Where have all the “thank you” notes gone?

Here’s what happened the first time I taught the “thank you” note

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Okay, where are the thank you notes? Who said they were no longer necessary? Someone must have, because I often don’t receive one anymore. And it’s not as if I’m expecting one, but I would like to at least know that the gift I shipped was received. Unfortunately, sometimes I never find that out.

So, to counter this trend, last year I added thank you notes to our project list for writer’s workshop.

Here’s the background on how I have done writer’s workshop in my class for the past two years:

I have only done this structured form of writer’s workshop during the first and second quarters of the school year. I gave students a list of 8-10 projects from which they could choose to work on during dedicated workshop time. They were required to choose six projects from this list and complete the projects in any order they chose. There was a writing process to follow for each project. The process included:

  • writing a first draft
  • collaborating through peer response to the first draft
  • revising, editing, and then generating a second draft
  • receiving my feedback on their second draft
  • making final revisions and edits, and then generating a final draft.

At the end of the workshop period, usually the end of the quarter, students turned in all projects andaccompanying paperwork (prewriting, previous drafts, etc.) inside a two-pocket folder. Writing projects included poetry, how-to and/or listicle blog posts, academic essays, contest essays, arguments, short stories, and thank you notes. 

At the beginning of the school year, I bought a few boxes of thank you notes students could use for their notes. They were to write a short (one- to two-paragraphs) note to someone they knew, thanking them for a gift, their friendship, or their help. I asked them to draft out what they planned to write on a sheet of notebook paper, and for this project only, submit that to me as their first draft.

Unfortunately, the thank you note project didn’t go as well as I wanted. Here’s why:

  • Kids tended to rush through this project because they knew it was one they could complete more quickly than the others.
  • Nearly all of my kids didn’t have any idea where to put “Dear Mom,” or “Yours truly,” on the card. I should have spent an entire class period practicing filling out a note card. See the photo below as an example of how kids simply didn’t know how to fill out a note card.

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  • Some of the writing was very personal. Some were so personal, in fact, that I didn’t feel comfortable reading them. Once this happened a few times, I simply asked students to show me their drafts on notebook paper. Then, due to the personal nature of some of the writing, I would skim the notes for mechanical errors instead of reading them carefully for content. Then I would initial their drafts and they could then write their note on a note card. Many of the notes probably contained unclear thinking and I hope they didn’t cause confusion for the readers. My approach seemed like a very lame way to handle the project; however, I just didn’t feel comfortable critiquing such personal messages.

So for the school year that starts in August, I’m undecided about how to teach students to write a thank you note. I think it’s a valuable skill, but I clearly need to take a different approach to it based on my experiences last year. Here are a few things that may help:

  • Perhaps dedicating an entire class period to the basic format or layout of a note card would be sufficient.
  • Also, maybe it would help if, instead of having students write their drafts on notebook paper, I provided a template cut to size so they could practice writing it on the space provided. Transferring their note from a full sheet of paper to the dimensions of a standard-size note card proved difficult for them last year. In fact, from my own experience, I know that figuring out where the words will be placed and where I’ll put any hyphens and such helps me create a more attractive, well-written note. It just makes the note look more planned out, more intentional.
  • Encouraging students to slow down with this project. Just because it’s only a paragraph of writing doesn’t mean it should be done carelessly.
  • For next year, I may also require them to write their thank you notes in cursive. They need to know that many readers will keep their notes as keepsakes and will want to read them again. Writing in cursive will make their note more formal and meaningful.

I’m interested in your ideas. Do you teach traditional letter writing or thank you notes? Do you think this is an important skill or one that may as well be done on a laptop? Leave a comment and let me know!


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more ELA teaching posts! If you have any ideas or resources you’d like to share, feel free to contact me using the menu at the top of the page or leaving a comment below. 

Paperless classroom? No thanks.

I like “the little transaction.”

 

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Photo: Christa Dodoo from Unsplash

I don’t have a paperless classroom and it will always be this way. I like the transaction that occurs when students actually turn things in.

When students turn in assignments, they walk over to the three stacked baskets (one for each grade that I teach) that stand at the corner of my desk. At times, if I’m standing or sitting there, I’ll notice when they walk up and I’ll take their assignment, skim through it and then drop it in the basket for them.  It’s fun to see what they’ve been working on.

