“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.

Read this before your students write

You’ll see light bulbs pop on across your classroom as you read it.

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Photo: Gisella Fotographie on Pixabay

Copy off the paragraph below from writing guru Gary Provost and read it aloud to your students at the beginning of class or as a mini-lesson. Don’t just read it aloud… make sure they follow along on their own copy. It’s more effective that way. You’ll see the light bulbs pop on across your room as you read it. That’s what happens when I read it to my students. I usually read it once in seventh-grade, and then we revisit it once or twice in eighth grade. It’s awesome.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals— sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

To get more writing advice to use in your class, order Provost’s book. 

As you read this aloud to your students, if your kids are like mine, you’ll see their eyes raise from the page and lock with yours in recognition of what Provost is cleverly doing: literally showing them sentence variety and how effective it is.

You may have to explain a few things (What’s a stuck record? What does it mean when something drones? What does monotonous mean?), but I can’t think of a faster, more effective way to explain the positives of sentence variety.

Then collect the paragraphs, and remind your kids to apply sentence variety to the writing project they happen to be working on for the day…. assuming they’re not first-drafting. For my own writing, sentence variety comes into play during revision. If I’m lucky, it’ll happen during a first draft, but not usually.


That’s all for today! Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this useful and leave a comment with your own approach to teaching sentence variety. This works for me, but I’d like to know what works for you.

Also, request my free “reflection assignment PDF” by clicking the “Send freebie!” menu at the top of the page. Make sure to write “reflection PDF” in the comment box so I know what to send.

 

 

Welcome to My World: Boil Order at a Middle School

Ten things that happen when the water main breaks

 

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Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

 

  1. Over the weekend, the local water protection district issues a “boil order” and ships pallets of water bottle cases to be stacked next to the water fountains on Monday morning. In any place other than a middle school, this would be a good thing.
  2. Construction paper signs are taped to fountains and faucets warning students not to drink the water. Here… have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead.
  3. Students drink two to three times as much as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Man, water is delicious!
  4. Students make two to three times as many trips to the bathroom as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Yes, go, just go.
  5. The fun wears off, so ingenious students use pens to punch holes in the lids of full water bottles. Squirt guns! Broken pens! (Does this count as a STEM activity?)
  6. The request to leave class to get a drink no longer applies because you, dear student, have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead. Please stay in the room and drink two to three times what you normally would.
  7. Drops of water appear on desks, turning typed words into illegible gray clouds. Look! There on the desk. It’s an essay! It’s an art project!
  8. Armloads of water bottles are tossed into the trash. Many are mostly full. So much for going green.
  9. Teachers exhibit great patience when students empty those water bottles and then squeeze them repeatedly. Here’s the sound those bottles make: crinkle-crackle- crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle. If teachers calmly wait for the sound effect to end (because this has been happening all day), it just might… but usually it doesn’t. Throw it away. Now.
  10. Tuesday morning feels like it should be Friday afternoon… for the teachers, anyway. This is gonna be one L-O-N-G week.

    Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you enjoyed this post. Feel free to leave a comment about your own middle school mayhem. Follow my blog for more posts about teaching middle school ELA, including writing contests and the unique PBL project my seventh-graders are engaged in with a local historical society. 

Dear Teachers: Avoid these so-called “educator’s kits” from the Church of Scientology

Try these human rights resources instead.

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Photo: By Pictorial Evidence (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I recently wrote a post on Medium and my sister blog called “Dear Parents: Scientology Wants to Get Inside Your Child’s Classroom” about how an organization known as Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) offers a human rights educator’s kit for teachers to use in their classrooms. Not realizing that the YHRI was a front organization for the Church of Scientology, I had previously and inadvertently ordered and used these materials in my English Language Arts middle school classroom where my students connect the literature they read to specific human rights as listed in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Church of Scientology has no business extolling the virtues of human rights and here’s why. I ended my recent post by promising to provide some alternative human rights teaching materials. If your child’s teacher discusses or teachers about human rights, suggest they check out the materials from these organizations instead:

  1. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights offers a Human Rights Education Series. First, download the PDF called “Teaching Human Rights: Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools.”

