Endangered Species?

The above image shows something that I’m seeing less and less when I  go to work in my various classrooms.

The overwhelming majority of students above 3rd grade.  that I work with rely on printing rather than cursive. In fact, many middle-schoolers have no concept of handwriting—the “old-fashioned way.”

Sure, it’s the Digital/Social Media Age, and everyone texts, or types. That’s not a bad thing, of course. But the tradition of forming letters is wonderful in training for manual dexterity and a workout for the brain. When I ask a bunch of seventh-graders to write their essays rather than print, they look at me as if I’ve asked for them to chisel their answers in stone.

“We don’t know how to do that,” is a typical answer. And, they’re absolutely right. Time-crunched teachers don’t have spaces in the daily schedule for this. Besides, the heavy reliance on electronics and printers makes pen-to-paper seem obsolete. Along with that, the home/family component doesn’t place strong emphasis as it did when I was a kid.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.This past January 23 was National Handwriting Day, and here’s a few hacks to put a little more cursive in our lives:

1.S-L-O-W Down. It’s not a race to the finish. Sometimes, when we take the time to form the letters, you’ll see more sccuess and legibility.

2. Lighten up. Release the grip on the writing instrument. Often, when there’s too much pressure, the outcome isn’t what you want. Relax your grip as you write, and see amarked difference.

3. Practice. It’s as simple as that. Just like soccer practice, you can’t get good until you do it. But don’t try overkill—a few minutes’ practice daily will show improvement over time. The trick is to give yourself a chance, and be patient.

4. Get in line. You don’t have to shy away from lined paper—it can be your best friend. Choose from wide-ruled or narrower college rule, but the lines help keep you “on track.” Think of it like training wheels for a bike. Once you get the hang of it, lined paper won’t always be a necessity.


Spel It Rite


I recently had the opportunity to attend  an upper elementary spelling bee at the school where I’m currently at, and was totally surprised at the word skills that came out.

Not everyone has spelling as a prime skill, that is true. But this comes from not just memorization of words, but gaining a handle on the meaning and usage, and being comfortable with the whole idea of vocabulary.

The top 3 spellers in each grade, from 5th through 8th were selected. It was going to be an exciting time for twelve students and their supporters of classmates, teachers, and a few family members.

I was sure we had a good 40-45 minutes for this program. So I sat back, and waited for the event to begin. One of the students was in the room I was covering that day.

After explaining the rules, all 12 students got their first shot. However, of those twelve, NINE got knocked out after the first words!  That’s right—75% of the contestants were eliminated within five minutes.

The increase of text-ease, and Spell-Check have pushed correct spelling and word usage to a lowered tier. They just aren’t priorities like they used to be.  With Common Core standards in place, these areas don’t have prior emphasis.

With three students left, it might be a close race. After all, the words were getting more difficult, and these guys had prepped, right?

Sad to say, the remaining eighth-grader eliminated the other two in about four minutes, making it the fastest spelling bee I’ve ever seen.

Teachers and administrators were dumbfounded at what was happening, and they scrambled to keep things going. To put a spin on this, the last eliminated student faced the actual champion in a type of run-off spell-la-thon. That lasted another ten minutes, but the champion held his own, going on to the district events later on next month.

Here are some of the words that got the kids out of the running. The correct way is shown first, and the misspellings beside the

brilliant – brialliant            soften – sofin
tongue – toung                      nectarine – necktarine
tussle –  tussel                         widget – whichid
fluency – fluencie                hoodwink – hudwing
pixel – pickel                          charity –   charoity
ardor – ardoor                       journey – jurnty

Not In the Lesson Plans

Day by Day--A Classroom Here, A Classroom There

This is a re-post of something I feel very strongly about, as a continuing guest teacher in urban public schools……

If I can impart anything to the unsuspecting  middle- and high school students that  I see, it would be that life is NOT like school. It’s not laid out neatly, with scheduled class blocks, gym time, etc. and progress reports. It’s often messy [at least on the surface], but that’s where the real lessons are learned—hopefully permanently.  Plus, out of that “mess” is the beauty of living out one’s true self. Every classroom should have this image posted in a prominent spot:


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Are Manners Dead?

These six points shown above  are what I’d love to see more of in the classes that I encounter. I’ve noticed a growing, serious lack of these “little things” in contributing to a pleasant learning environment. It’s more than just doing the classwork; it’s also learning to be a humane, kindness-centered individual.  These are the people skills that can lead to greater success in life.

Politeness and respect OPEN more doors to experiences that can enhance student life. Why can’t we take a few minutes every day to reinforce this?

Which Model Works Better?

education -two paradigms

The above image shows two very different approaches to education. Of course, the one on the left is more idealistic, and centered less on matters like standardized  testing. The one on the right is what I’ve seen much more of in the public-school system that I work as a guest teacher.

This Factory Model” usually fuels the day-to-day operations, and the students work on the rewards and punishment [actually, bribery] system, with competition being the #1 motivator.

I’ve had only a sprinkling of “Mastery Model” assignments over the years, and the time flew by, with students being willing, independent learners.

Loving That Old Feel……

school-K12-DeSoto_landing1school-typical chiaco

The images above show the typical school buildings that I work at most of the time. They usually are more than 70  years old,  90% wood-centric, with hardly any elevators [and three steep levelsof stairs to navigate is the norm.]

True, they don’t have the ultramodern trappings and fittings; those things are mostly hodge-podged in as needed. Sure, there are computer labs and other up-to-date amenities present, but there’s that overriding presence of the thousands of children’s minds that have walked through there.

When I enter an older classroom, I get a feeling for the ornate architectural details, the spaciousness of the closets and “cloakrooms”, and heating systems that could warm the planet. As I finger the well-worn varnished wood, my mind drifts back to when students have clearly defined ideas of what “going to school” was about. It was an opportunity, a privilege, and one can sense the great care that was given to the rooms. Unlike today, too many  students that I work with have little or no regard for their learning surroundings, and take a throwaway attitude.

Architects of old designed these sites as temples to learning, as a school was often the first official structure in a child’s life. Places of worship were the other official buildings, but schools were attended more than churches.

Yes, it’s nostalgia, but also an appreciation for the architectural details, and commitment to making a visual difference in a community’s daily landscape.

Don’t just tear down the old—repurpose them as needed. Monies can be saved in many cases, and the overall structure can be a plus for historic preservation. New doesn’t necessarily mean better…..

Yes, Virginia, There Is………..


That famous line about whether or not there is a Santa Claus is just how I felt when I’ve spent the last few weeks as a guest teacher where there are no:

  • food fights
  • physical fighting in the classroom
  • paper-ball throwing  and/or balling up black sheets just for the heck of it
  • blurting out impulsively
  • being called a profane name
  • cross-talking above the teacher’s voice 95% of the time

Yes, there is now at least ONE school in my bag of gigs where I actually use my “teaching skills”—that is, engaging students in discussions, facilitating independent work, and allowing the class to be proactive, with decent results.

Have I been dreaming?

It seems that this school has always kept a very heavy home/family involvement, and anything negative behavior-wise was just not accepted. With such high expectations in place, the kids know how far they can push the envelope, and it’s rare when one does.

There are those glitches, of course, like any school. But the biggest “problem” I’ve encountered overall is talking above a Level 2—which is a conversational tone. Can you imagine?

So, I’m very grateful to have experienced several weeks of relative educational sanity. It will be a welcome mental respite when I have to go back to the “Real Classrooms” of my city……☺