Sunday, March 20, 2011

How can I support my kids learning to type?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter's 4th grade teacher is teaching cursive this year, but she is the only teacher in the school who still does.Writing just isn't something I do very often any more, and I know my kids are going to need to do less and less of it. Just holding a pen or pencil is impossibly hard for my 1st grade son. When and how do I help my kids learn to type?
- A Mom

I've written about typing here, but I just came across a couple of sites that you might find interesting. One is a free online resource for  learning to type called Typing Web and another is called Fun to Type and is full of games for different levels of typing practice.

You are absolutely right about handwriting being a fading art. I heard a teacher, recently, wondering how much longer we will even hand sign checks.  

The brain wants to learn through the movement of muscles, so forming those letters by hand is still really important for your young son's development. If you are interested, I've posted some ideas for helping to develop and strengthen the hand for writing here and here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How do I stop the bathroom demands in class?

Ms. Dorothy,
What is the best routine for bathroom breaks in Kindergarten?  My room doesn't have a bathroom, the kids go down the hall, they just have to ask. But I find I am getting more and more requests to use the bathroom and it seems like it might be Spring fever rather than need.  I don't want to say "no" though, cause, well, they are in Kindergarten, and accidents happen!  Can you help?
- First Year Teacher

The best routines are those you establish early in the year and used consistently. 

In my classroom, I like to treat all of the daily business the same way it would be treated in an office. We talk about the places that adults work, and how they do things there. Would the boss have everyone line up by gender and use the bathroom at the same time? Would the grown-ups in an office go ask the boss when they wanted to use the bathroom? 

Generally, my students conclude that the bathroom is the kind of business that should not be announced, and that it should be up to the person who needs it to decide when. 

For safety, we need to know where everyone is, so students place their name card in the "boys room" or "girls room" pocket, and take the pass when they need to leave the room.  

If the pass is missing, we wait, or let the teacher know that we absolutely cannot. 

We also talk about how a grown-up in an office wouldn't get up and leave the room during an important meeting. They would know to go before the meeting, or wait until after. 

We establish that the reason we come to school is to learn, and the "important meetings" in our classroom would be any time the teacher is instructing the whole group. The times when we are supposed to be practicing or working independently are better for exiting the room to use the bathroom.

Once that is the norm in your classroom, your job becomes to watch and listen and pay attention to those times when there is greater demand.

Invariably, something you are doing is not engaging them if they are "taking walks" while you are teaching, interrupting to request the bathroom, or waiting 3 deep to use the pass. 

It happens. It just means it is time to change up what you are having them do because it simply isn't engaging.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How do I get this child to focus on his work?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have a student who is fully capable of doing the work I assign, but he just doesn't focus and get it done. He can do it, he is just lazy. He has had Special Ed help in the past, but has kind of aged out of that.  What can I do to get him working at his potential?!
- 6th grade Teacher

It seems to me that it is very rare that a learning disability goes away because of age, and I don't believe that "laziness" is a qualifying condition, so it is probably not the underlying cause of his academic struggles. 

A lack of focus can result from a wide variety of organic issues. 

Perhaps a closer look at what his IEP says, or what his previous teaching team has to say will help you to see what is going on with this student.

Either way, matching teaching style with processing and learning style, and making the most of interests is the best way to support an unmotivated learner. 

I don't believe we can expect students to change their attention and focus if we aren't willing to understand and meet them where they are. 

We need to adjust the teaching to suit the needs of our students, not the other way around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How do I get my child to write legibly?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have been working with _______ on his writing. I even offered to pay him to practice. He is simply not interested in practicing writing neatly. Suggestions?
- Poppa

Writing legibly is about writing so that someone else can read what you have written. It is a courtesy that is focused on the reader, and it is a dying art.

It is easy to say that we "should" and "we always did," but the truth is that there are fewer and fewer  places in our lives where writing for an audience is required.

It is important to give some serious consideration to when, where, and how often we actually write these days, and how often it is likely that writing will be needed in the future. 

If you can name some practical places where it is necessary to write by hand, show those to him so that he can see how you use your neat writing. Just bear in mind that an electronic signature, and the ability to use a virtual keyboard are more likely to be necessities in his later years.

Help him find a pen-pal to exchange letters with in the mail.  Have him write to a favorite author or artist. Just try not to let him get email or text addresses.

Keep painting with him and developing the strength and grace in his arm and hand muscles. And try sending his bribes through the postal service in exchange for handwritten thank you notes!