Tag Archives: K-12 Curriculum

The importance of the skill of handwriting in the school curriculum

24 Jan

Linda Shaw reported in the Seattle Times about cursive writing. In Roosevelt High School Teacher Gives Her Students a Review in Cursive

Sure, they learned cursive when they were in elementary school, but they use it so rarely that they’ve forgotten a lot of it.

Even for these students — high achievers taking advanced-placement Latin at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School — cursive is quaint.

“I never write in cursive,” said Annika Kounts, who struggled when she had to write a few cursive sentences as part of the SAT college-entrance exam.

“I gave up and printed,” classmate Kevin Tang said. “I started writing it in cursive, but it took me too long.”

Cursive is encouraged but no longer required in Seattle Public Schools, and Washington state’s education department doesn’t insist it be taught, either. That doesn’t mean early elementary-school teachers don’t teach it — the vast majority still do in Seattle and elsewhere. But as students use computers more and academic demands increase, many schools no longer devote as much time to cursive as they once did.

Roosevelt Latin teacher Nora MacDonald says it was about 10 years ago when she first noticed that fewer of her students used cursive for homework assignments. For the past five years, she said, almost all of them used block printing.

MacDonald last year became so annoyed with the state of her students’ handwriting that she asked her seniors if they wanted a short refresher in cursive. In some cases, their printing was so messy that she feared their grades on the advanced-placement Latin exam would suffer because graders wouldn’t be able to decipher their answers.

The students thought a day of cursive would be fun, so for the past two years, MacDonald has invited friend and retired third-grade teacher JoAnne Jugum to give a one-hour review.

According to Shaw, the teachers report that students who take pride in their writing take pride in their school work. Teachers are beginning to discover that cursive writing has education value.

Jaclyn Zubrzycki reports in the Education Week article, Summit to Make a Case for Teaching Handwriting

Doubt about the continued worth of handwriting skill is “similar to what happened with math as calculators and computers came into vogue,” said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which co-sponsored the gathering with Zaner-Bloser, a Columbus, Ohio, company that produces a handwriting curriculum. “People wondered whether students needed to learn how to do math. The answer in both cases is absolutely yes. Writing is not obsolete.”

Proponents of teaching—in some cases, reintroducing—handwriting in the school curriculum say their concern over the fading importance of handwriting became more urgent with the advent of the Common Core State Standards. The standards, which were released in 2010 and have been adopted by all but four states, mention keyboarding but not handwriting.

“The conversation about handwriting instruction has been growing,” said Kathleen Wright, the coordinator of this week’s event and the national product coordinator at Zaner-Bloser.

The company advocates that states supplement the common core with handwriting standards, as Massachusetts and California have already done. Ms. Wright said the conference, called the “Handwriting in the 21st Century?: An Educational Summit,” was timed so policymakers could address any lack of attention to handwriting while their states are still rolling out their own versions of the common core.

“As I talked to researchers, they were all saying the same thing in different ways,” Ms. Wright said. “Handwriting instruction needs to be done.”

Cognitive and Motor Skills

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and a scheduled presenter at the conference, said that learning handwriting has both cognitive and motor benefits, and that letter formation is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/01/25/18handwriting_ep.h31.html?tkn=PRXFj%2FubPksj%2FGLUvp%2BYvyDm7ttFD1Wz8zVq&cmp=clp-edweek

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the skill of handwriting helps in cognitive learning.

Gwendolyn Bounds reports in the WSJ article, How Handwriting Trains the Brain:

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a “spaceship,” actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called “functional” MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters.

“It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,” says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

Adults may benefit similarly when learning a new graphically different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry, Dr. James says. For instance, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, adults were asked to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them after producing the characters using pen-and-paper writing and a computer keyboard. The result: For those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters’ proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes.

Other research highlights the hand’s unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518.html

See, The Importance of Cursive Writing http://www.enterpriseefficiency.com/author.asp?section_id=1077&doc_id=236382

Perhaps, it is wishful thinking. One cannot stop “progress.” Sometimes, everything old is new again.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Is the self-esteem movement just another education fad?

