Sunday, March 20, 2016

DON'T Give Up on Writing

How do you feel when you get a hand inked card? How do you feel when you get an e-vite?

 Hand inked or crafted cards elicit nostalgia, thrill, anticipation.  Those cards are pieces of art, carefully curated by someone who cares either about you and the guest of honor.

On the other hand, e-vites are convenient, sterile, alerting me to an event that I need to put on my calendar. Excitement for the upcoming event, but I'm not going to print it off and display it on my mantle.

So, why are we forgetting to teach our children penmanship and art? And how to the two processes fit together?

I teach kindergarten. Kindergarteners are 5 and 6 years old and have muscles in their fingers that need to be developed - fine motor skills. Typing or pressing letters on a screen does not help develop these muscles.

They need to hold pencils, pens, crayons, tweezers, sort manipulatives, squeeze and push things. They also need to learn letters. So often we combine working on fine motor skills and learning letters and words. This is penmanship too - practicing tracing, writing, connection the dots to build strength and fine motor skills while learning letters. Our kids are writers then, they have begun to open the doors to written communication. In seemingly simple and rote lessons, our students are becoming communicators. 

Some of our students need extra support in either fine motor skills, learning letters, or both.  Others need communication devices or accommodations in order to be successful communicators.  For the general population of our students, writing leads to communication. We are building writers and communicators from day 1.

Writing and penmanship skills will NEVER go away. Think about that inked card. How will our students be effective communicators, eliciting emotion, joy, and passion through their writing? Will it really all be through keyboard and screen interaction?

It can't.

Handwriting and keyboarding are cognitively different processes. We HAVE to teach our students both. According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, in an article from The Guardian, "Children take several years to master the precise motor exercise," that is needed for writing.  Controlling a writing implement on paper, watching the colors appear on pages of a journal, erasing and trying again, this cannot be replaced. 

There are three vital processes integrated through writing: visual, motor, and cognitive. When we teach our students letters in kindergarten, they see what they write (visual), move an object to form the letter (motor), and remember the shape the letter forms (cognitive).  These processes are further outlines in the Huffington Post article Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter? Working with all three processes helps students remember what they are learning because they are forming it.

Students NEED these experiences. Their brains are being molded from each and every experience they encounter. Writing is KEY and not just for little ones.

In the Scientific American article Don't Take Notes With a Laptop, college students were studied taking notes either writing or typing. The results?  The students, "who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who took notes with their laptops." Why? Because they were using the same three cognitive processes simultaneously, allowing their brains to make deeper connections to the material. 

Students who write are literally, as we say in our class, "growing their brains." 

Watching my students' pride after creating through writing, painting, and drawing is so joyous. We hang their creations on the wall. We show them off to school staff and parents. This will never become obsolete.

However, we are also responsible for teaching our students how to compute - use iPads and computers to communicate and create. We do this through centers and choice time, always balancing the learning targets and keeping our students' unique needs in mind. Our students will need to be able to do both, let's give them every opportunity we can, placing high value on each and every learning opportunity. 

Next time you get that card in the mail, or maybe it is a thank you note, or newspaper clipping from your grandma with her handwriting on it...think.  Think how you still have crafts and papers saved from your childhood that you can sift through with care. Or how my husband turned my Granny's signature into a necklace.  Is writing dead? Of course not. 

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