 

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Photo: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

While teachers are at the UN website, they may also peruse a publication called “Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia, and North America: A Compendium of Good Practice.” This is a directory of human rights education practices around the world. Educators may browse the listings and description to find an idea that might work for their classes and then contact the organization that produces the resources for more information. They may also download this color poster of the UDHR to hang in their classroom.

  1. The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) offers a comprehensive range of teaching materials. Located in Minneapolis, AHR’s mission, according to its publications, is “to implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.”

On the home page, click on Our Work and then Educators. Here teachers will find a useful Human Rights Toolkit that surpasses the YHRI’s booklet for its breadth of information and critical thinking content. In fact, the AHR’s toolkit specifically addresses several questions that my students have asked but not found answers to within the pages of the YHRI materials. Some of these questions include How can human rights be enforced? How does the United States Bill of Rights fit with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Which document addresses human rights for kids?

 

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Photo: The Advocates for Human Rights

 

I’m thinking about downloading the PDF, copying, and binding a class set of these toolkits for my students to use. The toolkit includes chapters entitled Human Rights Primer (basic definitions and vocabulary terms), Human Rights System (UN legal bodies, regional and international groups such as the International Criminal Court), Human Rights and the U.S. ( a timeline of human rights in this country, analysis of the U.S. Constitution and human rights).

Some of the information provided by the AHR is not without political bias, especially in discussions of the death penalty, health care, and post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies, among others. Teachers should review this material before discussing with students, so the information is used to assist students in developing their own opinions on human rights policy.

  1. Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is a non-governmental nonprofit registered as a charity in the Netherlands. HREA supports human rights education through materials that focus on children’s rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment, human rights teaching, global advocacy, and e-learning courses. Watch this HREA video about the right to education.

HREA’s Path to Dignity human rights film surpasses the ten-minute film from YHRI in quality and content. It contains accounts of human rights activity and education in India, Australia, and Turkey. Teachers can view the entire 28-minute film or the portions that best meet their curriculum needs.

 

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Photo: Human Rights Education Associates

 

So there you have it. Three alternative resources to consult regarding human rights instead of those offered by the Church of Scientology and its front organizations, Youth for Human Rights International and United for Human Rights.

And by the way, the materials from these sources are superior in content to those by the cult. While the Scientology materials are colorful and well-produced, the information contained inside is shallow. The publishers have merely reworded the UDHR, restating each of the thirty human rights into shorter sound bites. The booklet and DVD contain some brief historical information on the evolution of human rights, but little else.

There is no mention, for example, of the International Bill of Human Rights, which provides a framework through international treaties and covenants that allows the force of law to be applied when violations occur. There is also no mention of the many human rights treaty bodies around the world and the obligations governments assume when its leaders sign a treaty or covenant.

Like all those website photos of Scientology’s sterile, empty church facilities and imposing high-rise towers, YHRI’s educator’s kids are slick but superficial. Teacher of human rights can do much better. They should avoid the Church of Scientology, Youth for Human Rights International, and United for Human Rights and try these alternative resources instead.


Thanks for reading. Click “like” if you found this informative. If you want to be even more awesome, leave a comment! Follow this blog for more articles about teaching middle school English or check out my sister blog.

Dear Teachers: The Church of Scientology wants to get inside your classroom.

Marilyn Yung

And they don’t need Tom Cruise to do it.

Tom_Cruise By 롯데엔터테인먼트 | Youtube link | [CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my classes. On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.

My eyes rested on that last one. I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?

I questioned Hubbard’s name because I knew a little about the Church…

View original post 890 more words

Here’s what happened when I submitted a student’s writing to a hunting magazine

 

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Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash

Last fall, one of my seventh-grade students wrote an “Expert Advice” article, one of ten assignments in our Writer’s Workshop project list. My students seemed to like this particular assignment. They chose a topic they were familiar with and then wrote a how-to article. “Jared” wrote an article called “Four Ways Novice Hunters Can Avoid Hunting Accidents.” He wrote a first draft, received feedback from another student, and then submitted a second draft to me.