Sometimes they drop it in the basket before I get a chance to look at it. Then I’ll grab it right back out and take a look-see. Sometimes they say, “Here ya’ go!” Sometimes they say nothing. Sometimes, they’ll say:

  • I don’t know what you’ll think of this…
  • This isn’t very good, but…
  • I really like how this turned out, and…
  • This was hard…
  • This was fun…

This little transaction gives me an opportunity to chat. To comment. To smile. To roll my eyes, even, and hand it right back. (Yes, that happened once… from a talented writer who had knowingly done a lackluster job and said as much when she handed it to me.)

This little transaction gives me the opportunity to read their first few lines, see that fresh and unexpected word they chose, and acknowledge it with “Interesting choice!”  or “Wow. I can’t wait to read this later when I can concentrate better on it.”

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We use a lot of paper in my classroom. In fact, some kids tell me that they get tired of looking at screens.

However, when students submit assignments via Google Drive or in my Google Classroom account, I miss those little, yet significant interactions that are personal, encouraging, and necessary.

True, digital documents have their merits. It’s handy– at times, but only at times– to write comments in the margins of a student’s Google doc. That sometimes works. For example, in my seventh-graders’ PBL project, “Whippersnappers,” it’s useful when we’re on deadline because I can quickly type in my responses faster than when I handwrite them.

I can also type more comments on a Google doc than I can when I get carried away handwriting notes that tumble down the side margins and puddle at the bottom in a clump, where I draw a teeny little arrow directing them to the back for more.  (I can’t help it.)

Also, I’m learning about alternatives to handwriting comments in the margins of a Google doc. Supposedly, there are some app extensions out there that allow teachers to speak their responses directly into the student’s file. That sounds interesting and worth looking into further. That might restore “conversation” to the process.

So, while I  am open to technology in my writing classroom, I still value the transaction that occurs when kids actually hand papers in.


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment with how you feel on this topic. How “paperless” is your classroom? Is it working? Know of any new apps for spoken commenting? Please let me know.

Contest #8: Cursive is Cool

It’s a cursive handwriting contest!

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Photo: pxhere

I stumbled upon this cursive contest online a few days ago sponsored by Campaign for Cursive (C4C).  This organization is a committee of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (AHAF) and is an all-volunteer non-profit that began in 2012 in the Southern California chapter of the AHAF. Its goal is to “bring public recognition and awareness to the importance of teaching cursive writing to all kids, and even adults,” according to its website.

In the spring, C4C hosts a cursive writing contest called “Cursive is Cool” for students in grades 1-6. Visit this page to see the winning entries. The contest is offered in three versions: American English, Canadian English, and Canadian French.

To enter, students use this form and write five sentences that answer one of three questions:

  • Why is cursive cool?
  • Why do you like signing your name?
  • What do you think is fun about writing in cursive?

According to the PDF form, students’ cursive writing is judged on neatness, legibility, consistency, and creativity. The following awards are given: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards in each grade, and one award for creativity in each grade.

In 2018, entries were due March 4; plan for the same timeframe for 2019. Make sure to download the PDF entry form for additional guidelines and requirements. Take note that students will need a parent’s signature on the entry form, so allow extra time for those entries to go home for a signature.

I hope you’ll consider having some of your students enter the Cursive is Cool 2019 Contest. I plan to try it out. I like that the contest will provide some extra motivation for my students to continue to learn and practice their cursive throughout the upcoming school year. It helps when a national contest places emphasis on a skill that I also encourage my students to hone.

To read my other posts about how I teach cursive writing in my classroom, as well as how I convey the importance of cursive writing to my students, check out these two posts: “Why do we have to write in cursive?” and “Five Reasons I Teach Cursive” and “How I Add Cursive Writing to My Class.” 


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you plan to try this contest in 2019 and make sure to share your thoughts and experiences with it later with other readers!

 

Five Reasons I Teach Cursive

Beyond giving students a competitive edge, here are some other impossible-to-ignore reasons.

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Two days ago, my post focused on this reason to teach cursive: to make sure that kids in public school are competitive with kids in private schools and around the world, where cursive writing is taught and practiced regularly.

I discuss this very practical reason with my students and it seems to really sink in… that learning cursive isn’t just something I think they should do, or their parents feel nostalgic about, but that it’s something that their peers are learning, so why shouldn’t they have the same opportunity?

Today, I’ve gathered some other more commonly cited reasons to teach cursive. These reasons, while solid, are often-discussed in academic circles. It’s easy to find several articles online that tout and support these reasons. I’ve included a few of these well-known reasons below to build my case for teaching and practicing cursive writing in public schools. Even though cursive writing is no longer in the standards for Missouri, I believe it should still be part of our school day.