18 Jan

Education is prone to fads and the next “new, new thing.” Many are beginning to question the self-esteem movement which put the emphasis on children feeling good about themselves. The question is whether the emphasis should be put on acquiring skills and focusing on helping children to achieve success in areas where they have shown both an interest and some competence. One of the best definitions of self-esteem comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association and the article Children and Self-Esteem which is posted at their site.

Self-esteem is the value we place on ourselves. It is the feeling we have about all the things we see ourselves to be. It is the knowledge that we are lovable, we are capable, and we are unique. Good self-esteem means:

  • having a healthy view of yourself,
  • having a quiet sense of self-worth,
  • having a positive outlook,
  • feeling satisfied with yourself most of the time,
  • setting realistic goals.

Both adults and children benefit from good relationships, experiences and positive thinking. Many of the steps necessary for building a child’s self-esteem will also help you in developing and maintaining your own. http://www.acsm.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=2-29-68

Moi feels that good schools are relentless about the basics.

A 1999 Los Angeles Times article, Losing Faith in Self-Esteem Movement by Richard Lee Colvin was raising caution flags:

At Loren Miller Elementary School in Los Angeles, a school struggling to raise test scores that are barely in double digits, children last year spent part of each day working on . . . their self-esteem.

In daily “I Love Me” lessons, they completed the phrase “I am . . . ” with words such as beautiful, lovable, respectable, kind or gifted. Then they memorized the sentences to make them sink in.

No more. The daily “I Love Me” lessons will soon be replaced by rapid-fire drills and constant testing of kids’ skills.

With the pressure to raise test scores building nationally, schools are rethinking their decades-long love affair with self-esteem.

Self-esteem, which burst into the national consciousness in the late 1980s with help from a California task force, has long endured attacks from cultural conservatives. What’s new today is that the criticism is being heard from deans at such education bastions as Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and in prestigious venues such as the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

“The false belief in self-esteem as a force for social good can be not just potentially but actually harmful,” wrote Carnegie Mellon University psychology professor Robyn M. Dawes in that publication in October.

Having high self-esteem certainly feels good, psychologists say. But, contrary to intuition, it doesn’t necessarily pay off in greater academic achievement, less drug abuse, less crime or much of anything else. Or, if it does pay off, 10,000 or more research studies have yet to find proof.

With researchers growing increasingly negative about being positive, a switch from tenderness to tough love is in vogue now among social commentators, politicians and educators.

Fretting about students’ feelings has become an unhealthy classroom obsession, researchers declare in academic journals and elsewhere. Better, they say, to spend more time on something children can justly be proud of–acing algebra or becoming a super speller.

“There’s nothing that boosts self-concept more than being able to do something–it doesn’t matter if it’s reading or something on the monkey bars your brother can’t do,” said Robert J. Stevens, a professor of educational psychology at Penn State University.

That is the lesson teachers at Bessemer School in Pueblo, Colo., learned this year. Teachers there were stunned a year ago when only 12% of their fourth-graders were reading at grade level.

Out went the three hours they spent weekly on counseling and self-esteem classes. In came more attention to the basics. Up went test scores. Last fall, 64% of the students passed. And self-esteem soared.


Moi would posit that true self-esteem comes from the accomplishment of acquiring a skill or successfully performing a task.

Michael Alison Chandler reports in the Washington Post article, In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise:

For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates — but few, if any, academic gains.

Now, an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise. Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments. Consider teacher Shar Hellie’s new approach in Montgomery County….

A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Dweck’s studies, embraced in Montgomery schools and elsewhere, have found that praising children for intelligence — “You’re so clever!” — also backfires. In study after study, children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.

But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/in-schools-self-esteem-boosting-is-losing-favor-to-rigor-finer-tuned-praise/2012/01/11/gIQAXFnF1P_story.html?wpisrc=emailtoafriend

There were critics of the self-esteem concept in education at the beginning of the movement.

