their mistakes in that day’s lesson.  It is not important if they got the right answer in their homework; what is important is whether they attempted the problems and knew at which points they encountered difficulty.  Then they were ready for that day’s work and explanations.

So, how can teachers get students to do their homework (each student’s highest and best effort)?  In my early teaching days, in attempting to be “fair,” I would have given an identical penalty to every student who did not do their homework.  After two decades in the classroom, my approach had changed.  In Grade Three, I put A’s on every paper where the homework was completed (correct or not, although grades were not counted–unknown to the students, but known by their parents) and F’s on any homework undone or uncompleted (again, not counted, as above).  Other than that, I used different incentives for each student.

One student might need a threat–threat of a phone call to a parent, threat of staying in from recess, threat of extra homework.  Another student might need a reward–verbal praise, positive note home from the teacher, getting to be first in line all day long, reading a book while others continue to work.  Still another student might need extra help in class, extra time with the teacher, help from a classmate arranged with the teacher’s blessing, help speaking to a parent.

This is where teaching becomes an art.  In order to know when to use the carrot and when to use the stick, and how much carrot or stick, or which carrot or stick to use, a teacher must know all of his or her students individually, and know them well.  In a normal class of 25-30 students, it takes about two months to know the students this well.

Some teachers don’t want to know their students, and put up a wall.  It’s also harder for younger teachers who are closer in age to the students they teach.  The older one is, the easier it is to get to know students individually without compromising privacy or classroom discipline.  Sometimes older students assume that younger teachers want to be their “friend,” whereas younger students with an older teacher don’t make this assumption even if they do become actual friends at some point.  So the older the teacher is, the easier this is.  Sometimes younger teachers need to erect more of a barrier.

So, how to get to know one’s students?  The first way is through grading their papers, reading their opinions, and by commenting on their papers regarding what they have said.  The second way is through classroom discussions, and by being open and honest with students in classroom discussions, which encourages them to be open and honest with teachers in return.  You both learn about each other.  It’s always easier to do this in primary school than in secondary school.

Regardless, any effort expended in knowing students individually will pay dividends both in personal rewards as well as for knowing what to use to motivate that particular student.  Students who know and respect a teacher will work hard for that teacher as a person.

The reason students must not be treated the same is that some are motivated by carrots, some by sticks, and most by alternate use of various carrots and sticks at different times, and under different circumstances.

–Lynne Diligent

How to Get HBO Programming Ten Years Before Anyone Else

October 23, 2011

Why Teacher-Training Programs Tend to Be Theoretical, Rather than Practical

October 17, 2011

Siobhan Curious is running a series (Part I) on changes students see that need to be made in education.  Guest-poster Ruth (Part V) complains that teacher training programs spend in excess of three years on theory in the classroom, and only a very short time giving the prospective teacher any practical experience.

Speaking as a teacher, I can explain why teacher training programs exist as they are, rather than, in the view of some, as the practical training they should be.  It is because the law in various states has dictated which courses need to be included in the programs.   Since I was certified in Colorado about 25 years ago, here are a few examples from that time and place.

One new course everyone was required to take was “Instructional Technology.”  The reason for that was that so many teachers got into classrooms and could not run the movie projectors.  So legislators passed a law saying that was a new course so that teachers could run these machines.

When I took this class, I was one of the people who had no idea how to run a movie projector (not being a machine-oriented person) and we had an instructor who announced the first day, “I am NOT going to teach you how to run machines!”  (He was basically saying, “that is for idiots.”)  He said, “I’m going to teach you how to create your own slide presentations (with a bell when it’s time to move each slide).”   When I got out and was substituting in various schools, unfortunately, I STILL did not know how to run the movie projectors and had to ask for students’ assistance.  Within a couple years I was teaching overseas, where I’ve been ever since.  The technology revolution pretty much bypassed our school, which just got desktop computers only for secondary teachers (not primary teachers) in 2010.  I’m no longer in that school, but the last two years I was there, I still had no idea how to use new computer-based slide and projection technologies.  Meanwhile, our school did not even have an overhead projector (only chalk boards).  So, this technology course, legislated by Colorado to solve a specific problem, ended up not solving that problem; furthermore, technology moves on very quickly.  Even if we had learned to run the movie projectors, what we were taught in the class was out-of-date within less than five years.

Another course we had to take (a good one) was about all types of handicaps and about how to mainstream handicapped children in our classrooms, should we find ourselves in that situation.

