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May 20, 2013

Teacher Mode

Krisa Winn

My oldest child is becoming very interested in learning how to spell and write words. The other day, she wanted to write her little sister’s name which begins with the letter K. Like most children her age, that letter ‘K’ was a booga bear!  I made a mental note that we’d work on forming that letter correctly the next time we practiced handwriting. When that glorious teaching moment occurred (keep reading- it didn’t start off too gloriously), I found myself moving very quickly from mommy mode to teacher mode. In reflection, I realized that there were certain things I did that helped keep us from getting derailed. I thought I’d share these ideas and tips with you today.

Teaching is hard and requires perseverance!

My daughter is only four years old, so I don’t ask her to do multiple repetitions of letter writing.  I wasn’t asking much of her, really- and she was motivated to learn.  But, I had barely finished modeling the correct formation of the letter K, when her head hit the table, her fingers turned to jelly, and the whining began.  I will confess that I found myself saying, “Look at Mrs. Winn! I mean Mommy!”  Yes, she had me a bit flustered!  It would have been much easier to give in, but I hung in there.  It reminded me of days when I had to make myself do the redundant, laborious, but necessary tasks of teaching.  Sometimes it’s just hard work, but the end result is well worth the effort.

Make expectations clear. 

When my daughter started ‘melting down’, I reminded her of what we were doing and why.  Example, “Mommy is going to show you an easy way to make the letter K so that you can write your sissy’s name all by yourself.”  Next, I laid out my expectations for her. Example, “You are going to trace these two letters and then make three letters on your own.”  Explaining that she wasn’t going to have to fill the entire sheet of paper with letters seemed to help her rally her strength! 

Use teaching strategies that are age and learning style appropriate. 

Since my daughter is so young, I used my version of Frog Street Press’ writing paper.  I love how the top line is blue, for the sky, the bottom line is green, for the grass, and the middle line is red, for a gate.  As I gave direction, I told her to “start at the sky and make a straight line down to the ground, and so on.”  She could relate, and later remembered where to initially place her pencil in order to make the letter K.  As she practiced, she repeated my directions, verbally.  Doing simple things like this- combining a visual cue and auditory direction with the physical act of writing is a powerful teaching strategy.   

Have helpful tools on hand:

I’ve already mentioned specialized paper (which I made myself), but there are many other learning tools and adaptive equipment that are helpful- especially for children with special needs.  Staying in the handwriting lesson arena, I can think of a few ideas that have really been useful to my students throughout the years.  For instance-

  • Pencil Grippers:  There are grippers that are designed to make writing more comfortable and others that are designed to assist with proper pencil grip.   Great sources for these and other learning tools/adaptive equipment (not limited to grippers) include- www.abilitations.com, www.therapro.com
  • Pencils:  For young children, I like to use short, skinny pencils.  Here’s my reasoning.  Have you ever noticed how young children tend to hold a pencil 5 inches away from the tip?  Using something like a golf pencil makes it much easier for children to place their fingers on the pencil where they will have better control.  They’ll naturally start their grip closer to the tip of the pencil.
  • Inclined surface:  Sometimes students who have fine and gross motor control issues benefit from working on a workspace that is inclined.  This aides them in keeping their forearms on the workspace instead of in the air, thus giving more control when writing.  You can buy fancy inclined workspace tables, or do what I have done in the past and just use an empty three inch, three ring binder. 

Praise! 

Everybody enjoys a word of encouragement.  So, when your student has a success, no matter how small- acknowledge that with a word of praise, a sparkly sticker, or a pat on the back.  At the end of our handwriting lesson, my little girl was no longer floundering on the table.  She was beaming from ear to ear because she had triumphed over the letter K!  When her daddy came home from work that night, she was eager to show him what she had learned that day.  He did not disappoint, and demonstrated his excitement over her new found skill with a gigantic hug! 

What has worked for you when your well-planned lesson begins to meet with resistance from your child?  I’d love to hear about your lessons learned. 

Thankful to be here through the ups and downs of learning-

Krisa

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