Saturday, August 11, 2012

Handwriting and Homework

I would like to draw attention to an article, Teacher on cursive:Worth its weight in gold, on teaching cursive handwriting in schools. I found the article through ASCD’s SmartBrief daily email, a good source for up-to-date information on what’s going on in education. I strongly agree with the need to teach cursive handwriting but go one step further and that is to argue that kids who have difficulty with handwriting must have homework relief, at least until they master the skill. Homework relief is not mentioned in this article, but handwriting is central to understanding The Homework Trap.

In my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity ofParents, Students and Teachers, I talk about under-the-radar learning disorders as the reason why some children do well in school but cannot get their homework done. I focus on two specific areas where children have trouble: working memory and processing speed. Under the notion of processing speed comes handwriting, and it is difficulties with handwriting that are largely responsible for some children being unable to get their work done, at least in any reasonable amount of time. It’s for that reason that I advocate for time containers. Otherwise, the demand that children go on working and writing beyond what they can do is not just misguided, but abusive in ways.

I’m certainly in favor of teaching children cursive writing, and remediating the problem when handwriting gets in the way. Perhaps, the homework deficient child will become homework proficient when he learns to write more quickly. Perhaps that child will never learn to write well, but will develop keyboarding skills and go on to be proficient using the technologies of today. But whatever the outcome, we need to understand that there are only so many hours in a day. I leave it to educators to decide on how to balance the time needed to teach math, reading, science, history, and handwriting, just as long as they know there is a limit to the time with which they have to work, school and homework time combined.

Without these time boundaries, the outcome is inevitable.  If we continue to push beyond reasonable limits, children will display “bad behaviors,” and we will misinterpret those behaviors as the reason for the homework problems, not the result of homework pressures. We will continue to distract teachers, school administrators, and child study teams from their primary mission to educate our children, by having them deal with the behavioral problems they create through the homework system. This will serve to frustrate educators more, and even cost us good teachers who choose to leave the field. And the solution is simple. Give these kids homework relief.

No comments: