Tuesday, January 31, 2006


"She went to the corner. She curled her hair and she put on her hat." With this little saying, I used to teach my students to make a "proper numeral five". I'm still doing it. There are all kinds of gimicks and sayings I remember and I still use them when I volunteer at the local elementary. The kindergarteners are learning their manuscript letters and numbers uppper and lower case. They now have little personal slates, pieces of chalk and a tiny piece of wet sponge to erase. They are instructed, by me, to start in the upper "left-hand" corner with most letters etc. Some still struggle with "laterality" and dominent hand. We play games for that too. ie. "Left, Right, Center" which I learned from my daughter-in-law. They then "write" and "illustrate" their "stories". It is so much fun.

When I taught the "upper grades" back in the "prehistoric times" (B.B.C.=blackboard chalk) I used to teach handwriting as in "cursive" penmanship. I'd get chalk all over me by the end of the day. (especially my cuffs). Then "dry- erase white boards" came out. Wow, what a difference! Color! My school was behind the times so one year, in September, I went to Home Depot and bought two big 4'x8' masonite boards that were that same smooth white on one side.(used, I think, for bathroom/shower wall repair) I bought a glue gun. Then I invited my principal to come and see my new "boards". He was always a very supportive boss and he "reimbursed" me. Pretty soon the whole school/district had them. One year I had the big wall-sized piece cut up into little "personal slates" the kids could keep at their desks. I gave them each a couple of colored dry markers and a bit of soft cloth. Boy did they have fun. They mostly wrote each other messages until we established some ground rules. We practiced our handwriting, did math problems, displayed our answers (or not) and did alot of sketching/art/doodles. Here's another one I used almost every year. "A B C D goldfish? L M N O goldfish. O S A R. A B C D eyes?" (with illustrations) We'd make up others. Again, fun! During the years, I picked up, and taught little "interest groups" to do "calligraphy". We had the special nibs and lined paper. I still do a bit of that for my massive, marketing mailouts to my potential buyers of homes. Still trying to make it fun.

When I was in school, penmanship was taught with a vengence. I actually got pretty good at it and won an award in 6th grade for my cursive. Then in Jr. Hi. I decided to print...everything... in caps. Block printing looked cool. At first my teachers wouldn't accept it. All my note-taking was done that way, but "smooth-drafts" had to be in ink and in "cursive" Ugh! No individuality, no chance to "rebel"... Then, in High School, I got my first typewriter. It was a gift from "Uncle Al". It was a portable Olympia. Oh, was I thrilled with it! I had barely passed "Typing Class" in Jr. Hi. (required)...and I could now type out my papers to "turn in". I just loved the clickety-clack of that little machine. It went with me to college. Soon there were computers and "word processors". They had many advantages ie. on the spot editing, spell checks etc. but, as you can see, I was getting further and further away from the "handwriting" I enjoyed. My note-taking "hand" got small and sloppy and barely readable even to me. Now, I'm noticing that I rarely write in cursive anything of length; just notes to myself for business, scribbles on my Palm Pilot; nothing serious. I can see why the "Art of Penmanship" is dying with our up-coming kids.

Schools in Anaheim are requiring all home work on computers, even emailed. "It's neater and easier to grade." says Linda Op de Beeck. "It's the 21st Century." It is being deemphasized in schools where the main concerns are being able to "read, and do math" for the "school report cards". Teachers don't know how to teach it anymore and don't have time. Their only criteria is: "Legibility". Gone are the "pains-taking" drills and writing to the rhythm of music...lines and lines of practice letters. There is no "pride in workmanship or accomplishment" where you can see the improvement. Gone is the feeling of being "grown-up" because I can "write in cursive". It used to be used to "foster virtue" with "repetition is the basis of all learning" phrases.

Enter the new S.A.T. Section ie. the timed Essay in handwriting. What to do? I can remember being on my District Committees to "read and grade" all 5th and 6th grade assigned essays in those little, bound essay books. Hours of extra-stipend pay(menial pay). You can't tell me that neater, well-formed handwiting, you could easily read didn't get a "better grade"...ie. at least half a grade higher. It showed CARE. It showed ORGANIZATION of thought/theme. (Doctors not withstanding ie. perscriptions have to be hard to read)

"These factors have prompted a few suburban school districts to revive the emphasis on penmanship." according to Gisele Ragusa, a USC professor who studies language and literacy instruction. The Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County is among them. This is where my grand children go...I think. Last fall they started a new curriculum called: "Handwriting Without Tears" It is intended to be easier for students to master. It is cleaner, clearer, without swirls, loops, and fancy stuff. At Don Juan Avila Elementary in Aliso Viejo, a roomful of second-graders are about to practice printing in anticipation of learning cursive. They flex their hands and arms, sit up straight, practice their pencil "pincher" grip and sing; "Where do you start your letters? At the top! If you want to start a letter then you better, better, better remember to start at the top!" Ah, yes! That's more like it! Bob!


At 2:57 PM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

Just thought of a couple more things about this topic. Handwriting is also an avenue for emerging personality to show itself.ie. the little "clouds" over the dotted i's, the slant one way or another or nonexistant, all point to self-expression at the moment and sometimes become a habit. There are still "court appointed handwriting experts"...almost a "quasi-science" of handwriting.

Then there was the time at Chaparral School when my class and I wrote "School Daze" around the year 1976. It was in 4 scenes titled 1776, 1876, 1976 & 2076. We showed the same "classroom" in those years with the same kids and teacher as I recall. In 1776 each child had a slate to write on. In 2076 they had mini-computers (like our "blackberries?") We did a strobe light to indicate the passage of time; and one kid, who had a history of epilepsy, had to be excluded from those scenes. We sang that old song, "School Days" whenever we were changing scenes. What fun! Bob


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