Heavy Lifting

Pen Lifts are often referred to but not always understood. Advocates of conventional cursive cite the advantages of writing whole words without lifting the pen. Truth to tell, many who were brought up with, and continue to write a good conventional cursive hand let their pen drift off the page between letters. The word is drift, not lift, a light, not heavy lift.

Move a pencil through a print-script alphabet and there are many lifts between, and even within letters. Mention cursive italic to one who supports conventional cursive instruction in the schools, and the response notes lifts between letters within words. The myth is that the lifts are similar to those made for print-script, therefore it stands to reason that cursive italic slow. NO!: the movement is drift, not lift. Some cursive italic letters appear separate on their page, but the pen moves fluently; it scarcely leaves the paper. It drifts.

Studies have shown cursive italic to be faster, but solid research remains on the shelf. My bet is on italic as the winner in both speed and legibility.

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Debunking Pro-Cursive Arguments

Controversy: The dance of the pen versus digital communication is part of the Common Core rant.

Substantial research supports the need to teach children handwriting. Most schools teach, have taught, or are/were supposed to teach it. There is a growing problem with time in classrooms to teach it!

The most common practice is to teach print-script in the earliest grades. The characters are slowly drawn and stiff. Except for ‘e’ alphanumeric strokes start at the top and move down. Habits of movement (motor memory) are established only to be later tossed out. In second or third grade new habits must be formed for a cursive alphabet with very different stroke direction and sequence that allows all lowercase letters within words to join.

Few young children have the interest, motivation or ability for this. So, as they grow older they achieve chicken scratch.

Currently, parents, legislators and others of influence are pushing for inclusion of  ‘cursive’ in curricula. It seems the word, cursive, has come to define only the Palmer-like version that dates to the latter part of the nineteenth century. I use the term, conventional cursive.

A variety of cursives have been used throughout the ages whenever literate people needed to make quick notations. For our Roman alphabet there is a better cursive, italic, easier to teach, read, and faster to write. Basic, unjoined lowercase letters never change shape or stroke direction in order to join for fluency. This simplicity makes classroom instruction efficient, with plenty of time to teach computing too.

I have been sending out comments to many in the media, hoping to promote the study of the available research before decisions are made about handwriting instruction. Should conventional cursive be taught or another more fluent hand? Why conventional cursive when many people say they cannot read it?

Here are some of the misguided, misquoted statements I often read, and try to counter:
1) It strengthens cognition. No, any writing by hand does that.
2) It is faster. No, that’s never been proved.
3) We need to read the Constitution and Granny’s letters. Not a problem: it takes less than an hour to learn to read the conventional cursive alphabet.
4) It benefits fine motor skill. Then why do I see so many media graphics of children writing their conventional cursive lesson with death grips on pencils? No one is teaching the relaxed pen hold that is essential to fluent writing!
5) We need signatures. No, every hand makes an individual mark.

Advocates of conventional cursive may truly believe the unproven claims that conventional cursive is superior. Frequently, the media backs up this belief by misinterpreting and misquoting researchers. Yes, even a recent New York Times article was misinterpreted.

Handwriting in elementary grades strengthens cognition. So children need it. They move their hands and fingers to form letters. The action goes into motor memory to be recalled for reading. For the sake of better education for our children, serious, thoughtful attention is needed.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Directional Movement, Education, News, Older Students & Adults, research | Leave a comment |
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This Made My Day!

Miss B,
Thank you so much for your educational videos on monkeysee.com. I am a highschooler, and my handwriting has often been the butt of my friends’ jokes at school during classroom, due to it being so illegible. Your videos have been instrumental to me in reinventing my handwriting so it is not only legible, but also (I think) pleasing to the eye. I really appreciate what you do, and I’m sure I can speak for a crowd when I say that.

Cheers!
Rxxxxxx

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Something to Look for in Cursive

No, not cursive italic! I refer to the cursive that is in danger of disuse.

Recently I saw an image online of conventional cursive that was intended to demonstrate its value. A flaw came to my attention that said problem! All the letters within words were properly joined, but they did not consistently rest on the baseline. The sample was legible, but running off the baseline is one negative factor in the best legibility. As one follows the rule to join all letters within words it is common for hands to drag on the writing surface, pulling letters off the baseline and distorting shapes, size and slant.

In the old days students were taught to write with whole arm motion. Only the ring and little finger rode along the writing surface. That is not a common posture now, and more of the writing movement is in the hand.

Italic does not really lift the hand between letters. Rather it drifts on and off the page, with letters that conform best to natural movements of the hand and fingers. The movements are rhythmic to keep writing on the baseline even when the paper is unlined.

All this should be considered when a school or parent selects a handwriting program.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, Older Students & Adults, Posture, Rhythmic Movement | Leave a comment |
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Joyful Learning

This comes from NPR today: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain

Apparently there will be more on the subject this week—from 8/6/2014

As stated herein before, we should leave forming letters and numerals until kids are ready. Their hands and fingers need to develop so they can hold a pencil in a relaxed manner when it’s time to write. That comes from play. Scribble, yes. And provide any other stuff that leads to picking it up, holding, moving, pushing or squeezing it with thumb and index finger.

