kitchen table math, the sequel: chemprof on handwriting

Saturday, March 20, 2010

chemprof on handwriting

My students' handwriting is generally abysmal. A lot of them write like elementary school kids, and it impacts their ability to take notes, to solve algebraic problems, and to do well on exams.

The whole idea that they'll all just use computers so handwriting doesn't matter is baloney.


VickyS said...

Just wait until they get to the writing section on the SAT or ACT.

I wonder how scores are impacted by handwriting--anyone know?

Redkudu said...

This trend toward not teaching handwriting came to my attention about 7 years ago, when I first started teaching high school. I ask my students every year if they've been taught handwriting, and they say no.

There are some students I give extra time for providing final drafts because their handwriting is too poor to read and I have to arrange a time they can get into a computer lab (usually full) to type their drafts. Their typing is abysmal as well. I generally look at their typed version and written version to try and piece together whether they can spell, write complete sentences, etc. A comparison of the two helps, sometimes.

Catherine Johnson said...

I despair.

VickyS said...

Here's another side of it: kids who can't write cursive can't read it either. Ask a student who has never learned cursive to read a handwritten paragraph. You'll see what I mean.

When my older son (who writes in cursive) did spelling tests at his new school in 4th grade, and they exchanged papers to grade them, not one person in the class could read his words (and his cursive is quite good).

Redkudu said...

Vicky -

It isn't just cursive. My students don't cue to italicized print. They complain it's cursive, and they don't know cursive.

Ari-free said...

I'm not a big fan of teaching cursive. Focus on a clean, efficient print and let the 'artisans' perfect cursive on their own time if they want. Not everyone is an artisan but everyone has to deal with the illegible cursive of the masses.


ChemProf said...

To be clear, I meant their printing is dreadful -- I can count the number of college students in the last decade who used cursive on one hand. I have also been appalled at their typing since despite " using computers" for all their work, they only know how to hunt and peck!

VickyS said...

My younger son was never taught how to make his printed letters or numbers (where to start on the letter, which direction to move the pencil). Needless to say, the method he developed on his own produces nearly illegible results.

Have to disagree on the computer though. My guys hunt and peck too and I cannot believe how fast and and accurate they are. I think my younger guy clocked in at 180 wpm or some crazy number like that (with no errors). They are gamers though, so they are constantly communicating with the other members of their horde...or whatever.

rocky said...

I know a lot of kids who write a '4' the same way they would print a lowercase 'u', except with a longer tail. A '5' is written the same way as an 's', and a '9' is written starting from the bottom, then up, and a counterclockwise circle at the top.

I think they "discovered" this because no one showed them how to pick up the pencil to finish the 4, or to put the "little flag" on top of the 5, or to change direction when writing the 9.

And they hold their pencils the way little crabs would hold them! By the time they get to middle school it would need Total War to fix, and I would lose.

farmwifetwo said...

It is dreadful. My friend who teaches at college level can't read their stuff... and as mentioned above.. ironically the typing is as bad or worse. They are never taught how to write a sentence... just told to write, from kindergarten on. I admit my grammar isn't the greatest... but atleast I know it isn't... they don't.

Last year (Gr4) my son's teacher taught them cursive. He told me they'll never see it again - he's taught 30yrs or so - BUT, he was going to give them a crash course in it. Now, my son had already had some cursive b/c OT sent some home. He can now read (ok) and write (messy but no worse than his printing) in it - gr 5.

Chem Prof gave me an idea, this summer when he's doing spelling words I'm going to add "write in cursive" to the instructions.

Thanks for the reminder.

farmwifetwo said...

Rocky and Chem Prof,

For this I am eternally grateful for OT and a dx.

My kids were taught how to type using a typing program - dance mat typing british program is online for all (google) - taught to hold their pencils and can print correctly albeit messy. Eldest's is now legible... little boy's isn't even with the weight.... but we're still working on it.

VickyS - hunt and peck is fine when you know what you wish to say. Write out a document and have him transpose it... I have a feeling his speed will drop dramatically.

Anonymous said...

Another problem, along with lack of practice, is the fact that some schools allow keyboarding papers as early as 4th grade. Thats what happened to my son. They gave him a choice so he chose the computer.

I finally realized in middle school that he couldn't write a legible paragraph. He was dependent on the computer and spellcheck. I had to spend a year forcing him to handwrite summaries for me and he complained mightily because his hand hurt after a sentence or two. It took a few weeks for him to relax with the pen or pencil and pop off a paragraph. This is ridiculous for kids about to go into high school English followed by the ACTs.

I also had to re-teach him certain letters in upper and lower case. No teacher corrected his mess when he was doing extended response in class, something they do a lot to prepare for state tests.

Oh yeah, and rarely did he come home with lined paper. He had idea how to use it.

Most of the practice that he did receive in grade school was in the form of journaling. His own thoughts of "I love to play with my ball" are more critical at that time than learning to shape letters properly, apparently.

Cursive is important because they can't read it, like Vicki said. They can't read their parent's love letters or the Declaration of Independence. Cursive gives them more practice which helps to strengthen those small muscles in the hand. At some point, I agree that allowing them to choose is fine, but I would push it to high school. They have to be forced to write until it's fluid, something we of another age took for granted.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. It's another thing you must do at home and early or you'll have to remediate later.


Catherine Johnson said...

To teach or not to teach: let's ask parents.

For once.

I'm perfectly happy for other people's children not to be able to read or write cursive. (Well, I think I'm perfectly happy for other people's children not to be able to read cursive...)

When it comes to my own kid, it should be up to me.

Given the school taxes I'm paying, I should have been able to count on my child at least learning to print legibly at school.

But no.

Sandy said...

I definitely think it is because of too much use of computers - assignments typed and all done on computers - the days of handwritten notes is slowly reducing - especially for high school kids. I know a school in local area where they use laptops for all class work and home work - The girls there have quite bad handwriting. And during the year 12 exams, when they have to write and not type, most of them struggle

momof4 said...

I don't think they're learning how to outline and take notes, either in terms of handwriting or in terms of learning outline format. Those are valuable skills in college lectures. Good notes convey what the lecturer stresses, which makes studying for exams easier. I don't think they're learning how to write a summary, either.

Bottom line: are they really learning anything in school or is it all socialization? Even if you believe in the effectiveness of the common curriculum and instructional choices (I don't), the process seems to be highly inefficient.

Anonymous said...

Oh momof4,

They are soooo not learning how to write outlines or summaries, skills that will really help them when they face down that highly formulaic ACT or SAT essay.

They are learning about thejr "global connections" and how it all relates to their world, whether it actually does or not.