It involved studying many different types of handicaps (blindness, deafness, and many other conditions) and how to make IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for each such child (as required by law) who might get into one of our classes in the future.  But this was all on paper, no practical experience with actually teaching such a child.  This required course was in response to the law which now required such children to be mainstreamed.  As it turned out, I never did have a handicapped child, although I did have a handful of children over the years with learning problems.  Our overseas school was not equipped to deal with this and I felt what would have been most useful to me was a specific course in how ordinary teachers can help children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities when no specialist exists or is available.

Yet another course (which turned out to be the most useful course of my teaching career) was called “Reading in the Content Area.”  My area of certification was  Secondary Social Studies, and all those who were getting certified in Secondary fields had to take this course.  This was also a course mandated by the legislature in response to a very specific problem, being that a great number of secondary (as well as primary) students are not able to read and get much meaning out of their text books.

I had a fantastic teacher.  She basically taught us many techniques for making up our own study guides which would both help and force students into interacting with the material and getting meaning out of it.  When I moved overseas, I ended up teaching only in elementary, but used the techniques we were taught constantly to my students’ great benefit.

So, the question of why teacher training is so based in theory is primarily because of state legislators making it so in order to deal with specific legal requirements, or as their idea of a way to remedy specific local problems in education.  By requiring all prospective teachers have all these classes, it no doubt reduces the states’ legal liability in case of any problem occurring within the classroom.  In some states, any adult can substitute.  In Colorado, no one except a certified teacher is permitted to step into the classroom, even as a substitute.

The move toward the professionalization of teaching, and away from teacher-training as a practical skill  (as it was 40-50 years ago), now requires the need to constantly update one’s skills and knowledge in order to maintain one’s teaching license (a good thing).  However, practical-implementation knowledge has suffered, which means that it takes teachers at least five years to get to a good level of teaching proficiency in dealing with discipline problems, dealing with student learning problems, navigating administrative requirements, and taking care of parental communication requirements.

–Lynne Diligent

Teaching Cursive Part 5 (of 25): Which Form of Cursive Should I Teach?

September 7, 2011

Palmer Method

In some schools, teachers are told which form to teach (D’Nealian and  Zane-Bloser are the most common current styles) with older teachers remembering and knowing the Palmer method.

Zaner-Bloser Cursive Chart

If no one is mandating which style you teach, then which style should you choose?  The short answer is, it doesn’t matter.   Choose whichever style you like personally.

If you are unfamiliar with different cursive styles, here is a great page which shows many different styles, and lists them by name (most of which have only slight differences).

Personally, I have a definite preference for either Zaner-Bloser or Palmer over D’Nealian.  Most teachers either love or hate D’Nealian.  (I hate it.)  The main difference is less in in the final result than in the teaching method.   But whichever method you choose, if you teach it well, the result will be just fine.  All slanted styles are readable and acceptable.   (Vertical styles are not acceptable in America, for reasons I will go into in a later post.)

D'Nealian Cursive (note the lack of lead-in strokes on the small letters, because D'Nealian uses the tail strokes to connect to the following letter, instead)

If you have school materials and desk tapes in a given style, stick to the style (because if you teach it differently from a wall chart or desk tape it will confuse the students).  If you have no materials, it really doesn’t matter even if you slightly mix styles.  If you don’t like one particular letter in a style (for example, I don’t like the capital W’s with rounded bottoms), then substitute a different style for that letter in your own cursive worksheets.  Choose the letter styles you like, and practice them until you feel you can make them really well (including on the chalk board or white board while writing in front of students).

D’Nealian adds tails at the end of each letter which connect to the following.  Traditional cursive methods instead add a lead-in stroke to each letter, which connects from the previous letter.

The problems I’ve encountered with D’Nealian are with correct letter formation.  Because students being taught in manuscript (the D’Nealian slanted printing style) usually don’t get the slant right (because their teachers haven’t insisted they turn their books and papers since Kindergarten), what usually happens is that the students write vertically with big tails (which is all wrong).  Thus, all the small l’s with tails look like capital L’s right in the middle of words.  This is only one of the many problems I’ve found with D’Nealian.

It’s much easier (in my opinion) to get the correct slant by learning other traditional methods of cursive.  In any case, teaching correct slant and turning of the paper will be dealt with in a subsequent post.

The next post will deal with writing the cursive masters.

–Lynne Diligent

Part 3:  How to Prepare the Paper to Make Your Own Cursive Masters

Part 4:  Making Decisions about In Which Order to Teach the Cursive Letters

Teaching Cursive Part 4 (of 25) — Making Decisions About in Which Order to Teach the Cursive Letters

September 6, 2011

Many possibilities exist for the order in which to teach cursive letters.  So the question becomes, how to decide?

Should one teach small letters first, capital letters first, or a mixture of the two?  Should letters be presented in the order of the alphabet, similar letters together, or those letters most-used to be learned first?