Alfie Kohn wrote the 1994 article, The Truth About Self-Esteem for PHI DELTA KAPPAN which critiqued the concept. Among Kohn’s many concerns were:

Putting aside for a moment the questions of what statements are included and how they are scored, the point to be emphasized here is that self-esteem ratings are almost always based on what subjects say about themselves, and self- report measures are rather problematic. They may tell us more about how someone wishes to appear than about his or her “true” state (assuming this can ever be known). In fact, some of the most respected researchers in the area have argued that people designated as having high self-esteem are simply those who demonstrate a “willingness to endorse favorable statements about the self” as a result of “an ambitious, aggressive, self-aggrandizing style of presenting themselves.(2)

As if this fact were not disturbing enough, something on the order of 200 instruments for measuring self-esteem are now in use. Many of them haven’t been properly validated (to use a popular self-esteem term in a different way) and are of questionable value. More important, even if every single test was top- notch, there is no reason to think that any two of them are comparable. It’s difficult to generalize about research findings if self-esteem has been measured — and, indeed, conceptualized — differently in the various studies that have been cited.(3)

One result common to almost all measures, though, is that very few people who fill out self-esteem surveys wind up with scores near the bottom of the scale. When a researcher talks about subjects with “low” self-esteem, he or she means this only relative to other subjects; in absolute terms, the responses of these individuals put them somewhere in the middle range of possible scores. In other words, people classified as having low self-esteem are typically not so much down on themselves as simply “neutral in their self-descriptions.”(4) This suggests that it may be necessary to reconsider all those sweeping conclusions about what distinguishes people who love themselves from people who hate themselves. Moreover, the very fact of defining low self-esteem in relative terms means that no intervention can ever make any headway; half the population will, of course, always fall below the median on any scale.

But let us assume for the sake of the argument that we find none of these facts — or any other methodological criticisms that have been offered of the field(5) — particularly troubling. Let us assume that all the self-esteem studies to date, all 10,000 of them, can be taken at face value. Even so, the findings that emerge from this literature are not especially encouraging for those who would like to believe that feeling good about oneself brings about a variety of benefits. (I am ignoring here the vast number of studies that have treated self-esteem as a dependent rather than an independent variable — that is, those that have tried to figure out what causes self-esteem to go up or down rather than investigating whether such fluctuation affects other things….)


Another article which is critical of the self-esteem movement is Can Your Teen Have Too Much Self-Esteem? from Aspen Education Group:

Back in the 1970s, many school districts became enamored with the idea that if you raised children’s self-esteem they would do better in school. Although this so-called “self-esteem movement” proved to be ill conceived, many people still believe the canard that high self-esteem is the root of all achievement. Since that time many researchers have studied the topic of self-esteem, and the findings have been pretty consistent: high self-esteem for the sake of personal validation, meaning self-esteem that is not based on actual personal achievement or positive behavior, is not necessarily a healthy thing.

Dr. Jean Twenge recently published the book “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable than Ever Before,” in which she documents the failures of the self-esteem movement in schools. Her research makes clear that phony self-esteem can be a very self-destructive thing. Her conclusion is that self-control is a much more accurate predictor of success than self-esteem.

A recent article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter (June 2007) also suggests that encouraging self-esteem as a primary goal is not healthy and could in fact remove any incentives to improve behavior. If you are supposed to feel good about yourself just because you exist, why study hard, work hard, treat others well, or take any actions to earn these feelings? While it is certainly beneficial to encourage young people to feel good about real accomplishments, encouraging self-esteem for its own sake is not healthy. http://www.aspeneducation.com/Article-too-much-self-esteem.html#.TxOAfgDkqkE.email

It is crucial for low-income children and children of color to be firmly grounded in acquiring reading, math, and writing skills. They will feel better about themselves when they know that they can compete and yes, moi did use the word compete with other children.

Good schools are relentless about the basics.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©


Is K-12 community service a good idea?

10 Jan

For the past several years the idea of community service in K-12 grades has been deemed a good idea. The National Center for Education Statistics posted the following article, Service-Learning and Community Service in K-12 Public Schools at their site. Among the findings are:

Incorporating service-learning into K-12 schools is a growing area of interest to educators. Like community service, service-learning requires students to serve their communities. However, service-learning takes community service one step further by incorporating the service experiences of students directly into their school work. Service-learning has long been viewed as a possible means of improving education, with roots stretching back to late-19 th -and early 20 th -century. For example, John Dewey, an advocate of service-learning, believed that students would learn more effectively and become better citizens if they engaged in service to the community and had this service incorporated into their academic curriculum (Dewey, 1916). Though first suggested over a century ago, the incorporation of service-learning into the curriculum did not begin in earnest until the early 1970s, and it has only been in the last decade that extensive reform efforts have emerged.