Right away, I could tell it might be a piece I could submit on his behalf to a magazine, print or online. I knew Jared had a publishable story because of the way he tackled the assignment. First, he wrote his article in steps, which always makes for a reader-friendly piece. Second, Jared’s advice indicated that, as an avid hunter, he wrote from experience and possessed some natural expertise. In addition, his writing contained his own voice with tips such as, “Hunting on legal ground is also an important law to follow. By hunting on legal ground, or government property, you can avoid trespassing and a visit from the sheriff.” I knew that, with a few more rounds of revisions and edits, Jared would have an article ready to send out.

So the next morning during my plan time,  I googled “deer hunting magazines youth” to see what I could find. A few results popped up. I visited a couple and found one in particular that seemed promising. I read what kinds of articles they typically publish and found the name of the editor. I also discovered that the magazine had a distribution of 57,000 copies!

After talking to Jared’s mother for her approval, I dashed off a short email to the editor asking if he would be interested in reviewing the article after Jared finished it. Here’s my email:

Dear (Editor’s Name):

Good morning! I’m an English teacher in Missouri and I have a student who is working on a very good how-to article for novice or  first-time hunters. I told him I would inquire about any publishing opportunities he may wish to pursue.

Does your magazine ever publish student-written articles? Would this how-to type of article be a fit for your publication? If not, do you have any advice on where he might send his piece when it is finished?

Thanks for your time in thinking about this. I appreciate it.

Marilyn Yung, Teacher

Within three hours, the editor responded. (His quick response surprised me, by the way, because in my own writing experience, editors usually require from a few days to a week or two to respond.)

The editor’s reply: Yes, he would be interested in seeing the article when Jared had it ready. He explained that while the advice may not be useful to many of the magazine’s readers, the fact that the writer is a student may be the interesting part. He added that even if it didn’t work for the print publication, it could likely be used for the website. He ended with, “Either way, I’d like to take a look and see. We are trying to provide more how-to info for beginners, and we are also interested in encouraging young hunters and writers!”

So after two or three more revisions, we emailed the final draft just before the holiday break. I’ll let you know when I hear the final word from the editor about Jared’s article. Whether it is accepted for publication or not, it’s my hope Jared has learned he has solid potential as a writer for the world beyond the school walls.


Thanks for reading! If you found this post useful, click “like” so more teachers will find it. Follow this blog for more articles and stories about teaching middle school ELA. Check out my sister blog for other writing.

Dear Teachers: Thinking about the first day back at school after break?

So are your students and some of them can’t wait to see you.

 

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Photo: Ariel Lustre on Unsplash

 

Even though you love your job, when you think about the first day back at school after Christmas break, you sigh. Ugh, right? Who wants to think about that? The kids certainly don’t. Let me clarify that. Some of the kids don’t want to think about the return to school; however, some do.

Some kids can’t wait to go back to school. They love to see their friends. They love to see their teachers. They thrive on the community of school.

On the last day of the semester as my students and I were packing up to leave for Christmas break, one student told me that she dreads being away from school for so long. She misses her friends and the social environment of school. Another agreed.

Depend on these enthusiastic kids. Let them inspire you as you think ahead to settling back into your busy teaching schedule.

True, not all students look forward to returning to school. In fact, on the last day before break, I overheard one student admit that break could last forever and it would be okay with him. As for these students who really don’t want to go back… give them a reason to return to school. Be a positive presence in their lives. Expect them to fulfill their potential, to be their best. Push them to see the positive results of their hard work. Encourage them.

So, as the holiday break dwindles away, pour yourself another cup of coffee. Read some. Write more. Learn a few new chords on your guitar, bake a loaf of bread… in short, recharge. And when your mind drifts to that moment when you re-enter your darkened, eerily quiet classroom, remember there are kids who want to see you, who want to know what you’ve been up to over the long break. Rely on those kids and smile at the possibilities the new year brings.


If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others can find it. Follow my writing blog and this one for more articles and stories. Thanks for reading!