Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Don't Overlook the Little Things

A few years ago, I worked with a fourth grade student who struggled with reading and writing. He also exhibited behavior issues and would have frequent "meltdowns" when he had to complete a school assignment in cursive. It was his teacher's expectation to complete certain assignments using cursive writing. At home, he would do anything he could to avoid his written homework.

One day, I was observing in his classroom and witnessed the emotional breakdown. He had to write his spelling words in cursive and one word included the "os" cursive combination as in "most." That one was particularly troublesome and really set him off. He just couldn't get it to look right. (Try it. It's a difficult combination, especially if you struggle with cursive).

Later that day, we worked together using a computer. I had a chance to show him some of the fonts built into Microsoft Word and asked him to choose a font that looked good to him. As we tried all the various font choices, he zeroed in on a cursive font and said,"That's the one!" We also customized the size of the font and talked about how he could set it as the default font on his home computer.

A month later, I got a call from his mother. She told me that her son now came home from school, went to the computer and willingly completed his homework on his own, using the cursive font. She was ecstatic; the battles over writing assignments were over.

Sometimes, it's the solution that's right in front of our faces. And this one didn't cost anything.


Jose Vilson said...

I mean, that's probably why handwriting will be as outdated as .. the printing press itself. It's strange. As we move forward, some of the technologies that help us progress also hopscotch some of the things we considered essential.

I'm also a bit disturbed by the fact that the kid HAD to write in cursive in order to look like he learned something. Yes there's something to be said about a kid with neat handwriting, but there has to be a better compromise if the kid is struggling with script. I have a couple of kids who can barely write anything, and yet insist on writing in cursive. Yikes.

Karen Janowski said...

I think it speaks to the importance of allowing students to choose the method that helps them be successful. Some kids write better using script, some prefer print and some prefer keyboarding.
When I attend team meetings, I look around the table and notice everyone is taking notes with paper/pen. I'm taking notes with my laptop or netbook. It's about choice and I point out how we are choosing the tools that work best for us. Shouldn't we offer that same option to our students?
I agree with you when you point out the teacher's requirement that work had to be done in cursive. Why? What's the educational rationale in that decision, especially when it was obvious cursive writing was the activator for this student's meltdowns.
Sometimes we just get stuck in our ways.

Thanks for your comments.

alfred619 said...

Coincidentally,I am sitting in a graduate class where we are discussing Universal Design. Computer use here is a good example of UDL principles: equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive use,low physical activity, and appropriate instructional climate.

Thank you for the info and links on your blog. I hope you refer to it often to use in my ESL classroom.

Phil Morse said...

Karen - It sounds like that fourth grader has a minor form of autism, maybe Asperbers (AS). I have a student with AS that is the same behavior that he would exhibit. He gets so upset if one tiny little detail isn't just right. But his handwriting is awful.

I guess I don't understand why the assignment has to be in cursive if he can type it out on the computer. Isn't the point of cursive the handwriting?

Lastly, I do think that handwriting will become obsolete as well. I think it's important that our students are able to write and maybe even in cursive, but I don't think it needs to be emphasized anymore.

Thanks for reading.

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Lisa Parisi said...

What surprises me is that the teacher allowed the student to type in cursive. Sort of defeats her purpose of practicing cursive. If she was up for that, why not go all the way and embrace UDL for classroom use, too? Strange situation.

Jacqui said...

I'm a tech teacher and I've seen the same situation with a different result. Teachers seem to be afraid if students don't write the document, it's no good. Never mind if the student can't do it--psychologically, physically, whatever the reason. It befuddles me. We should differentiate instruction for students, not force them to learn whatever way is easiest for us.

Haley M said...

I don't understand some teachers persistence when it comes to students turning in hand written work without exceptions. I know it is important for children to learn proper handwriting, but when it impacts a students education other options such as computers should be allowed. Think about it... instead of just allowing the child to type his work or use standard handwriting, the teacher insisted on cursive causing the student to have a meltdown in which he most likely missed the rest of the class lesson.