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Pre-Writing Activities

Recently I observed a half hour Kindergarten handwriting class. It was exceptional! It was all about hand and finger strengthening and finger positioning as it applies to holding a writing tool. No letters. No numbers.

1) Lacing: Thread colored yarn through plastic shapes with holes in them, a triangle, circle, heart, etc.

2) Floam: a playdoh-like material. The children were asked to make a platypus, but could make something else if they wished.

3) Cutting: Small rectangles of paper had lines on them. The object was to cut on the lines, stopping where the lines stopped.

4) Tweezers: Plastic tweezers held with thumb and index finger were used to pick up tiny plastic carrots and put them on a rabbit’s mouth, bananas for a monkey and fish for a lake.

5) Rubbing: Paper was placed on textured plastic squares and children used a short crayon to make rubbings.

6) Hole punch: Holes were punched into paper.

7: Template: A template (butterfly) was placed on top of paper for the child to color.

Each child had a pre-writing project. Some squeezed a hole punch, making a lovely mess on the floor. Some used tweezers to pick up tiny fish to put in a lake (the lake was a little landscape drawing.) There were seven different activities, so the children could do one and then move on to another. Every child was having a great time.

Afterwards one of the teachers emailed me. Her comment, “It was a joy to see the children so engaged and appropriately challenged.”

Young hands need preparation for writing. Learning 62 legible characters is a task for little hands. They try. If young hands are not sufficiently developed to hold a pencil comfortably, children will work on the shapes with tight, tense fists. Among educators and parents demand is high and correct that young children learn their abc’s, but we need to look ahead to the future of these students.

Inefficient death gripes on pencils and pens cannot yield the fluency students need in later academic years and careers. Legible writing will be slow and possibly painful. Not a problem in the age of technology? Yes, it is! It’s proven that notes taken by hand provide the best way to retain information.

Posted in Beginners, Education, Pen/Pencil Hold | 1 Comment |
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Always Something New to Learn!

I relearned something! I say relearned because several years ago Dr. Rosemary Sassoon, a renowned handwriting expert and author of numerous books on the subject, told me, “Don’t trace.” Sounded good, but how to teach children to write without a model? I still use a model, but try to keep tracing to a bare minimum. Now after reading these three paragraphs in the New York Times article, mentioned in my last blog, Take Care with Cursive, I’ll change my ways.

“A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

“The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

“By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.”

I won’t throw the model out all together, but it won’t get introduced until children learn the alphanumeric characters. It should not be hard to show a letter with a little verbal instruction about where to start making it. I don’t want letters to start at the bottom if they should start at the top, and neither should any teacher.

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Take Care with Cursive

Recently there was an excellent article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?hp&_r=1

If you are concerned about handwriting instruction, take care with what they say about cursive. Read, listen and view everything thoughtfully, analytically. The NYT article is frequently misquoted elsewhere, including Time magazine, to indicate support for conventional cursive instruction. So far NO research has been done to prove any method of writing by hand is better than any other.

If you have visited here before you know I believe that the italic method is best, but I can only relate my experience, I cannot prove its superiority.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, News, Older Students & Adults, research | Leave a comment |
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Kindergarten and Thereafter

Recently I observed a half hour Kindergarten handwriting class. It was exceptional! It was all about hand and finger strengthening and finger positioning as it applies to holding a writing tool. No letters. No numbers.

Each child had a pre-writing project. Some squeezed a hole punch, making a lovely mess on the floor. Some used tweezers to pick up tiny fish to put in a lake (the lake was a little landscape drawing.) There were seven different activities, so the children could do one and then move on to another. Every child was having a great time.

Afterwards one of the teachers emailed me. Her comment, “It was a joy to see the children so engaged and appropriately challenged.”

Young hands need preparation for writing. Learning 62 legible characters is a task for little hands. They try. If young hands are not sufficiently developed to hold a pencil comfortably, children will work on the shapes with tight, tense fists. Among educators and parents demand is high and correct that young children learn their abc’s, but we need to look ahead to the future of these students.

Inefficient death gripes on pencils and pens cannot yield the fluency students need in later academic years and careers. Legible writing will be slow and possibly painful. Not a problem in the age of technology? Yes, it is! It’s proven that notes taken by hand provide the best way to retain information.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, Education, Older Students & Adults, Pen/Pencil Hold, Physical comfort, Posture | Leave a comment |
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The Reason to teach handwriting.

Better, it should be the reason to teach fluent handwriting.
Please see this article in the Washington Post. It’s what has always seemed logical to me, but now there is proof. As you read the article note the word, “longhand,” meaning ordinary handwriting. No specific alphabet is mentioned, but I imagine many who took notes by hand used their own personal interpretation of print-like writing—a hybrid. Print was what they first learned, and we naturally go back to what was first learned, making some changes for better speed.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/04/28/why-students-using-laptops-learn-less-in-class-even-when-they-really-are-taking-notes/

If a writer successfully changes up his print writing by adding a few joins, it often will have a strong resemblance to cursive italic. Why not insure success by starting with italic?

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, Older Students & Adults, research | Leave a comment |
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