Sue Scheff: Is Penmanship becoming Extinct?

When I read this article it got me thinking, how often are our kids actually handwriting? Will this hinder them in the future, or is it the future? Years ago many of us hand wrote our essays and reports, today it is all about the keyboard. I think back to taking typing classes, never realizing how important that class would be. Did I mention that was in High School? Today it starts much earlier.

Source: Connect with Kids

Is Penmanship Extinct?

“If your handwriting is barely legible, it makes them think that you are not really an organized person.”

– Adam, 17 years old

Many tech-savvy teens use a keyboard far more often than a pencil with the result that their handwriting is virtually illegible. In fact, some argue that handwriting is becoming obsolete. Maybe one day it will be but, in the meantime, there are finals, midterms, and essays on college entrance exams.

Many tech-savvy teens say they use a keyboard far more often than a pencil – sending text messages, typing essays and taking notes on a laptop computer.

“Every assignment that we have to turn in, in the long run is required to be typed,” says 16-year-old Rebecca. “It looks neater.”

“I think I have horrible handwriting,” says 17-year-old Brandon. “It’s barely legible.”

There seems to be a growing opinion that handwriting is almost obsolete.

Some educators link the demise of penmanship to the rejection of repetitive drills as a teaching tool. Also, teachers are spending less time on handwriting and more time covering subjects like reading and math, which are measured by standardized tests.

In the meantime, however, there are finals, midterms and essays on college entrance exams – many of which still need to be written by hand.

The writing portion on the SAT exam, for example, requires students to write an essay by hand in 25 minutes.

“And I found it hard to write an essay just using handwriting, because I’ve grown used to typing my essays on the computer,” says Brandon.

While teachers who grade the SAT are told not to mark off for sloppy penmanship, research shows that handwriting can send a message.

“It’s hard when you look at some types of handwriting, to not read certain things into it,” says Dana Huff, an English teacher at the Weber School, who also grades essays for the SAT. “You know the big, bubbly handwriting, for instance, can sometimes lead a teacher to think, ‘Oh, Airhead.’”

“If your handwriting is barely legible, it makes them think that you are not really an organized person,” says 17-year-old Adam, “that you are writing too fast, and you are not thinking about it.”

While computers have made handwriting less important than in the past, educators say students still take tests – and they need to be able to write legibly.

“I think in the case of handwriting, one of the best things that they could do is just drill,” says Huff.

For example, she says, students could practice writing timed essays by hand before they take the SAT.

“I wish we could type it, but I know that’s not possible, so I think its okay,” says Rachel, a junior at the Weber School. “I think as long as they are okay with us crossing stuff out and it being not as neat than I think, it’s okay.”

Are students’ writing skills at their worst in decades? Possibly, according to a study from the National Commission on Writing, which suggests today’s students don’t receive enough writing instruction at school. The commission’s report shows that most fourth-graders spend less than three hours a week writing, which equals about 15% of the time they spend watching television. Consider these additional – and dismal – statistics about kids and writing:

•Seventy-five percent of high school seniors never receive a writing assignment from their history or social studies teachers.
•In most high schools, the extended research paper, once a senior-year rite of passage, has been abandoned because teachers do not have time to grade it anymore.
•Only about half of the nation’s 12th-graders report being regularly assigned papers of three or more pages in English class
•About four in 10 seniors say they never, or hardly ever, receive writing assignments.
Why is writing becoming a lost art form in schools? Most experts agree that part of the problem is the fact that many high school teachers don’t assign writing tasks because they don’t have the time to read and grade 120 to 200 papers per assignment.

Tips for Parents

If your child’s school does not emphasize teaching writing skills, you can take several steps on your own to help your child become a better writer. Consider these tips from the experts at Family Education Network:

•Provide appropriate tools and space. Provide plenty of paper – lined and unlined – and different kinds of writing utensils, including pencils, pens, markers and crayons. Allowing your child to choose a special pen or journal will help promote a willingness to write. Make sure the lighting is adequate and that the writing surface and chair are comfortable for your child.
•Allow time. Help your child spend time planning a writing project or exercise. You may even want to set aside a daily writing time at home. Writing for 20 minutes per day is equally as important as reading the same amount of time.
•Respond. Respond to the ideas your child expresses. Focus first on what your child has written, not how it was written. In the beginning, you can ignore minor errors while your child is just getting ideas together. After you acknowledge and respond to the content of your child’s writing, go back and correct errors or misspelled words.
•Praise. Always say something good about your child’s writing. Is it accurate? Descriptive? Thoughtful? Interesting?
•Write together. Have your child help you with letters, even such routine ones as ordering items from an advertisement or writing to a business firm. This helps him or her see a variety of ways in everyday life that writing is important.
•Make it real. Your child needs to do real writing. Encourage him or her to write letters or send email to relatives and friends or to help with shopping lists.
It is important to remind your child that writing skills don’t come without some hard work. You can help keep your child on the “write” track by trying the following strategies from the National PTA:

For middle school students:

•Do crossword puzzles with your child and play word games like Scrabble, which are excellent vocabulary builders.
•Teach your child to write the conclusion to an essay or story first. The conclusion of an essay is really a “destination” – it’s where the writer tries to take the reader. All of the thinking and reading a child has done on a topic has led to the conclusion.
•Encourage journal writing. The journal now becomes a diary full of names, places and activities that serves as your child’s memory bank for future writing assignments. It’s also a record of his or her evolving writing style.
For high school students:

•Encourage your child to write for the school newspaper or yearbook. These are excellent ways to develop a sense of writing structure and writer’s “voice.”
•Suggest that your teen learn how to handle writing deadlines. Use the “practice time” approach: Set aside time each day to work on a long-term assignment or just to write. Sticking to this routine helps your teen get into a habit so that he or she can deal with deadlines sensibly rather than feel stressed by an “all-nighter.”
•Advise your teen to interview someone in his or her anticipated career field about the value of writing to career performance. Your teen can ask questions such as, “Is writing important to you in your job? How? How important is writing when communicating with other people at work, such as your boss, co-workers and those you manage? How do you view your writing ability in terms of job promotion?”

•Family Education Network
•National Commission on Writing
National PTA
•New York Times
The College Board
•Utah State University, Handwriting Worksheets
•Dana Huff, English Teacher, The Weber School

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