Presentation on theme: "James Williams My Handwriting Perspective DISCLAIMER: James’ personal information shown in Figure 2 is for display purposes only, and should not be used."— Presentation transcript:
James Williams My Handwriting Perspective DISCLAIMER: James’ personal information shown in Figure 2 is for display purposes only, and should not be used to solicit the presenter. If you want to contact James, please use his Day number, not his Evening number.
I grew up in a town with a fragmented school system. The elementary and middle schools were served by districts separate from the high school. As a result, the high school district had a handwriting policy that was separate from that of the elementary and middle school I attended.
When I was a 5 th grader in the school year, cursive was mandatory in my elementary school, starting from the 2 nd grade. In the 5 th grade, I still had some struggles with handwriting. Figure 1. Recreation of words from spelling tests I had, and how I wrote them, since original tests were not preserved. Notice how the word “rubies” is spelled “rulies.” I knew how to spell the word but miswrote the letter “b,” writing it as an “l” instead. I learned from my mistake, and it was the only word I ever spelled incorrectly on a spelling test the entire school year.
Also notice the inconsistency in the size of my letters. Due to fine motor coordination issues, it was easier and took less energy for me to write my cursive letters larger, and I endured fatigue when trying to write smaller letters. I also used the lines as a guide to properly maintain letter size with larger letters. Finally, the word “basic” was a word from an assignment I was given after the spelling test with “rubies,” which is shown here to demonstrate that after making the “rubies” handwriting mistake, I learned how to write the letter “b” properly in cursive. I took pride in my spelling (and was one of the top spellers in my 5 th grade class), and this mistake on a spelling test motivated me to learn how to handwrite properly.
In contrast, the high school had the opposite policy—you were expected to print and cursive was frowned on. Teachers would tell you that printing was easier to read and encouraged you to write that way. Figure 2. Section of a job application I quickly filled out by hand while in high school, showcasing the printing style commonly used to complete assignments at my high school.
Twelve years later, in the school year, my younger sister started 5 th grade in the same elementary school, where she was subject to the same cursive expectations. Figure 3. Sample writing assignment given to my sister in the 5 th grade, which showcases the same expectations that I was subject to in 1999.
My development was unlike that of most children, in that I learned how to read and write before I learned how to talk. I also learned how to type before I could handwrite, and to this day, I prefer typing over handwriting. But in elementary school, I still had many struggles with handwriting. Some of them were due to fine motor issues that are very subtle and invisible to the eye. These struggles resulted in fatigue after writing for long amounts of time, and a tendency to write large. It was hard for me to write in smaller sizes and within the lines of lined paper. In the fifth grade, it was hard for me to write small letters. My teacher threatened to take points off assignments unless I learned how to write smaller. However, my teacher did let me type my homework assignments because it was easier for me. I also tended to get higher scores on typewritten assignments.
Later on, as a high school student during the school year, I served as an intern in a kindergarten classroom with my former kindergarten teacher. There, I observed how the kindergarten curriculum revolved largely around handwriting, and how a student’s ability to handwrite was often determined to see if they needed special education services. As was required of the internship, I kept a diary of the activities I participated in and created for the students. While I was completing the internship, I attended the 2006 MAAP Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. At this conference, the keynote presenters—Dr. Brenda Smith Myles and Dr. Tony Atwood—two prominent figures in the autism world, both shared that they believed that handwriting standards should be removed from school curricula. I was shocked when I heard those statements.
From my publication “Diary of a Kindergarten Intern,” originally written in 2006 (with all names and identities changed): “During music, Mrs. Michaels, an occupational therapist, came to the room to discuss with Mrs. Shapiro the state of Roger’s handwriting. Apparently Roger is able to write properly with a grip but refuses to do so when he is forced. And unlike the situation I was in when I was his age (writing with an improper grip but quite beautifully), he not only wrote with a bad grip but wrote poorly. “What also deepened the problem was that not only was he unwilling to write, but because of his intelligence, he did not qualify for special services or an IEP at the school (he lacked a 504). I informed Mrs. Shapiro and Mrs. Michaels that I had done a free time handwriting project with him, but since I did not force him, he was willing to comply and wrote quite well. “My project consisted of asking him to write his name in two styles— block letters and typewriter (serif) letters. I was going to write bubble letters next but did not due to lack of time. However, since that did not consist of the handwriting they required for a “valid” handwriting evaluation, those sheets were not valid, but I was still given recognition for my effort by Mrs. Michaels. It’s truly sad that, due to bureaucratic rules, they can only take a formal evaluation sheet as a record of a student’s performance, even though my “fun activity” had already shown that the problem was more likely the evaluation sheet than his actual writing ability.”