I taught cursive for many years, and made a number of sets of masters with letters taught in different orders each time.  After a great deal of experimentation, here are my conclusions.

Teaching the small letters first, and capitals later (the most common system) often gives the result that many students never completely master the capitals.  When this happens, students don’t ever feel completely confident with their cursive, and those students are the ones who are first to revert to printing in subsequent years.

I’ve even had teachers (in their 20s and 30s) tell me that this happened to them as children, so they never felt confident with their cursive, and are embarrassed to write on the board with it.

My recommendation is to teach similarly-formed small letters together. Teach the capitals of those same letters at the same time as the small letters, and give students immediate daily practice with these capitals.  As my class masters just a few letters, I immediately make supplemental cursive masters with my students’ names on them.  Students love learning to write the names of every student in the class with proper cursive capitals.

Over the years I’ve made several sets of cursive masters, with the letters in different orders.  My objective this time was to give priority to the vowels so that as many real words can be written as soon as possible, even from the first day.  This give tremendous pleasure and motivation to the learners.  Here is my most recent planning list of cursive masters:

Planning Sheet for My Latest Set of Cursive Masters

My two priorities here were to get through the vowels as quickly as possible, in addition to grouping together similarly-formed small letters.  Capitals for the same letters are added on the the worksheets at the same time.  By the time I got to the last worksheet, there was only “z” left, which is why it is alone.

I would suggest making a worksheet of numbers and punctuation FIRST, rather than putting it at the end.  I just forgot to do it that way this time, which is why it is the last worksheet.  By including numbers, it’s easy to correct students’ writing of figures in math and on tests.  By including punctuation, it helps to correct all the students who don’t have a clue where to start a comma on the line and pull downward, or the students who finish the top half of question marks and exclamation marks right down on the line, and place the period part actually below the line.

Any grouping you choose, as a teacher, will be fine.  Just know in your own mind why you are choosing it.  For example, the vowel “o” might make more sense to follow Worksheet 1 (c, a,  d) in terms of formation, but since “e” is more commonly used in words, I chose to go ahead with “e” and “l” in Worksheet 2.

The next post will discuss which style of cursive writing to choose.

-Lynne Diligent

Part 1:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive in the Classroom

Part 2:  Help for Teachers/Other Adults Who Need/Want to Learn Cursive on Their Own, or in Preparation for Teaching Cursive

Part 3:  How to Prepare the Paper to Make Your Own Cursive Masters

Part 5:  Which Form of Cursive Should I Teach?

Teaching Cursive Part 3 (of 25) — Preparing the Paper to Use As Cursive Masters

August 14, 2011

American / English wide-ruled notebook paper

This post will explain how to prepare the paper for making cursive masters which can be photocopied for students.

Not every teacher has access to cursive workbooks.  In addition, there are some problems with the cursive workbooks, such as not being able to turn the book on the proper angle to write, without great difficulty.

Wide-ruled paper which has been cut, taped into a wider sheet, and photocopied for use as a cursive master

Take a sheet of wide-ruled paper (11/32 of an inch, or 8.7 mm spacing between horizontal lines) as in the top photo; or cut, tape, and photocopy two sheets of paper as in the second photo above, depending upon your preference.  The second horizontal style is especially nice to use with younger children because it gives them a half-lesson to work on at each sitting, and seems less intimidating.

how to teach cursive writing, preparing the cursive master sheets

Dotted pencil lines are drawn at the midpoint between each ruled line

Next, take a ruler, and draw dotted PENCIL lines at the midpoint between each ruled line.  It’s important to use pencil for two reasons.  First, you can erase and correct any line which doesn’t come out quite right.  Second,  after you are satisfied with the lines, take a can of hairspray and spray it thoroughly.  The paper doesn’t have to be soaking wet, but just be sure you cover all the pencil marks.  This makes the lines permanent so  that they cannot be erased.  If you use pen or ink to make the lines, the hair spray will cause your dotted lines to bleed into the paper.  This problem does not happen with pencil.

Now your master is ready to photocopy.  Make approximately 30 photocopies, on which you will make cursive masters for various letters (and numbers).  The next post will deal with how to write the cursive masters.

–Lynne Diligent

Other Cursive Posts by Lynne Diligent:

Part 1:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive!

Part 2:  Help for Teachers/Other Adults Who Need/Want to Learn Cursive on Their Own, or in Preparation for Teaching Cursive

Part 4:  Making Decisions about In Which Order to Teach the Cursive Letters

Teaching Cursive: Part 2 (of 25) — Teachers Who Need to Learn Cursive in Preparation for Teaching It, and Infomation for Adults Who Wish to Learn Cursive On Their Own

July 20, 2011

In my How to Teach Cursive Writing series, I discovered I was making the assumption that teachers already know how to write in cursive.  Thanks to a reader’s email, I realized that today one cannot make that assumption with teachers under age 35.

