I was in a PD session last week. We were talking about Class Act and how to develop phonemic awareness skills in our students. It wasn’t long before we started talking about teaching printing, as printing the letters is part of these skills we’re trying to develop in our students. I’ll admit that in my head I was asking, “Why do we always get hung up on printing? Why does it matter how the students form the letters? Is this really key to their success?” And that’s when the Speech Pathologist that was delivering the training, said some words that made me think differently (paraphrased here): Students need to be able to form these letters automatically without spending so long thinking about the actual letter-formation. Then the focus can be on the writing (i.e., the ideas) and not the printing. Excellent point!
I share this story because it connects with a great conversation I had online last night with Andrew Campbell: a wonderful teacher from a neighbouring Board. He wished that I hadn’t written a post yesterday on printing vs. cursive writing vs. typing, and his reasoning is shared below.
I understand what he’s saying, and in fact, share many of his thoughts, but with a couple of exceptions: How do students have real choices in their learning if they haven’t been exposed to these choices? How do we only focus on “what we’re doing,” if students can’t get the ideas down to work with them in the first place? Overall, tools seem “easy” and pedagogy’s “hard,” but when you’re teaching students that are just beginning to read and write, both can be challenging.
- How do you introduce the tool choices?
- How do you keep the students focused on the learning and not on the tool?
- How do you keep your professional dialogue focused on the pedagogy? Is it important that you do so, or are “tool discussions” also valuable? When might this be so?
- How much direct instruction do you give, and how much do you let students explore on their own?
- How do you decide on the best options for different students?
- How do you help students later choose the “best option” for themselves? When do you encourage students to start making these choices on their own?
I would definitely rather keep our discussions focused on the students and on the learning, but I can understand how the tool also becomes a focus. I think that the problem starts when all we discuss is the tool without the pedagogy. How do you stay focused on the learning? What role does the “tool” play in your discussions? What role do you think it should play? Thank you, Andrew, for getting me to think more about this important topic!
I think there’s a misunderstanding about modern learning strategies. People think they are connected with digital tech, but they aren’t. Lots of these “new” methods and strategies have been used for years and years in other forms. Tech can enhance and facilitate but the methods aren’t new. Let’s start discussing what pedagogy we want first. Then figure out the best tech. There’s nothing transformative about worksheets or flash cards on an iPad.
Thanks for the comment, Andrew! I totally agree with what you’re saying here. I know though that there may need to be more of a discussion on “tools” in early primary grades, as we’re introducing the technology that may support the learning, and then students can draw on what they know to choose the best tool after that. I still think that discussions on pedagogy need to come first. It’s funny: anytime we’ve discussed technology use in the classroom, I always hear about the importance of good pedagogy, but we still end up discussing tools. With more pilot projects and 1:1 device options, I can’t help but wonder if this makes technology the focus. Discussions on technology tools can also be “safe” discussions. Discussions on pedagogy and teaching practices often make people feel uncomfortable. They tend to pull into question more what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Could this make a difference? I wonder how we really shift the focus from the tool to the pedagogy. What would you suggest?
I’d suggest we start as we would with our students. Start by asking them what kind of learning they thinks kids should be doing. Have them brainstorm and articulate it fully. How would it look, sound, feel, etc.? What kind of spaces would they need to support? What kind of school structures and cultures? Then start talking about the kind of tech tools they need to help make that happen.
I really like this idea, Andrew! I wonder if schools have tried this before, and if so, how it’s worked.
Learning the formation of letters is important….but it has nothing to do with fine motor skill practice or neatness or penmanship.
The reason, as you suggest, is to build automaticity….so children can call the letter up from their lexicon at a moment’s notice….much like automaticity in computation and word retrieval.
The question is HOW:
Certainly NOT with dotted line paper nor rote/repetitive printing of the letters….rather, multiple surfaces and a variety of tools…..and of course massive opportunities to authentically write, as you do.
For those few who continue with confusion, we can intervene. But for the vast majority, they will take on flexible letter learning while in the context of using them each day in a variety of ways. The more ways they encounter the letters, the more familiar with them they will become. The letters will go from mere acquaintances to genuine friends with whom to ‘play’ each day 🙂
Thanks for your comment! This is something that I’ve seen too. I appreciate your input early on this year about letter formation, printing, and writing. You helped me out as I was trying to help out my learners.