The passage from this diary illustrates how handwriting impacts a teachers’ judgment of a student, as well as the importance of properly teaching handwriting to students. In this situation, I engaged in a fun “handwriting activity” with a student, only to learn later that this same student actually had been formally diagnosed with handwriting deficits. Sometimes, kids need to learn handwriting differently. The “free time” activity I did was not meant to show Roger’s ability, neither was it intended to teach handwriting—it was just an activity I created that inadvertently showed a possible learning disability. Sometimes, kids need to learn handwriting differently. The “free time” activity I did was not meant to show Roger’s ability, neither was it intended to teach handwriting—it was just an activity I created that inadvertently showed a possible learning disability.
Similarly, descriptions that showcase how teachers view handwriting in the educational curriculum can be found in children’s literature. One example of such a description can be found in the book “Ramona The Pest,” written by Beverly Cleary (1958): “The next day the seat work got harder. Miss Binney said that everyone had to learn to print his name. Ramona learned right away that this business of names was not fair. When Miss Binney handed each member of the class a strip of cardboard with his name printed on it, anyone could see that a girl named Ramona was going to have to work harder than a girl named Ann or a boy named Joe. “Not that Ramona minded having to work harder—she was eager to learn to read and write. Having been the youngest member of her family and of the neighborhood, however, she had learned to watch for unfair situations. “Carefully Ramona printed R the way Miss Binney had printed it. A was easy. Even a baby could print A. Miss Binney said A was pointed like a witch’s hat, and Ramona was planning to be a witch for the Halloween parade. O was also easy. It was a round balloon. Some people’s O’s looked like leaky balloons, but Ramona’s O’s were balloons full of air.
“’I like the way Ramona’s O’s are fat balloons full of air,’ Miss Binney said to the class, and Ramona’s heart filled with joy. Miss Binney liked her O’s best! Miss Binney walked around the classroom looking over shoulders. “That’s right, boys and girls. Nice pointed A’s,” she said. “A’s with nice sharp peaks. No, Davy. D faces the other way. Splendid, Karen. I like the way Karen’s has a nice straight back.” Ramona wished she had a K in her name, so that she could give it a nice straight back. Ramona enjoyed Miss Binney’s description of the letters of the alphabet and listened for them while she worked.” A second example can be found in the book “Felicity Learns A Lesson,” the second book in the Felicity series written by Valerie Tripp (1991) about Felicity, a historical character in the American Girls Collection (set in colonial Virginia in 1774), proper handwriting is shown to be considered an essential skill for girls to become gentlewomen: From Chapter 1 (set in Felicity Merriman’s house): “Felicity sat up. ‘Am I to be apprenticed, Father?” she asked hopefully. Some girls were apprentices. They learned to be seamstresses, or to make hats, or even to work in shops. Felicity had always dreamed of working in her father’s store.
“’Goodness, no!’ exclaimed her mother. ‘You are fortunate enough to be the daughter of Edward Merriman, one of Williamsburg’s most important merchants. You are to be educated as a gentlewoman.’ “’Goodness, no!’ exclaimed her mother. ‘You are fortunate enough to be the daughter of Edward Merriman, one of Williamsburg’s most important merchants. You are to be educated as a gentlewoman.’ “’Oh,’ said Felicity. She was disappointed. ‘What am I to learn?’ “’Oh,’ said Felicity. She was disappointed. ‘What am I to learn?’ “’The things my aunt taught me,’ said Mrs. Merriman. ‘You will have lessons in dancing, handwriting, fancy stitchery, the proper way to serve tea—” (emphasis added) “’The things my aunt taught me,’ said Mrs. Merriman. ‘You will have lessons in dancing, handwriting, fancy stitchery, the proper way to serve tea—” (emphasis added) From Chapter 2 (set during lessons with Miss Manderly, Felicity’s teacher): When the tea tray was cleared away, Annabelle went off to practice writing fancy capital letters. Miss Manderly wrote out a phrase for Elizabeth and Felicity to copy into their copybooks: When the tea tray was cleared away, Annabelle went off to practice writing fancy capital letters. Miss Manderly wrote out a phrase for Elizabeth and Felicity to copy into their copybooks: Think ere you fpeak,, for Words, once flown, Once utter’d, are no more your own.
