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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

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Part II: The Shocking Truth about Children’s Eating in England and America

May 5, 2012

Children are picky eaters–it’s normal.  In the past, children would have eaten junk food if it were available–but it just wasn’t widely available.  Fast food restaurants are not to blame.  Society, which expects parents to work 60-hour weeks, is to blame.

In American society, where we have no maids or help at home, nor extended families to help out, fast food and pre-prepared food (which can just be reheated, or served as is from the store container) is the solution to a time-crunch problem (see Part I of of this series). What’s different today, from in the past, is that with the proliferation of junk food everywhere, parents at home and nutritionists at school have basically given up trying to force children to eat healthy food.  Gone are the rules of sitting at the table until vegetables are eaten, or (proper portion sized) plates are cleaned.

Package of chicken nuggets, which can just be opened and reheated. Chicken nuggets aren’t even real pieces of chicken, which is why children complain if parents try to make them at home using real chicken. (In fact, as Jamie Oliver demonstrated to children, they are made out of pureed chicken scraps (mostly skin, fat, and a tiny bit of meat) left over on the carcass after all the meat has been cut off. They are an invention of the food processing industry to see how much money can be salvaged from the last bit of waste.

Parents no longer have the time or energy to make or enforce such rules, much less to cook fresh vegetables from scratch.  But sadly, most of these children are not even being served the delicious frozen vegetable combinations that children of the 60s and 70s grew up with.

It seems that family meals are now a thing of the past in the majority of households.  With everyone “grabbing what they can on the run,” or “eating whenever they feel like it on different schedules,” as well as everyone working on their own computers in different rooms, family mealtime doesn’t even exist in many homes any more.

British Chef Jamie Oliver, known for making fresh produce accessible to all.

When I saw Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners, which showed children in England who didn’t know the names of common vegetables (such as potato and tomato) I just couldn’t believe it.  But to my surprise, in his next program, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie came to America and showed us American children who did not know the same common vegetables!  But all of these children knew what French Fries and ketchup were–they just didn’t know anything about potatoes and tomatoes.

English Chef Jamie Oliver, who emphasizes fresh produce and its health benefits, showed us both British and American school children who did not know what tomatoes and potatoes were.

In America, in the 1960s and early 70s, we still had healthy, well-balanced lunches at school.  These were all planned on a monthly basis, and published in advance so everyone could decide whether to eat the hot lunch, or bring a lunch from home.

Let’s take a look at those lunches.  All included a protein, a green vegetable, sometimes a yellow vegetable, a fruit, a roll (bread), and a dessert.  The green vegetables were sometimes cooked spinach, cooked green beans, cooked peas, or something similar.  The typical fruit was a few pieces of canned apricot, canned peach, or canned applesauce.  Sometimes the desserts were two cookies, and a brownie.  Students went through one cafeteria line, and everyone was served the same healthy lunch.  Pizza might be served once a month, and hot dogs might be served once a month.  Those were very popular days.   Macaroni and cheese might be served twice a month, and red spaghetti with meatballs might be served twice a month with a small bit a fresh salad.  The only drink given was a small carton of milk, and once a week, students were given the choice to have chocolate milk.

tacos for school lunches

While this is a modern lunch tray in a school which obviously cares, I’m certain that the majority of kids drink the chocolate milk and eat the taco, while throwing away the rest. This was true in the 60s and 70s, and it is why so many schools have done away with trying to serve things that kids won’t eat (vegetables and fruits).

So what actually happened to these lunches?  Did students eat these healthy lunches?  Not generally.  The meat or chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy,were generally eaten.  A few kids ate the canned fruit, but more threw it out.  Hardly anyone touched the green vegetables because canned green vegetables generally do not taste good, are overcooked, and often stringy, and canned spinach is pretty disgusting.  some kids ate the fresh salad, but more did not.  So roughly 50 percent of the food was thrown away into the bins every day.  Parents and school districts lamented all the wasted food, as well as the cost of all of it.

Were we taught about nutrition in those days at school, and at home?  Of course we were.  Most mothers were cooking healthy, balanced meals and teaching their children about the four food groups, as well as pointing out those groups on the plate when they were served.  Most people were eating properly-sized servings at home and remained at a healthy weight.

The four food groups, as taught in the 1960s and 1970s.

