How I Spent My Summer Vacation, by I. B. PoorWriter
I can’t believe I’m even here. My friends get to go swimming, play at the park, and ride bikes. Instead of getting to do fun stuff like that, my mom sent me to handwriting camp.
Today we messed around with clay. There were tiny toys inside and we got to play with them if we could get them out. Mrs. Davis, the teacher, says that we’re building up our finger muscles. That’s good because my hand hurt sometimes last year in class.
I asked my mom why I had to go to this camp. After all, I’m a whiz on the computer keyboard and my Nintendo DS. She said I need to get good at handwriting because I need to write so much in school. Plus there’s something called the new SAT Writing Test that I need to worry about down the road?
Yet another day of handwriting practice and playing with clay. Oh, and we also got to make jump ropes out of strings of beads. My fingers feel stronger already! The week has been sorta fun, I guess.
Handwriting camp is over. I learned a lot about how to write better. My e’s aren’t backwards anymore and my penmanship has improved greatly. My mom says this will help me be successful when I grow up and get a job. Although I wish I could have spent more time with my friends this week, at least I know I’m being prepared for 21st century life!
Whilst I detect a fair amount of tongue in cheek, there are still times when handwriting matters.
For most people at school, at least here, exams are still hand-written for example. In fact in the UK the exam board sent a comment back that one student I was working with needed to type his exams, and we needed to get a special dispensation from the exam board that had suggested it to allow him to use a computer!
We still get adverts for jobs that demand a hand-written covering letter, although that is becoming increasingly rare.
Interactive whiteboards might have reduced the amount of writing the teacher has to do – but they have made writing well more critical: if you have bad writing it becomes FAR worse on a whiteboard in my experience (to the extent I type comments on it whenever possible, but that’s harder in most whiteboard OSes than grabbing the pen and scribbling…
Thankfully I don’t have to write with a pen much, but when I do, it’s pretty critical that it’s legible and I could probably do with handwriting school!
Great post! Here’s something I read recently about handwriting and technology.
(Previously posted at http://plethoratech.blogspot.com/2008/02/writing-is-on-wall-and-test_05.html )
Last month I blogged about things in education that should continue to be taught. The item that generated the most comments (and controversy) was the issue of handwriting.
Dean Shareski, Ken Rodoff, and Carolyn Foote had weighed in, among others sharing that overall, they felt that handwriting should not be emphasized in school in this age of keyboarding.
I aired out the question of handwriting to members of my Dodge Research team from my district. They are all technology savvy teachers who use it frequently for personal use as well as in their classrooms. They felt that handwriting needs to be taught, and even remediated, especially on the high school level. The source of their claim: standardized tests.
Think about it: New Jersey standardized tests (ASK, GEPA, HSPA), SAT’s, ACTs, and Advanced Placement tests…they all require students to write essays or short answer responses that are scored. One of the teachers who was a reader for the SAT’s told me that they were instructed to not score a writing passage that could not be decifered or was illegible.
In colleges, the blue book essay on exams is still a staple.
It goes even further: For graduate school, students have to take GRE’s, GMAT, LSATs, and MCAT’s…all of which require a writing sample.
Further still: Licensure exams, like the one I had to take to become a school administrator have a writing portion.
While I agree that handwriting doesn’t have to be artistic, is does have to be legible and expeditious. If a student can’t make time limits on tests… or is illegible and loses points as a result, they will not get a true assessment and potentially be penalized for it.
Until ETS, colleges, and other testing companies go to laptops or keyboarded writing responses for all tests, handwriting needs to be taught and remediated or the kids will suffer.
I think it’s sad that the best reasons we can come up with for spending a lot of time on handwriting and/or cursive writing instruction are that 1) our schools haven’t caught up with how the rest of the world does its work, and 2) standardized tests. In other words, if we venture outside of the artificial world that we’ve made for ourselves, there’s no authentic, meaningful, ‘real world’ or ‘future need’ argument that we can make for doing this. Isn’t this a pretty strong indictment AGAINST spending a lot of time on handwriting?