Legislative reform over the past 10 years has set in motion a growing national emphasis on increasing students’ involvement with their local communities and linking this service to academic study through service-learning. The National and Community Service Act of 1990, through the Serve America program, and the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, through the Learn and Serve America program, provided support for service-learning activities in elementary and secondary schools (Corporation for National Service, 1999). In addition, through programs such as AmeriCorps, the federal government has offered opportunities to high school graduates, college students, and recent college graduates to serve local communities in exchange for stipends and payment of education loans or money toward future postsecondary education. Both Learn and Serve America and AmeriCorps are administered by the Corporation for National Service, a federal organization also created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. Two previous studies, one looking at high schools in 1984 and the other looking at 6-12 grade students in 1996, provide tentative evidence that service-learning has become more pervasive since the early 1980s. Based on a study conducted in 1984, researchers reported that 27 percent of all high schools (public and private) in the United States offered some type of community service and 9 percent of all high schools offered service-learning, defined as curriculum-related service programs (Newmann and Rutter, 1985). The 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES), conducted by NCES, found that 49 percent of all students in grades 6 -12 participated in community service (U. S. Department of Education, 1997). Of the students participating in community service, 56 percent reported that their community service was incorporated into the curriculum in some way.   http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/1999043/

Although, the idea of a community service requirement has been growing, there are challenges.

Douglas Quenqua’s 2008 New York Times article, Good Deeds: The Backlash describes some of the challenges.

Cynics call these programs a form of forced altruism. Proponents say that they widen students’ horizons while getting service work done. Either way, the backlash has begun: not only do college admissions officers roll their eyes at bogus-sounding claims, but high schools are scaling back the requirements, acknowledging that a lot of the so-called service is meaningless.

When Lauren Swierczek took over last year as director of community service at Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Bronx whose students hail mainly from Manhattan (tuition: about $35,000 a year), she was troubled by the program she inherited. “What I was finding was that the fixation was more on hours than acts of service,” she said. Worse still, some students “weren’t actually doing it,” she said. “Documents were forged.”

Students from wealthy families were “knocking out their service hours with one total trip,” like a three-week summer jaunt to Costa Rica or the Galápagos Islands, Ms. Swierczek said. These teen tours, which cost $4,000 or more, use as a selling point the ability to rack up as many as 80 hours of community service. When they are not cleaning debris from beaches or teaching English to local schoolchildren, the travelers enjoy heavy doses of kayaking and scuba lessons.

So Ms. Swierczek abolished Riverdale’s requirement that students perform more than 100 hours of service before graduation. Instead, she decreed that all “naturally formed communities” at the school — sports teams, the school newspaper and adviser groups, to which all students belong — must tackle a community service project each year that is approved and supervised by her.

The result, she said, is a renewed focus on the charitable experience itself. “The message we want to teach our children is to live in a world bigger than their own,” she said. “It’s provided real camaraderie within the school community….

American high schools started adding community service requirements to their curriculums about 15 years ago. The practice had been around for decades at Jesuit schools, but began catching on at prep schools in the 1990s, with public schools quickly following suit. It didn’t hurt that colleges looked favorably on applicants who could claim hundreds of hours of charity work before they had even gotten their driver’s licenses.

The requirements became so popular — despite some unsuccessful legal challenges asserting that forced volunteerism was an oxymoron — that states began adopting them. Maryland now requires students to perform 75 hours of community service before graduation, and the District of Columbia requires 100 hours. Florida, Iowa and Rhode Island have granted local boards or districts the authority to set up their own programs.

In New York State, where schools set their own policies, requirements of 100 hours or more have grown common. (As always, New York tends to do things big: President-elect Barack Obama has suggested setting a national goal of 50 hours a year for all middle and high school students.)