Families went to a nice restaurant about once or twice a month, and to inexpensive or fast-food restaurants no more than twice a month.  No one bought pre-prepared food at supermarkets, in fact, supermarkets did not yet sell that.  Many mothers did use frozen vegetables, which were of higher eating quality than canned vegetables.  But more people ate canned vegetables because they were cheaper.

The generation before that, most people were still canning vegetables at home in winter, and fresh produce in summer.   I still remember my mother talking about growing up in Colorado during the 1930s, where getting ONE orange in the Christmas stocking was considered a worthy gift from Santa Claus.  Fresh fruit was still expensive and rare, especially during winter.  By the 60s and 70s, few people were still doing that.  Those who could afford it began using high-quality frozen foods to reduce food preparation time, and those who could not afford it ate canned vegetables.   Fresh foods were available, but they were not in as wide variety as they are today, and they were always expensive.

Did all of this make us eat our vegetables at school, or even like them?  Of course not.  Because of the disgusting quality of the canned green vegetables at school, many people got turned off green vegetables for life.

Cooked spinach, served directly out of a can on a lunch tray is disgusting to most people, particularly children.

This is why you still find many men in their 50s and older who still won’t eat their vegetables!  (Women eat more vegetables because they are still more concerned with meal planning and the health of their families.)

When I was four, I was a very picky eater and refused even to eat things like steak.   Only by the time I was in high school did I  come to appreciate the good-quality foods my parents forced me to eat at home.  In those days, the concept of “children’s foods” and “adult foods” did not exist.  Children were served, and expected to eat, the same foods as adults.  Many children of today never learn to appreciate these good, fresh foods.

Most children are picky eaters, and if left to their own devices, will always choose a junk-food diet.  The difference is that when that junk food is not available anywhere, most children do eventually learn to appreciate healthy foods.  The problem with many of today’s children, as exemplified in the television program Jamie’s School Dinners, which can be seen HERE, is that with today’s proliferation of junk food, adults have given up and started serving children the junk food they crave–not as an occasional treat, but as their regular fare.

Unhealthy lunch tray that many kids crave.

Typical school diets in England of pizza and chips (French Fries), according to a nutritionist who analyzed the meals, lack even minimal vitamin C and iron; these diets also promote heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” she says.  All the problems being treated in the National Health Service come back to what we are feeding our children.”   This means that they will most likely never learn to appreciate good food, and wind up with poor health in middle age, as a result.

This is happening in America, this is happening in England, this is happening in the third world.  It is even happening where I live now, in North Africa.   In North Africa, in the upper-middle-class school where I taught, where students bring lunches from home, parents often send healthy lunches, including salads with many fresh vegetables and even three or four pieces of fresh fruit.  However, many other parents send white bread and french fries, sometimes with cooked ground beef, a whole sack or can of potato chips (crisps), sugary drinks, and a whole sack of cookies.  Most of the kids who eat like the latter are overweight, and of course share their junk food with their friends.  So many of the kids bringing healthy lunches don’t eat their healthy food (a few do) and instead eat the junk food their friends bring.  Before 1999, this junk food wasn’t even available, but with the first supermarkets opening, a much wider variety of processed products became widely available.  Now that many more women are being educated and working outside the home, they no longer have time to make the home-cooked meals typical of North African cuisine, especially in the larger cities.

So what is to be done?  If families care for the health of their children, they should make an effort to prepare home-cooked meals at least a few times a week.  Most importantly, YOUNG children (starting at age two or three) need to be INVOLVED in the food preparation.

Teach children how to help prepare vegetables while they are still young enough to be interested.

Yes, it’s trouble for the adults, but this is the age (before 7) when they are interested and want to listen to their parents’ ideas.  By age 8-9 it’s the very last chance.  By age 10-11, peer pressure has completely taken over.  It’s too late.  They will only be interested in assisting you to make their favorite junk-food dishes.  At preschool ages, they love learning about fruits and vegetables, and different ways to prepare them.  Make the most of this chance if you have young children.  If you give them an appreciation for good food when they are young, even if they later go heavily into junk food, they will come back to an appreciation of good food in their 20s, as they have money to start enjoying nice restaurants, and as they start their own families and think about the health of their own children.

