Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spelling and Handwriting: Lessons from Best Practices

The book mentions Words Their Way as an effective spelling/phonics/word study program that is rooted in the current research about spelling. I love this program and have used it for the few years that I have been in schools, and I do notice success for most of my students using it. One of the biggest challenges in implementing the program, however, is finding a structure that works while differentiating to each child. Whole class spelling lessons where everyone is learning the same words - WAY EASIER. For me - not necessarily the kids. It's been a challenge to find ways to organize both the time and the materials to implement the Words Their Way program, or even a modified version of it, to such a diverse group of learners - I have students who are Emergent Spellers all the way up through the Derivational Relations stage of spelling.

I was shocked to learn that there is apparently a controversy about whether to teach cursive first when we start teaching handwriting. I'm not sure I can back this opinion up with reasons, and it might stem entirely from longstanding tradition deep in my veins and early school memories; but I think that's an AWFUL idea!

But here's my attempt at reasons. I'm thinking about how Jackson reverses his lowercase B and D. I'm also thinking about the close relationship between writing and reading - and in those early grades, forming letters in handwriting is a kinesthetic way of learning about the letters they are later going to be reading. Books, websites, all the things we want them to be reading in the primary grades (and even in most of life) are in print, not cursive.

I do, however, think cursive should still be taught. I also happen to think keyboarding should be taught. I realize that fitting both, or even either, of these things into our extremely crowded curriculum and days seems damn near impossible. Then again, we did it.

On the other hand, writing back then was less about content, meaning, writing-as-in-putting-cohesive-thoughts-on-paper. My parents still think I'm talking about penmanship when I talk about teaching writing.

As you can see, I go back and forth on the realities of teaching handwriting in school. My sixth graders are begging me to teach them cursive. I promised them some practice pages, but do I actually have time in the school day to teach cursive the way good old Mrs. Hrehocik taught it to me back in second grade? Is showing them how to make one letter a day enough?

Ah, it's all so overwhelming sometimes.

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