Archive for September, 2011

Helping Students Learn : Use Simpler Maps, and Teach Students How to Do Quick and Efficient Research On Line

September 17, 2011
Map Locations of North American Indian Tribes

This map of North American Indian Tribes could be used to help students make a similar map, greatly simplified. I would suggest an outline of North America,boundary lines for Canada and Mexico, with the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains drawn in. Students could make a colored map key for the various Indian Tribes.

Some maps and charts are better than others.

The types of maps we often had to make in school I found were not always very helpful to me as a young student.  As a teacher, many years later, I now realize WHY.  There was too much information on the map, and it was TOO complicated; thus, the salient points were lost to the student.

Physical Map Showing Elevations of North America, by color

A better way to use maps in History or Social Studies class, especially in middle school but also in high school, is to use a series of maps prepared by each student, with each focusing on a particular point.  If there are several things to learn about an area, such as climate, history, and geography, instead of putting it all on ONE map, make three DIFFERENT maps (or more) each one illustrating fewer points.  The students remember the points better if the teacher guides them in drawing their own maps, as opposed to just looking at maps, or coloring maps which other people have drawn.

Simple colored map showing European settlements in North America

I had a middle school student who was directed to write a paragraph on something he could find out about European settlers in North America.  The student had a lot of homework that night in  different subjects, so I decided the most efficient way was simply to draw a quick map of North America on the board, dividing it into the three countries.  I had the student copy it on a paper very quickly.  I then put in a few bits of essential information, such as drew the Mississippi River and had the student label it.  Then in four colors we marked the general areas where English, French, Spanish (and Russian) settlement took place, and creating a map key for the four colors.  We labeled the countries and oceans.  The point about this is that we put no more information on this map than was actually necessary; thus the point (where different groups settled) was very clear.  (We did not mark any smaller groups such as the Dutch or Germans, since this was only the barest introduction.)

Next, I pulled out an American history textbook and showed the student some pictures of Spanish explorers in the American Southwest and Florida, and some pictures of the Puritans, some pictures of French trappers.  We searched for a photo of each on-line to include with the student’s report.

I suggested a short paragraph on the Spanish, one on the English settlement, and one on the French settlement.  Because we were short of time, I simply taught a short history lesson to the student, and had him put it into his own words and get it down on the paper.

If we had had a little more time, I would have sat with him in front of the computer to work with him on some quick ways to research on the computer some of the same questions.  With this particular student, I have already done this on several occasions, so the student is making great progress in doing his own work.

In doing research on-line, one of the major problems middle school students encounter is that their reading level is not yet at an adult level and they cannot understand many of the articles they read either on Wikipedia, or elsewhere.  This is one of the reasons some students just copy (plagiarise) what they find on-line.  They cannot put into their own words what they do not understand!

To deal with this problem, I would like to share a very helpful trick I  learned many years ago while part of a professional fiction writer’s group in the United States    Published authors in the group shared that whenever they needed to do quick research on an area, they always looked for CHILDREN’S books on any non-fiction subject.   Why?  Because children’s books summarize the essential information much more briefly (and for our purposes, at a much lower reading level).

So extrapolating this technique to today, I show my middle-school students (and high school students, too, if they are having trouble understanding what is written on a topic) to type into Google “the topic + for children.  This technique usually brings up websites that explain the same topic much more simply.  Then students can have much more success not only with understanding a topic, but also with learning to put it into their own words.

–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?