–Lynne Diligent

Part I:  Devaluation of Support Roles at Home is Driving the Increase in Junk Food Consumption

WHY Parents and Teachers Need to Watch the Same Television Shows as Students Do

February 17, 2012

As a parent or teacher (even outside of America, and regardless of your religion or lifestyle), have you tried to instill proper values and behavior in your own children or students, yet watched while the following values and behavior appeared instead?  Have you wondered where this has been coming from?

  • Requesting a bulldog
  • Popularity of sushi
  • Proliferation of fake ID’s and even younger high school students attempting to use them
  • Underage drinking, even at home parties, where parents leave and let children party alone
  • Obsession with champagne
  • A sudden interest in learning Burlesque dancing
  • Requesting or attempting underage driving
  • Obsession with Ivy League colleges
  • Teenage obsession with wearing only “designer” dresses
  • Thinking it’s not normal for parents to make a “curfew” time
  • The idea that even young teenagers “go where they want, and do what they want,” and that “their parents give them the freedom to do so just like adults;”  they TELL their parents what they are doing, rather than ASK them.
  • Girls (even young girls) acting in a sexually aggressive manner toward boys (girls insisting that they both take off clothes)
  • Girls thinking that it’s normal to date older men secretly without their parents knowing about it
  • Thinking that normal parents just go to bed, and “don’t wait up for their high school children who come home late.”
  • Sassy, angry attitude toward any parents who question any of the above assumptions!
  • The idea that “success” in life equates ONLY to how much money you have, and how “glamorous” you appear to others!
  • Honesty, dependability, responsibility, and/or service to humanity are unfashionable, boring, stupid, and undesirable
  • Kindness to others is “out;” while “one-upsmanship” and rude “put-downs” at the expense of others are “in”
  • An expectation that life is supposed to be one continuous “party”

Any parent or teacher who is having trouble understanding teenage values and behavior today should IMMEDIATELY watch the three television series Beverly Hills 90210 ; Gossip Girl; and 90210 (a different show than Beverly Hills 90210).   Even watching a couple of episodes of each show will give you an idea of where this culture is coming from.  (Click on these titles for direct links to the series which should work worldwide.  Make sure to start with Season 1, Episode 1.)    These new values are coming directly from television.

Unfortunately, teenagers are now watching these shows WORLDWIDE.  Some are watching on the internet, in English (especially with the global rise in study of English, it is now accessible).  But in most countries, these shows are now dubbed in local languages, and right on the television.  Not only is American culture changing, but world culture is assuming that these TV shows represent traditional American values (which they most assuredly do NOT).

The people who made these shows recognized that they are FANTASIES of how teenagers WISH their lives were.  That’s what makes them fun to watch.  However, unfortunately, the children who grew up watching these (without any input from their parents) grew up assuming that this is what they WOULD be able to do as teenagers, and now, the upper middle classes ARE DOING it. Some of the middle class parents don’t know that their children are behaving this way.  Among more conservative families, parents should BEWARE if their child asks to spend the night with another family, because they are often going out, or even sneaking out to nightclubs.  It doesn’t help that the full age of majority in many countries is 18, rather than 21.

I live in the Middle East, and throughout our region, this is exactly how most teenagers are behaving.  The emphasis in our region is all on appearances to create the impression with others that you are rich (even if you are not).  Most of those who are rich turn their children (even girls) loose with plenty of money and the family chauffeur (usually driving an expensive, black, four-wheel-drive vehicle) for the weekend.  They certainly don’t wait up for their children to come home at night.  Most of the kids have fake ID’s and go to night clubs (which don’t even open until 11).  Their age is clear, but they just slip $20 to the doorman, who lets them in.

Father Knows Best

In the past couple of years, I’ve read a number of articles where generations following the baby boomers are now criticizing the work ethic of baby-boomers (born 1946-1960) and wondering where this work ethic came from.  It’s very clear to me now.  It came directly from TELEVISION (as well as from our parents, and from society in general).

Shows during the 1950s and 1960s (and even into the 1970s) showed children working hard, being kind, taking responsibility, and most importantly, GETTING RESPECT FROM OTHERS FOR DOING SO.  Some of these shows were Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Rifleman, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie.   In contrast, teenagers who behave this way today don’t get any respect from others.  Instead, they get “USED BY OTHERS” (in the words of a teenager I tutor).  Today, it’s showing-off and acting in accordance with the list above that gets a teenager respect from other teenagers.

