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Dear Teacher

Analyzing Importance

Is Cursive Writing and Sustained Silent Reading Necessary?

December 01, 2010
>New Year Back to School Resolutions

Parents: Besides being holiday time, close to half of the school year is over. It's a great time to take stock of how things have been going this year. Then resolutions can be made to make the second half of the school year even better.

Don't just make resolutions; bring your children in on this. Ask them what needs to be changed to improve how the year is going for them. We are not talking about major roadblocks like learning disabilities that require considerable attention from you and the school over a long period of time. Instead, we are talking about the glitches that cause your children to bring home occasional bad grades. Once they are identified, they often can be eliminated rather quickly. If your children fall into any of these pitfalls, think about making resolutions to turn them around.

• Do your children appear to have a speech, hearing, or vision problem? Even minor problems can cause learning problems and lower grades.

• Are your children getting enough sleep? If not, they may be sleep-deprived and falling asleep in class.

• Are your children missing too many days because of health problems? If so, a checkup probably is a good idea.

• Are your children eating right? Without breakfast, their energy level is likely to be down. Plus, an unhealthy diet can lower their attention span.

• Are your children spending excessive amounts of time watching TV or on the computer? Doing so can add up to a lot of wasted time.

• Is your home a disorganized madhouse every morning? Such daily confusion can result in important school tasks not being handled efficiently.

• Do your children need personal digital assistants to keep track of their activities? If so, their schoolwork may be taking second place to their activities.

• Do your children have good attendance records? Good attendance gives them the opportunity to learn everything that was taught in the classroom.

Cursive Writing Is Disappearing – Does It Matter?

Question: My 11-year-old daughter cannot read a handwritten note unless it is printed. She struggles with all of the myriad notes of day-to-day living that are NOT done on the computer or through text messaging. She has no signature because she hasn't learned to write her name in cursive.

Cursive handwriting is not taught at her school because it is believed that it would be a waste of time since all papers after sixth grade are done on the computer. She learned basic keyboarding in third grade and will have more intensive training in sixth grade. Does it make any sense for computers to replace handwriting in schools? - The Lost Skill

Answer: Your daughter definitely is not alone in her inability to write cursive. On the first SAT essay test given in 2006, only 15 percent of the students used cursive, the rest printed their essays. Whether it makes sense or not, cursive handwriting instruction has disappeared from many schools. And when it is taught, less and less time is devoted to this subject. Typically, cursive handwriting is introduced in second or third grade. If students do not master cursive by the end of third grade, they will usually receive little instruction in it in fourth grade and beyond. The students who do not master cursive will go back to printing as their form of written communication.

The attention to penmanship in the schools began to diminish almost 50 years ago when teachers began to question the need for all students to follow a set standard in their handwriting. Today, it continues to lose ground to other subjects that are being emphasized so students will do well on standardized tests. Plus, there is the simple fact that many teachers do not consider it an important subject.

In a practical vein, your daughter needs to do some things to overcome her inability to write or read cursive. Teach her to write her name in cursive, as this is still a requirement on many documents. Also, because there are still situations in which fast handwriting is essential, have her learn to print without raising her pencil between each letter, whenever possible. We would also suggest that you read cursive lists and notes together until she begins to pick up this skill. Without it, she is going to have a gap in her communication skills.

Problems with Silent Reading

Question: Twenty minutes of my son's third-grade reading time is spent having the students read silently. Even the teacher reads during this time. Wouldn't some instruction from the teacher during this time be a more appropriate way to improve his reading? – Unhappy

Answer: What you have described is called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). You are right about your son needing some input from the teacher. Much of the criticism of the effectiveness of SSR is the lack of teacher-student interaction. Teachers should talk with students individually about what they are reading and make sure they can easily read the material. Plus, it's important that they listen to the students read passages and give them feedback on their reading skills. When teachers interact with the students, the students are far more likely to make better use of this silent-reading time.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' Web site at www.dearteacher.com.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts have master's degrees in education and specialist degrees (Ed.S.) in reading. Peggy recently completed her doctorate in special education and educational leadership. Together, they have co-authored more than 70 books and in 2003, Peggy formed the not-for-profit foundation, Literacy Plus, to make literacy accessible to the homeless.
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