I have struggled with disgraphia my whole life. I always knew there was something wrong with how my fine motor functions worked when I was trying to process written language but I didn’t have a name for my condition until graduate school. When I was in early elementary school my teachers found me something of an enigma. I was a math wiz and was always the best artist in my class but my teachers always struggled to read my writing. Some thought I was lazy, others thought that since I could not write answers to questions or fill out worksheets in any way that anyone besides my self could decipher that I really did not learn the content. I spent a lot of my time in the resource room in that school.
When I was in 3rd grade my parents got an Apple IIe and the school got one in each classroom. My teachers found that if I could type my answers, my stories, or assignments that I really did understand what I was being taught. In a way, computer technology has been a savior for me. I often wonder what I would be doing right now or how far I would have progressed with my education had this technology not come along. The frustration I felt sitting with a handwriting coach in the 2nd grade who blamed my poor handwriting on laziness I still feel to this day.
Handwriting is important though. It seems like there is not a week that goes by when a mistake isn’t made as a result of my poor handwriting. Often my wife misreads what I put on grocery lists. The worst is when I have to write a check. One time I wrote a check to a credit card company to pay my bill. I meant for the check to be for $309 but what was deducted from my checking account was $890. That bounced a few checks.
When I think about this “handwriting camp” scenario it send shivers down my spine. I can’t say that I ever felt that my hand was sore. I could hold a pencil or paintbrush all day and not get hand cramps. I knew how my letters were supposed to look. I probably was given even more guided practice than my peers in elementary school on my penmanship. The only technique I have found that helps is to visualize what I want to write as if I were typing it on the computer, then draw the letters as if they were a picture, not written language. This is very time consuming and never did me any good on those standardized tests. When I took my SAT I got a perfect score on the math but only was able to answer half of the questions that required writing but when I took my GREs my highest score was in writing (though that was on the computer).
So, yes, I do think it is important to teach handwriting but I think we need to assess what it is we are trying to teach. There is a difference between legible writing and good penmanship. Which do we expect our students to have? Which is important? And when a student’s writing is consistently illegible do we blame the student or do we investigate to see why their writing is illegible?
Finally, what about cursive? Who uses cursive anymore? We still have elementary school teachers who insist on spending a considerable amount of their year teaching students how to write in cursive. It might be important to be able to read cursive but do we really expect them to be good cursive writers? Where is the application of that skill in today’s world?
I have to agree with Scott in that if our only reasons for good penmanship or legible writing are for testing and working in school, then we shouldn’t be teaching it. However, I think we should, and we should INCREASE our expectation of legibility. I have poor at best handwriting, and here are some places that it has cost me:
1) My own notes as I travel through the day and someone asks me to check on something, I may write a note and put it in my pocket – reading it later is very important (I am capable of doing this digitally, but it is quicker to do it paper and pen).
2) HANDWRITTEN notes of appreciation. With poor handwriting, I once thought it was better to type out my “thank-you’s” to the various people that help me every day. Result-less effective. With duplication so easy, it seems less sincere. Even if the note was specifically written for the person, it had an impersonal tone.
3) Bounced Checks – See Carl Anderson above.
4) Grocery lists and family notes. Peanut butter or pretzel bites? My son asked me to fill the car with gas, but I couldn’t read it – guess who had to find a ride that next morning…
It does matter, and it is used. Yes, it is still a staple in school, and it should be. One of my concerns is that we over-accommodate and try so hard as teachers to read these poorly written assignments that we use time that we could be designing better instruction or enhancing teaching and learning. Instead we are deciphering near hieroglyphics on a sheet of paper. Does that mean we should just eliminate the process and mandate the keyboard. In my opinion, I humbly submit that would be an error and a direction that would further deteriorate our communication skills.
Anyone sending kids to “handwriting camp” (or providing other handwriting education) needs to know and care about the research showing that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. (For citation and details, see my web-site at http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com .)
Highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters join only some, not all, of their letters — making the very easiest joins, and skipping the rest — and use print-like rather than cursive-looking letter-shapes for those letters whose two forms (cursive and printing) notably “disagree.”
Handwriting camp (and other rah-rah-for-cursive handwriting instruction) forbids the above high-efficiency habits. Think it over …
Founder, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting that Works
Director, the World Handwriting Contest