Additonally, there are adults who were briefly exposed to cursive when young, but never mastered it due to insufficient instruction in school.  Some of these people really want to learn cursive themselves.

Here are some ideas to start with if you find yourself in either position:

Crimson Wife

Thanks to Crimson Wife, a professional homeschooling mother of three,  posting  on cursive writing, I came upon a site she recommends called Peterson Directed Handwriting .  If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will find four links to four easily-opening online cursive workbooks in Adobe Acrobat.  If you need precise instruction in which direction and stroke to move your pen for each letter, start with Cursive Step 1.  This looks like a reasonably good place to start if you need this sort of help.

What both every teacher and writer of cursive need to know first is where to place the pen or pencil to start each letter, and which direction the strokes go. Peterson Directed Handwriting does a good job of this.

Once correct letter formation is completely mastered, one can start working on neatness.  In the beginning, however, neatness is not important.  What is important is mastering correct letter formation, proportion, and slant  (more on each of these issues in upcoming posts).

My next post will deal with preparing your own practice paper, so anyone needing to learn on their own, as well as teachers who need to prepare their own cursive master worksheets for teaching will find this useful.

–Lynne Diligent

Other Posts on Cursive Writing by Lynne Diligent:

Why Britain Made a Change to Vertical Handwriting

Part I:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive in the Classroom

Part 3:  How to Prepare the Paper to Make Your Own Cursive Masters

Why Britain Made a Change to Vertical Handwriting

July 9, 2011

A Sample of British Writing from 1888--Notice the Forward Slant to the Right

Examining older samples of British writing (1800s, and much of the pre-WWII writing), the British handwriting of that time was slanted to the right (as were cursive scripts in most European countries).  Now, most British writing is vertical.  How and when did this change come about?

Reading this 1925 letter written by A. N. Palmer, developer of the Palmer Method of handwriting, the actual preferred slant used to be a very precise 52°.  Mention of the precise 52° angle is also made in this 1893 article (see p. 87 at this link)  which argues for an introduction of vertical, unslanted writing.  Today, an ideal slant is considered to be between 60° and 75°.

Spencerian Script written at a perfect 52° angle

In Britain, in the early 1890′s, Professor John Jackson introduced vertical writing, which he felt had superior legibility, and was easier for students to learn.  Examiners began to require it in all branches of the Civil Service.  Many English schools began to adopt professor Jackson’s copy books.  Progressive German schools also began to use Professor Jackson’s system.

A Sample of Vertical British Handwriting

One argument used at the time was that vertical writing, by virtue of the fact that “the perpendicular of every right-angled triangle is shorter than the hypotenuse, and therefore there is less distance for the pen to travel in making vertical lines, than in making slanting lines.”  (Joseph Witherbee, 1893, p. 89-90)

As a teacher of handwriting for many years, I disagree, however.  Trying this out personally, I find that in vertical writing, the position of the hand creates a far greater drag on the paper, because of the hand being in the way; in forward-slanted writing, because the paper is turned, the position of the hand creates much less drag and the hand can move across the paper more swiftly.

One other argument for vertical cursive made at the time was that it does not require the student to have to “twist their spine” in order to write it, but instead to maintain a straight, upright posture which was “better for their health.”

Again, as a teacher of slanted cursive for many years, I can firmly state that if students are twisting in order to write slanted cursive, it is because the teacher does not know what they are doing in terms of showing students that they should be turning their paper on a greater angle in order to achieve the desired slant, rather than twisting their body.

Vertical writing apparently became more standard in England  after World War II (most British and French hands written prior to that time that I am familiar with still show slanted writing, while today, both countries generally have vertical writing), as young people learned the new style of handwriting, and those with slanted styles passed away.  (Vertical writing apparently spread to Germany and Austria starting around the 1890′s, and to France in the first half of the 20th century.)

Yet, in America, according to Palmer, “The vertical fell of its own weight…because in slowing down the process of writing, it was even worse than the old 52° copy book style.”  The Palmer method was developed specifically for business use, meaning for speed combined with legibility.  American cursive remains slanted to this day.

–Lynne Diligent

Other Cursive Posts by Lynne Diligent:

Part I:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive in the Classroom

Part 2:  Help for Teachers/Other Adults Who Need/Want to Learn Cursive on Their Own, or in Preparation for Teaching Cursive


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers