I’m not a huge sports fan, but I’ve watched many people watch sports on TV before. There’s usually always somebody yelling at the screen. I’m often amazed by this: why talk to the screen? It’s not like the person’s going to hear you. Last night, I understood why people respond in this way though because I responded in a similar way – not to sports on TV, but to a Ted Talk on my computer.
Late last night, I saw a tweet and received an email from my new principal, Gerry, with this Ted Talk about “penmanship for the 21st Century.”
After a few minutes of watching it, some initial thoughts came to mind:
- I have no idea where I can find a pen at home. I’m not even exaggerating here. As I sat on the sofa viewing the video, I could pinpoint where I might find a marker and possibly where a crayon exists, but I honestly don’t think I have a pen.
- The “summer of cursive” continues. This is like the debate that never ends, and this Ted Talk had me thinking about it again.
The truth is that my thoughts on this Ted Talk evolved as I watched more of it. At first I was upset. I thought about the students that struggle with fine motor skills. In a world of “the pen,” how are we preparing them for success? One thing that people tend to notice quickly about me is that my hands always shake. I have a familial tremor, and sometimes this shaking is far more noticeable than others. Writing with a pen is a huge struggle for me. I have to put a lot of pressure to hold it still, and over time, this additional pressure causes me a lot of hand and shoulder pain. The computer completely changed my school experience! I still don’t know how to type “correctly,” but with the use of my thumb, one finger on my right hand, and two to three on my left, I can type up to 80 words a minute. Connect my computer to a projector, and now I can keep up with the thoughts that the students share with me and want recorded for others to see. A small device, but a big bonus!
That being said, I think that students need to see the modelling of cursive writing and/or printing. While writing may be a struggle for me, 14 years in the classroom have helped me improve, and my printing and cursive writing are neat even if I am a bit slower. I probably write as many notes on chart paper as I do on a computer because there is value to having certain items available for students to easily access later … even when the computer is in use. And while typing works well for me, it doesn’t work for everyone. In this Ted Talk, Jake talks about the creative process that happens as you write. I’ve heard about this before, and the value in cursive writing for remembering as well as developing ideas. The truth is, I’ve never experienced this though. When I type things, I remember them. I can take a piece of paper and try valiantly to compose a blog post, generate ideas, or write a letter, but it’s not until I get on a computer and start typing, that my ideas start flowing. Maybe I’m an anomaly. Nothing would surprise me. Maybe it’s because I often talk as I write: in fact, I find my mouth moving now as I compose this blog post. It could be the connection between hearing the ideas aloud and viewing them on the screen that helps with writing and recalling. Maybe it’s that everybody’s different, and one way — be it cursive writing or typing — doesn’t work for all. That’s why we need to use and model many options, and give students the opportunity to find out what works for them.
I also wonder, if as educators, we need to re-examine the connection between cursive writing and visual arts. Towards the end of the Ted Talk, I saw what Jake created – not just as a writer, but as an artist — and I really “saw” the elements of design. I started to think about visual arts and poetry, and what a wonderful link we could make between Language and The Arts by exploring the stroke of a pen. In many ways, I think that I have such an emotional response to “cursive writing” because all that I think about are the worksheets and the writing booklets, where students are not “writing” but merely “copying.” They start to judge their work not by the quality of their ideas, but by the neatness of their penmanship, which is only loosely connected to curriculum expectations. Copying is not creating, and just like I’m not an advocate of typing programs, I’m not an advocate of printing or writing ones either.
You see, in my opinion, a pen, just like a computer, is merely a tool. The tool is not what produces change: it’s how we use the tool that matters. And just like with tablets, laptops, and Smart Phones, we need to help our students make good choices about when and how to select different tool options. I may never write a letter, essay, or story by hand (this option doesn’t work for me), but I do print notes to students, I do write feedback with a pen (when I can find one ), and I do write To Do Lists by hand (often with a marker ) — for there’s something about that personal connection and/or the act of “crossing things off” that makes a difference. So as a teacher, just as I “think aloud” as I generate ideas for writing, maybe I also need to “think aloud” as I select my best tool for the task. (I think that I also need students to understand that it’s okay that everybody has a different “best tool.”) Hopefully this will help the students see the value in all tools – not as items, but as creation opportunities! What do you think? What role does “the pen” play in your classroom? Let the #summerofcursive — or maybe just the #summerofthepen – live on just a little bit longer!