“Miss Manderly sat back and read it aloud, ‘’Think ere you speak, for words, once flown, once uttered, are no more your own.’’ I would like you to practice writing this phrase,’ she said. ‘The word ‘ere’ means ‘before.’ The phrase tells you to think before you speak. And I think it is a good idea to think before you write, too.” She smiled, and then left to help Annabelle. “Miss Manderly sat back and read it aloud, ‘’Think ere you speak, for words, once flown, once uttered, are no more your own.’’ I would like you to practice writing this phrase,’ she said. ‘The word ‘ere’ means ‘before.’ The phrase tells you to think before you speak. And I think it is a good idea to think before you write, too.” She smiled, and then left to help Annabelle. And finally, in a third example, from “There’s A Boy In The Girls’ Bathroom,” written by Louis Sachar (1987), demonstrates how a student’s performance in school, in handwriting for instance, can improve with the proper motivation: In this story, the main character, a boy named Bradley Chalkers, is failing academically. He exhibits many tendencies of a disability, but his condition is not named. He finally receives help from Carla Davis, the new school counselor, which also motivates him to help himself: “Bradley lay on the bed, on his stomach. He chewed the end of his pencil as he looked hopelessly at the arithmetic book, opened in front of him. “Bradley lay on the bed, on his stomach. He chewed the end of his pencil as he looked hopelessly at the arithmetic book, opened in front of him. “Next to the book was a piece of paper. In the upper right-hand corner he had written: “Next to the book was a piece of paper. In the upper right-hand corner he had written: Bradley Chalkers / Homework / Arithmetic / Page 43 / Red Hill School / Room 12 / Mrs. Ebbel’s class / Last seat, last row / Black eye Bradley Chalkers / Homework / Arithmetic / Page 43 / Red Hill School / Room 12 / Mrs. Ebbel’s class / Last seat, last row / Black eye
“His handwriting, which was messy anyhow, was made worse by the fact that he wrote with a dull pencil on top of a soft bed. Later on, after school at the playground as he starts his arithmetic homework using handwriting… “Hey Bradley, what are you doing?” asked Ronnie. “Homework.” “What’s homework?” she asked. “It’s work you do at home.” “Is that supposed to be funny?” she asked. “No, really. That’s what they do at school. They give you work to do at home and they call it homework.” “You’ve never done it before,” she said. “I’m doing it for Carla. Now leave me alone so I can concentrate.”
Key points to notice in the following passages: - In each passage, handwriting ability impacts performance in a school setting, regardless of the era and setting. - The students in each passage comprehend handwriting better when they have sufficient motivation, and when instruction relates to something they can understand: an example is Ramona personifying the letters she is writing.
To continue with my experiences… A year after completing the internship, I was selected to serve as one of several scribes for a student in my high school (as part of our schools’ “peer mentoring” program) who had a hand deformity and could not write on his own. He got good grades in the class where I served as his scribe. The selection was made after a special education teacher went to several classrooms and asked active peer mentors in those classes to give him a handwriting sample, in hopes of finding a peer mentor with the most legible handwriting. I was considered to have written the most legible handwriting in the class. The next year, he lost his accommodation to have a scribe. I was in one of his classes as a classmate, and was told that I could not write things down for him. Without a scribe, his grades and ability to perform in the classroom declined significantly. This added to my understanding of how handwriting performance impacts classroom performance.
Looking back at my experiences, I have concluded the following about handwriting in education: 1. Teachers and schools need to spend less time emphasizing a specific handwriting style, and more time on whether or not a student’s handwriting is legible. 2. In addition, alternative methods of holding pens and pencils should be allowed by teachers if these methods enable students with motor issues to write legibly. Conventional pen/pencil-holds do not work for everyone, and sometimes it takes longer to learn to hold a pen conventionally than it takes to learn to write. I learned to handwrite before I learned a pen/pencil hold. And there is more than one efficient way to hold a pen/pencil. 3. Although computers and iPads are more widely used in schools and society, handwriting is still essential. For example, we still need to sign our names, and sometimes need to address letters and fill out forms by hand. However, in each of these cases, what matters the most is legibility, not a specific style. Furthermore, in high school, the supply list for each school year always included: “All classes require paper and pencil.”
Finally, though the ability to write is an essential skill for other classes in school, and for life, a student with handwriting issues should use assistive technology in classes unrelated to handwriting performance (such as science and history). When you need to teach handwriting, teach it in a handwriting class and/or during designated handwriting practice session. However, a student who is still learning handwriting skills, and/or who has handwriting deficits, should not be penalized having these deficits and/or instructional needs.
Works Cited Cleary, Beverly. Ramona The Pest (1958). Book is part of the “Ramona Quimby” series. Published by HarperCollins. Williams, James. Diary of a Kindergarten Intern. First written in 2006, self- published on my website, in 2011, with names and identities changed to maintain confidentiality. Tripp, Valerie. Felicity Learns A Lesson (1991). Written as part of the “Felicity” series, and published as part of the historical character series by The American Girls Collection. Published by American Girl Publications. Sachar, Louis. There’s A Boy In The Girls Bathroom (1987). Published by Scholastic, Inc. School district policies in this presentation refer to Northbrook/Glenview District 30, and Northfield Township High School District 225, school districts that serve portions of Northbrook, Illinois and Glenview, Illinois, two suburbs of Chicago.