1. Cursive writing activates the brain. “Brain scans reveal neural circuitry lighting up when young children first print letters and then read them. The same effect is not apparent when the letters are typed or traced,” writes Tom Berger, executive editor at Edutopia.org. While addressing handwriting in general, this idea can transfer to cursive writing specifically. Berger writes that cursive, and other forms of handwriting, commands specific patterns in the way our brains work.

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Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

In addition, students take better notes when they write by hand. The benefits of manual note-taking are compounded when students use cursive, according to Cursive Logic, a provider of cursive curriculum, including some cool freebies you can download. Students who take notes by hand actually digest the content and reframe it in their own words—a process that increases both understanding and recall.

Here’s one last note from Campaign for Cursive, a volunteer organization that advocates cursive: “(Cursive writing) unlocks potential for abstract thinking, allows the human brain to compartmentalize, and expands memory capacity.” Obviously, cursive has a definite connection to critical thinking, which was my school district’s central focus last year.

2. I’ve noticed that kids definitely struggle when they work with their hands these days. If cutting with scissors is a challenge for some, imagine how they may feel when I ask them to write in cursive!  Practicing cursive writing improves hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and memory functions, writes Berger.  It’s more than just about writing a fancy script; writing in cursive will hone their fine motor skills outside the classroom.

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Photo: Pixabay

3. In my own opinion, cursive writing is a connection to our past. If kids expose themselves to cursive writing, they’ll be able to read letters and documents written long ago. True, cursive may not be a requirement for living in the 21st century, but it can still have important functions.  Read this post about how I have connected with my own ancestors through cursive correspondence.

4. I’ve heard numerous students comment that they enjoy seeing their cursive writing improve over the school year. It’s nice to hear them notice their own progress. When students see their cursive writing improve, they experience a pride of workmanship. Like with any skill, practice makes perfect.

5. As kids grow into young adults, cursive can help. Writing in cursive is considered an important rite of passage by many students. It’s a signal that one is maturing and growing in intellect. Removing cursive writing from the standards unfairly denies this gift to students. Why not allow kids this opportunity?


Thanks for reading! How do you feel about cursive writing? Do your students practice it? Is it required?  Feel free to leave a comment to share your experience and follow my blog to stay in touch. 

“Why do we have to write in cursive?”

Pure and simple: to compete.

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Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash

 

Near the beginning of the school year, I read aloud the comment in the picture below to my middle school Language Arts students. I came upon this comment one day when I was reading this New York Times article about the death of cursive writing.

The writer of this comment is a university professor who has some interesting observations about students who know and use cursive writing. I usually read this aloud to the class after the first week, when students have had about three cursive quotes to complete at the beginning of class. Read about that activity here.

I pass out copies of the professor’s comments to students, inform them that yes, there are some typos in it (why didn’t he proofread this?), and then I read it aloud. It succinctly explains one reason, among others, why I believe I should teach cursive to my kids… to make them competitive with their private school peers, and with students around the world. Why should we expect less of public education students, I ask?

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After we finish reading the professor’s comment, I ask the kids what they think of his ideas and his rationale for advocating cursive writing. As we discuss Mulvey’s ideas, however, it becomes clear that many of students don’t understand the differences between private and public schools. So we talk about our public school and how it’s supported by the taxes their parents pay, and therefore, must abide by certain guidelines and standards set by our government.

We also discuss how private schools use different standards and curriculum and have more autonomy in their choice of subjects taught and activities offered. I usually discuss a local private school that many of them are aware of. I know this private school requires that their students write in cursive and, as a result, those students reap the benefits of cursive writing.

Those students enjoy a competitive edge when compared to public school students who often aren’t required to learn and practice cursive. They also are on the same level as students around the world who learn cursive. This is in addition to the more often expressed benefits of cursive writing: deeper thinking, more carefully constructed thoughts, more complex ideas.

Why shouldn’t my public school students be allowed to have these competitive edges also? I tell them I am simply making sure they are getting as full and complete an education as the students at the nearby private school.

Our discussion, prompted by Mulvey’s comment, does three things:

  • it helps them understand why I spend time on cursive writing
  • it makes them think twice before complaining about cursive
  • it helps them get my point, which is that I care about them and their education and if we have to spend time learning something that will make them competitive later, then so be it.

And that usually solves the whole “Why do we have to write in cursive?” tirade.  Now they know my reasons and the purpose behind them. They want to be competitive, too, after all.


What are your thoughts on Mulvey’s views? Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? There are other reasons why I think cursive writing is important; I’ll discuss those other reasons to teach and practice cursive in the upper grades in my post on Thurs., June 14.