>Cursive Writing: Presentation Doesn’t Always Matter

>If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that “presentation” doesn’t always “matter” …

As a teacher I always walk into my classroom carrying the following in mind, like a whisper on my shoulder:

1. These children/students are somebody’s babies … ensure that they are active, engaged, loved, secure.
2. What am I really trying to teach today? What is my real/authentic goal/focus for each lesson?

So, the other day a conversation with a parent presented me with the perfect opportunity to think about “authentic goals” in the classroom … at least in one area: that of penmanship.
& Let me just say from the outset that I do believe that penmanship and proper page set up are important skills to teach.

One sunny afternoon, “Paula’s” mum “Trish” came to speak with me about the presentation of her daughter’s work. She felt that her daughter’s cursive writing and page set up were not always acceptable and she was quite concerned.

Now, I have to say that I love it when parents come to me with questions and concerns. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it simply tells me that they care about their child’s education … that they are interested. After all, they only want the very best for their child.

Anyway, Trish’s question was a great opportunity to discuss her daughter’s learning profile as well as some of my goals for her child.

We first discussed her child’s learning profile, which presents as follows:
Paula is identified as APD, (ASD), ADHD, and PDD. Her relative strengths are in the areas of non-verbal reasoning and abstract reasoning skills/ability. Her needs are in the areas of social reasoning, receptive / expressive language, auditory verbal working memory, working memory in general, processing speed, visual scanning, reading comprehension, numerical reasoning, math problem solving, attention / concentration.

I went on to assure Trish that we do devote time in class to the study of page set up and cursive writing. For students, (those like Paula who experience difficulty with page set up, organization and letter formation, as well difficulty initiating tasks and following directions) it is important to break down the stages of letter formation (to teach them in isolation) so that the focus is clear.

I explained to mum that it’s true: I don’t always focus on the presentation of her daughter’s work; excellent letter formation isn’t always my primary goal. During the writing process we focus on different goals or outcomes depending on what stage we are at (e.g. brainstorming, the use of graphic organizers, editing/drafting, publishing) and the type of lesson (e.g. cursive, comprehension, writer’s workshop, etc.).

I explained that it is important to understand that writing puts heavy demands on working memory (an area of need for Paula). Working memory is defined as “the processes involved in the temporary maintenance and manipulation of information” (http://bit.ly/9KcGRs). As Paula engages in the writing process she has to focus on planning and page set up. She has to think about remembering my instructions, organization, word choice, sentence structure, voice, spelling, grammar, punctuation, letter formation, etc. … all the while blocking out any distractions that may present themselves in the classroom. Often times this can present as overwhelming. It’s a lot to juggle, to keep in mind, especially for a child who struggles with working memory.

Owing to her learning profile, when Paula engages in an activity therefore, I have to make sure that the expectations with regard to outcomes are clear. I always ensure that she knows what to focus on. Sometimes the focus is on ideas and organization for example, sometimes it is on presentation, and sometimes it is on both.

We had a great conversation … a lot of back and forth … a lot of information sharing. We discussed our beliefs, our experiences and some of our goals for Paula.
In the end I was really pleased that that she had come in to speak with me … that she had voiced her concerns. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for us both.

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