–Lynne Diligent

Attend Filmmaker Luke Holzmann’s Free Film School Course on Line

January 16, 2012

As a teacher (or even homeschooler), have you ever considered how adding filmmaking capabilites could enhance your teaching abilities with students?

The only materials you need to do so are a computer with high-speed internet connection, and a simple point-and-shoot digital camera with video capabilities (although higher levels of video cameras or those with more manual controls are always a plus).

Filmmaker Luke Holzmann now offers a free, online, 36-week course to all who are interested.  A brief description of the course and simple materials needed (which most of us already have) can be found HERE.

Filmmaker Luke Holzmann

Many teachers, students, and adults are interested in filmmaking, but most don’t have a clue where to start if they are not actually in school especially for this purpose.  Check out this exciting course, either to enhance your career skills, or as an enjoyable hobby.

I’m going to try it, and I’m signing up today.

–Lynne Diligent

Cyberbaiting of Teachers, A New and Dangerous Trend

January 5, 2012

Well-behaved middle school students

A well-behaved middle-school student I tutor expressed her frustration to me with some of her formerly well-behaved classmates who now talk back to teachers and act up in the classroom.

When my student asked these friends why they now behave this way, they say it’s all about fitting in and being accepted by the “cool” group.

Anyone not accepted by this group is a target for their bullying.  My student has a mature attitude and refuses to behave this way; as a consequence, she has to stand up to various forms of insults and bullying constantly.

At one point, our school debated putting in cameras to film student behavior in every corridor and classroom, and then decided not to.

It may have been both about cost, and about invasion of privacy, as well as our school being a high-level college prep school in a Middle Eastern country.

However, lack of cameras is no longer a protection for privacy for anyone, as every student is now capable of filming anything and everything and posting it anonymously and publicly on-line.  As this article explains, many students are now purposely provoking a teacher to the breaking point with the advance intention of filming it and posting it on-line.  This form of bullying is both demeaning to teachers, and can cost many teachers their jobs.

All teachers need to remember that now, the eyes of the world are watching every second.  This applies not just to teachers, but to everyone.  Teachers, however, are more vulnerable because students with evil intentions are purposely setting out to put them in a compromised situation.

–Lynne Diligent

When a Former Student Turns Out Bad……

January 3, 2012

Teachers are human beings, and as human beings, we have human feelings.

Every year when I got a new class, being human, there were students I felt I liked and disliked.  But I always did my best to never let that affect me, and to get to know each student as an individual.  Almost always, after getting to know each student personally, I was able to find something to like about every single student.

Students behaving badly

Students who behave badly and cause a lot of trouble in class for the teacher and other students are most definitely not the same as those who have severe character flaws or personality disorders.  I could see right through the behavior of some of the worst-behaved students to see that in spite of their behavior, that they DID care about their friends, and have feelings for other people.  Provided they could stay out of delinquent behavior during their teenage years, I had every confidence that these students would grow up to be responsible adults and parents, and contributing members of society.

American rapist and serial killer Ted Bundy, as a child

However, in many years of teaching, there were only two students where I was not able to find anything to like.  These two students, even at mid-elementary school, scared me.   In both cases, I felt that there was something seriously wrong with these them.  Knowing the students’ parents somewhat, I did not see anything wrong in the parents’ character.  But the students had a very, very serious character flaw.  Midway through elementary school, they had not developed any conscience, and they both had no feelings whatsoever for other people, or other living things.

At one point during his school year, one of these children threatened me with he “was going to send viruses to destroy my computer” if I didn’t do what he wished” (I no longer remember what he wanted me to do do).  I talked to him many times throughout the year and he told me over and over that he didn’t care about anyone else besides himself.  And it was really true.  This boy was a reasonably good student and extremely intelligent.  While I hope for change in this boy, as he left my class, I felt that I would not be surprised to hear he had become a white-collar criminal in future years.

As the years have gone on, he is thankfully out of my class and out of my life, he is still around, but my assessment of him has so far not changed.  However, in his case, we still have the future to see what happens.

For the other boy, his future has already arrived.

When the second boy was in my class, he was already a hard-core pornography addict.  At this time, our Middle Eastern country was receiving triple-x pornography (the type where in America you would have to go to a particular part of town, show ID that you were at least 21 to even enter the store, and watch the movie in a “private” cubicle) right on the television, broadcast from Europe, over the satellite dishes.  Many parents were unaware that their children had discovered these TV channels.

