Teacher Talk: Handwriting, Underachieving and Succeeding

Q: The teachers at our school are debating whether or not cursive writing should still be taught. What are the advantages of teaching cursive when students with poor handwriting can just use a computer?
— Useless or Not

A: This debate on the need to teach cursive writing is going on in many schools. Many teachers are now saying cursive is a waste of time, and they want to spend the time working on other skills. They point out that we live in a print world. What children see in their books and on signs is manuscript (print). Furthermore, students are being taught to use a keyboard as early as first grade, reducing the need for handwriting.

There are still advantages to teaching cursive, however. Many educators believe that it is easier to learn than manuscript. Cursive can help children learn to read certain confusing print letters as b and d; p, g, and q; and f and t, because these letters do not look as similar as they do in print. It also makes the blending of sounds more obvious to beginning readers. Cursive remains the preferred way to write letters of condolence and thank-you notes. There also still are occasions when cursive writing is more likely to be used than manuscript. This includes writing essays on standardized tests such as the SAT. Plus, cursive generally is used for signatures and is considered a personal expression of each individual’s personality.

Q: Our second-grader is a bright child with a great vocabulary. We thought he’d do well in school. However, he does very little work and is being described by his teacher as an underachiever. How can we help him go back to the enthusiastic learner he was in kindergarten?
— Puzzled

A: Now is definitely the time to get your young son back on the right track. He will not be able to change his behavior by himself. You and his teacher will need to work together. Try to determine with the teacher why your son is not living up to his potential. Are his basic skills in reading and math strong? If so, he may need a greater challenge. If not, a tutor may be needed to correct any significant deficiencies.
Your son was an enthusiastic learner. What has changed? Is it the classroom environment? Are the days too regimented and curriculum too dull? Are you and the teacher focusing too much on grades and his intelligence rather than on his efforts to learn? Does he enjoy learning new things at home?

You and the teacher need to help your son recapture his enthusiasm for learning. Try to tie the schoolwork to his interests. Be aware that so much of underachievement is tied to children’s perception of themselves. To be successful they need to receive support for their efforts and feel valued as a person by parents and teachers.

Parents: We typically end each year by giving you a list of resolutions you can make to help your children succeed in school. It is important for you to avoid making certain fundamental mistakes that can really affect how well your children do in school. Take the following quiz to see if you are avoiding these mistakes. Flip any “no” answers into positive resolutions for 2009.

1. Do your children start the day off right by eating breakfast?
2. Does your family eat your evening meal together most nights?
3. Do you read to your young children every day?
4. Do you still read to your older children, even though they are preteens?
5. Do you limit the amount of time your children spend watching TV?
6. Do your children have some time for play or exercise each day?
7. Do your children get enough sleep every night?
8. Do your children have an appropriate number of extracurricular activities?
9. Do you help them acquire solid organizational skills?
10. Do you communicate on a regular basis with their teachers?
11. Do you frequently speak positively about teachers and education in front of your children?
12. Do you praise them for what they have learned rather than being smart?
13. Do you talk to your children every day about their school day?
14. Do you try to attend most school functions?
15. Do you spend fun, quality time with your children?

Parents should send questions to Dear Teacher, in care of Charlotte Parent, PO Box 395, Carmel, Ind. 46082-0395 or DearTeacher@excite.com.