BUT critics say that what started as a dignified attempt to instill a sense of noblesse oblige in high school students has devolved into an unseemly obsession with hours — not counting the ones that parents spend chauffeuring teenagers to soup kitchens. When students are in a panic over how to fill their hours, it leads to a debasement of community service that mistakes quantity for quality, these critics say. It also can prompt some teenagers to exaggerate their deeds, or, in the case of those from wealthier families, simply to buy their hours.    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/27/fashion/27service.html?emc=eta1

Alfie Kohn addresses the issue of community service hours in a Washington Post article.

Kohn opines in the article, Mandated community service: Risks and potential:

First of all, I have some concerns about bland activities undertaken by individual students. If, however, you were to redefine “community service” as an opportunity for collective action, genuine democratic involvement, and work for social justice — that would be as exciting as it is rare. (See Joseph Kahne & Joel Westheimer’s article “Teaching Democracy: What Schools Need to Do” in the September 2003 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, as well as other writings by both of these authors.)

Second, for anything of value to come out of this, students need to be involved at all points — in thinking about the rationale for doing some sort of service and in working together to plan every detail of the activities: deciding democratically how many options will be available to each student and discussing the rationale for each option, making contact with people in the community to set things up, making arrangements to evaluate the activities themselves as well as the students’ experiences afterwards, and so on.

The process probably ought to be framed as “How can we make our town/ our state / our country /the world a better place? What needs doing? Who requires our care and our help?” — rather than “How can we fulfill this requirement?” Sandwiching the activity itself between planning (before) and reflection (after) — and having the students play a key role in every stage (rather than just giving a menu of options to each student individually) — could turn out to be as valuable, both intellectually and socially, as the activities themselves.

Finally, what one doesn’t do can be as important as what one does. I hope it goes without saying that any benefit potentially derived from this activity would likely be wiped out by (1) rewarding students for their participation or (2) setting up some sort of competition between students (individuals or groups).

Some mandates are inherently useless, if not counterproductive, and should be actively resisted. (See under: No Child Left Behind) But my hunch is that this lemon can be made into lemonade. For school administrators to treat students the same way the administrators are treated by policymakers would instead be to turn salmon into salmonella.       http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/mandated-community-service-risks-and-potential/2012/01/08/gIQA3liDkP_blog.html

The answer regarding whether community service programs are valuable for a particular school or individual student depends upon what the goal is and at the end of the project what was the accomplishment?

Community Service. Org has Community Service Ideas and the Top 7 Questions to Ask Yourself:

1. What are my skills?

Community Service organizations utilize a wide skill set, so there are just as many community service ideas as there are organizations. When seeking to commit your time to volunteering it is important to identify what you have to offer….

2. What are my logistical requirements?

Any community service ideas you might have must be feasible in order to achieve them. Organizations require dependability, even if you can only come in to help once a month, it is important for the organizers to know the schedule you intend to keep….

3. What duration works for me?

How many evenings, weekends, or days are you willing to commit to volunteering?  Sometimes, the need for some form of income might influence the level of this commitment.  Other times, volunteering can be committing yourself and your time to do something for an organization in order to build up your resume.  On the other hand, volunteering can represent a way to give back to your community and enrich your life by building instant connections with others.

4. What’s my style?

Are you an instant gratification person, or does delay work?

5. What do I believe in?

There are many organizations that help those in need.  From health issues like breast cancer awareness, to childrens  homes, and autism awareness organizations.  To figure out where you want to spend your time, and select a non-profit you would be most likely to return to, choose a major area of interest….

6. What type of non-profit am best suits me?

This question dove tails into “What do I believe in?” and “What are my skills?” But non-profits comprise a wide range of categories.  The categories below seem to define the majority of organizations.  The first three below are what we generally think of when we hear the word “charity…”

7. What does my research say?

Last but not least, when reviewing community service ideas, you should look at the research. All non-profits are companies, but some act like it more than others.  By reviewing the website of your organization of choice, looking over any printed materials and checking up on how the non-profit is conducted you can decide if it’s your type of place…. http://www.communityservice.org/volunteering/community-service-ideas-top-7-questions

Whatever decision is made regarding community service, they key is to make a real contribution and not just fill up time.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©