The Pencil and Paper are 21st Century Ed Tech tools too.

Now that I have returned to Hong Kong, I am actually thinking about handwriting. The following is a body of thought about cursive handwriting instruction for the elementary aged child. Each year, I find myself teaching handwriting less and less. Below are some reasons why this will change:

1.Beauty Matters. Writing with a sense of style begins with personalized handwriting. We can regain the lost art of handwriting only through intentional teaching of the subject

2.Illegibility stinks. There are few things more frustrating and embarrassing than not being able to read your own writing. Teach clarity and precision as a habit. Are we supporting students when their handwriting is so hard for others to read?

3. Confidence. Just as kids judge each other by who can most quickly recite math facts, kids judge each other by handwriting appearances. . “Conscious choice of handwriting style gives you control over the effect your writing has on others.“(Edwards 1979) Neat handwriting is a source of pride and yet another opportunity for students and teachers to shine.

4.” Off the grid” learning happens and will for the foreseeable future. Kids are writing on a whiteboards, visualizers, notebooks and such, constantly throughout the day. Why embarrass students by neglecting handwriting skills?

5. My mom says so. My first and finest teacher is quite proud of her beautiful handwriting. She regularly gets complimented still.

6. The late, great Donald Graves says so: “If writing has poor appearance, the writer is poorly judged. Fairly or unfairly, this is still the case.” (Graves 1994) Graves encouraged teachers to analyze students’ work placement, arm and wrist placement, pencil grip, and control.

7. Neurology connections. I am a believer that good handwriting is good for the brain.

8. Opportunity for quick easy wins with parents, administration and children.  Parents and administrators give teachers a nodding approval when they see kids that care about neat script. Also, many of your students’ future teachers will be grateful.

9. Tech folks that tell me handwriting is a dying art. Rarely do they have a convincing argument.  Set your students apart from the crowd.

Tips for producing better lettering among your students:

Early in the school year, Make handwriting intentional as part of your regular word study program. Teach in groups no larger than 6 kids. Differentiate the learning as much as possible. Introduce a variety of lettering fonts and allow kids to discover their favorite. Suggest that they choose a style to develop throughout the school year. Compliment, compliment, compliment personal growth. Use children’s’ own exemplars as inspiration for consistent, quality handwriting.

Children should self assess, reflect, set goals, write reminders, and personalize their learning, They are to notice their improvements.  I will save and distribute early drafts on Evernote for student digital portfolios. I will have my teachers’ assistant post the exemplars on desks for reminders of excellence.

I plan to challenge children to think of their handwriting as a personalized art form and to respect their words, writing instruments, and paper. Of course, I will never, ever have a kid stay in for recess for poor penmanship. Instead, I will teach them the value of neat and stylized penmanship. Keep it in perspective. Substance and content is what matters most in writing.

Good luck and have a great start to the school year.

 References:

Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Edwards, B. (1979). The new drawing on the right side of the brain. London: HarperCollins Publishers.

Surviving your Teacher Evaluation Year

 

Having recently completed my international school‘s rigorous teacher evaluation assessment process, I have decided to jot down a few bits of advice for fellow teachers. This year, I have had more than twenty formal, informal and unscheduled “walk through” observations of my teaching. My school’s administrators have provided written and verbal feedback throughout the year and have assigned a score. My salary was determined by my score.The purpose of this posting is to promote learning and to help teachers reflect upon their own teaching practices.

I hope it helps.

Avoid negative people and stay positive

This year, I needed to focus solely on my craft. I did my best to avoid negativity both inside and outside of the school. I stated at the start of the year that I would not utter a negative word about the evaluation process and for the most part, I was able to live up to that promise.I studied meditation exercises and practiced relaxation techniques. Unfortunately, I was not able to hike, nor exercise as much as I normally do.

Plan, organize and invest

I strongly recommend that you arrive early each morning. Most of my day’s work was finished before fellow teachers had arrived at school. This helped me complete whatever needed to get done. I planned each day to the minute and made sure that I was ready for the surprise visits from my evaluators. I had special lessons planned, and on hand, in each subject area, if needed.

Much of my success is due to the hard work I put in August. My classroom organization and classroom management routines were instilled early and from that I was able to reap the benefits later in the year. I tell everyone who will listen that a productive August is crucial to a successful learning year.

For further ideas on classroom management, listen to this podcast.

Finally, invest in a smartphone. The money spent on one will pay off in saved time and an eventual higher salary. My iPhone helped me document evidence of learning, check up on emails,record literacy one on one conferences, update websites.

Differentiate and let your assessments guide your teaching

This year I made a concerted effort to “maniacally” differentiate for all lessons. Each unit began with a pre-assessment of some sort that helped me find “just right” learning approaches for each student. Essentially, I was able to produce an individualized educational plan for each of my 22 students. I made sure to document all of my data using Evernote.

Communicate with parents

My students’ parents this year were amazingly supportive of my work. This  was due to my reputation and to respectful, individualized and positive communication throughout the school year. I never had a regular newsletter. I find them tedious to write and not a good use of my time. Rather, I would email parents occasionally when I had something inspired to post. I oftentimes attached a few photos or videos of student work and would include an educational journal of some sort.

Parents appreciated the fact that I set protocols, return emails promptly and that I made myself available for Skype conferences on most Saturday mornings.

Class Meetings

My students benefitted greatly from regular, weekly class meetings. The students conducted all aspects of the meetings from setting the agenda to developing solutions to problems. This helped me foster a positive, safe learning environment and allowed the students opportunities to develop leadership skills.

I also provided student feedback forms for students to fill out if they had problems that they rather not share with the entire class.

Pace yourself and finish strong

My wife told me often that this year would be a marathon. She was so very right. She constantly reminded me to rest, recharge and relax, so that I could “run through the tape.” It was very important to me that I finish my year strong so that I could support future participants.

Are you going through a contract year?

If you are an educator, I wish you all the best. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK.

Good Luck!