Many students told me that they just flip the telecommand every time they hear their parents coming, and then just change it right back afterward.  I wondered at the time how this would influence the boys (and girls, too) who were exposed to this at such a young age, particularly as to how this would influence their future dating behavior and how they would treat or view the opposite sex when they got into their teenage and young adulthood years.

Knowing some of those children well at the time, and seven-to-twelve years having now passed, I see that those who were decent children in mid-elementary school have mostly continued to be decent young adults, and from what I hear from other teenagers, are going to be okay.  On the other hand, those who had problems, I’m sure those problems already had those character disorders accelerated and developed at a younger age than before.  In some cases, girls and boys have come to view behaviors as normal that are really not normal between loving adults.

From reading articles on the subject, pornography is most damaging to young boys when it is coupled with violence.

American rapist and serial killer Richard Ramirez, in high school

American rapist and serial killer Richard Ramirez, in high school. Ramirez was present at the age of 12 when his cousin Mike, a Vietnam Veteran, killed his own wife, the blood splattering on Ramirez. Previously, Mike had shown photos of himself in sex acts with Vietnamese women, and subsequent photos of the beheaded bodies of the same women, who he bragged to Ramirez about torturing to death.

So, this second boy in one of my classes, even although a hard-pornography addict in early elementary school, probably did not have his problems caused by the porn, but merely exacerbated by the porn.  He was a good-looking boy, but extremely lazy, always out of his chair, not interested in learning anything (although I did try quite hard to have some success with him).   He did some mean, nasty,  and even evil things to others even at that age.  (I’m sorry I cannot go into specifics; I wish I could, but I cannot.)  He did more mean and evil things as he aged, and continued to be a very bad student who was always in trouble.  The boy’s  father, who did care about his son,  died while his son was still in elementary school, and therefore he did not have a father’s influence during those important years.   Later on, he had a girlfriend for several years toward whom he was extremely abusive.  His behavior in many areas eventually got him expelled from high school.

He remains a dangerous person in a small town.  He is extremely rich, drives an expensive car, and is from a powerful family.  In societies like ours, this means that he has “carte blanche.”  He does horrible things which seem to escalate each year and which are becoming well-known, particularly among people of his own age group, and everyone feels that they cannot do anything because of the powerful family he is from.

Dominique Strauss Kahn

This is the same reason that Dominque Strauss-Khan was able to get away with his behavior for so long, was that he essentially has the same “carte blanche” in French society.  It is the reason why corruption continues in all societies where WHO you are is of primary importance.  When there is an evil person with “carte blanche,” neither the police, nor the judges, nor anyone will help.

So what people do, unfortunately, is to behave in an extremely servile manner toward that person, and “pretend” to be his or her “friend” just so that they will not fall on the bad side of that person.  “Carte blanche” means essentially that a person, or particular group of persons, is “above the law.”  The law does not apply to them, and no one in the society will DARE challenge them.  Anyone who tries will be hurt severely, or have their family hurt severely, and no policeman, court, or judge will lift a finger to help them.  This is another reason why there is such emphasis on WHO you know in these sorts of societies.  Often, your only protection is knowing someone MORE powerful than those who might be against you, who have the power to control this person, or protect you from other persons in that group who have “carte blanche.”

So, back to my student.  I really, really thought something was seriously wrong with this student even in early elementary school.  It’s clear that I was right.  The really dangerous thing, in my opinion, is a child who develops no feelings for others; it is what creates a sociopath.  And not every sociopath was abused as a child.  I wonder if Ted Bundy’s (American serial killer in the 1970s and 80s) or Jeffrey Dahmer’s (American serial killer of the 1980s) teachers saw something wrong with them as a children.  They probably did.

American Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer as a child

I think having only two students like this in twenty years of thinking is not bad.  Maybe I had two or three others over the years who were borderline, but for whom I still have hope, even after several years have gone by.  I feel horribly depressed about this one student, hearing regularly from others about the things he does that are so bad, but which I cannot even safely mention, and about which no one feels they can do anything.

–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

Clever Parody on Math in Schools!

August 13, 2011

I just want to make sure everyone knows these are not real contestants, and that this is a parody!

–Lynne Diligent