Saturday, April 20, 2013

Handwriting Made Easy (or at least easier!)

I realized the other day when I had some teacher friends visiting my classroom from another school that I have explained my handwriting practice/assessment so many times that I need to do a post on it!  This way, I can say, "Oh, just check out my posting about handwriting; it has pictures of each level, explains how students work through the levels, how I grade them, and everything!"  Of course, this is not a complete handwriting curriculum, nor is it perfect, but I think it's worth sharing as it might be of some benefit to teachers lost in the sea of fine motor skill ineptness that seems to be engulfing our youth!

Let me begin with Level One.  It involves students writing the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!" ten times, all in lower case, on handwriting paper, as shown above.  Many adults know this sentence because it contains all the letters in the alphabet.  Before we begin our literacy centers at the beginning of the year, I introduce all of the handwriting levels and explain my expectations for each level, as well as showing them the laminated examples they can reference throughout the year as they progress through the levels.  When teaching lower grades, you will have to have extensive conversations about the "upper," "mid," and "lower" lines on handwriting paper, where to begin each letter, etc. As students approach third grade, they will need explicit instruction on writing in cursive.  Luckily for me, by fourth grade they have been, for the most part, already introduced to both print and cursive and are just needing some polishing.  I will do another posting on what I do for my handwriting interventions for students who struggle with fine motor skills.

When students can write Level One clearly and accurately, they advance on to Level Two.  If they are still struggling with forming a few of the letters, I simply write out the letters they are struggling with on their page, have them watch as I write them and explain how to form them, and then have them trace and practice writing them a few dozen times.  I have them do the same sort of thing if they are struggling with spacing between letters/words or if their print is too large or small, but I generally write the full sentence out for them while explaining and then have them do a few more sentences.  Level Two is the exact same sentence, but this time they write it on lined paper.

The third level involves upper case letter writing on handwriting paper, as the students write: "THE FIVE BOXING WIZARDS JUMP QUICKLY?"  This is, obviously, to practice their "caps lock" writing and a new form of punctuation, and it also includes every letter in the alphabet.  Level Four, also shown below, is the same sentence but on regular lined paper (I get college and wide ruled paper donated to my classroom and have no preference).
When students have mastered Level Four, they have illustrated that they have the ability to write every letter, in sentence form, in lower and upper case.  Now they can advance to Level Five, which is the alphabet in lowercase and uppercase in cursive three times on handwriting paper with the added midline to guide them.  They do the same thing on lined paper for Level Six.  Here are my examples:
Once they've got the hang of the alphabet, it's time to check in on how well they connect letters in cursive with the seventh level.  Here, they write, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!" ten times in cursive on regular lined paper.  This is usually the most difficult level for students to grasp at first, but with practice, they can quickly develop this skill.
Last is Level Eight.  This level involves the students writing their first and last name in cursive twenty times.  I do not spend that much time teaching and practicing cursive in my classroom simply because most of my students will not need to use it much in real life, other than signing their name on checks, mortgages, etc!  That's part of why I made the final level signing their name.
Once students are through all 8 levels, they get to practice their typing skills on the computer!  They can go to or another site that's linked on our school website to learn how to type, practice, and play typing games for free.  We only have 5 computers in our classroom, however, so when they are being used (which is pretty much every time we do literacy centers) students have the option of "practice typing" on these keyboards!  Look around at garage sales, Goodwill, thrift shops, etc for old keyboards, or put a posting on Craigslist for some to be donated to your classroom.  I cut the cords off of them, and viola!  Now students can practice typing without actually needing a real computer.  (I also use these keyboards for one of our word work options, which will be a whole new post!)

So there you have it.  It's an easy way to make handwriting a part of your literacy centers and students are completely independent while doing each level (I have them turn the level in to the inbox when they are done with it and go right on to the next level, and then I meet back with them to either congratulate them on a job well done, or to help them with the letters/words they're still struggling with.  I track their progress with a simple chart, like the one shown below.)

How do you teach/practice/track/assess handwriting in your classroom?  What have you found to be helpful in assisting struggling writers?  How might I improve my centers, and what do you do help students learn to type, since that is more of the focus for the CCSS (even though writing legibly is still important!)?  If you would like a PDF copy of all of the levels, just download it for FREE from my TeachersPayTeachers store or paste your email in the comments below.  Leave a comment, share, repin this, visit to support my efforts, and check back for more!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Celebrating Bilingual Literacy!

Every year, our school has a "Celebration of Students" night where families are invited into the school to see their students' art work and written work displayed on the walls.  We have an artist come in to lead a craft/art project, and give out free popcorn as well as having an "Open Mic" for presentations of music, poetry, etc.  Another aspect of our art-filled evening that we added last year is a bilingual section to specifically highlight the biliteracy that many of our students have worked hard to develop.  We had Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, and Dutch pieces featured last year.

Here is a story written in English and Russian.  Below is a report written in English and Dutch.

 A poem in English and Spanish is shown below.

This bulletin board was also given a special location near the principal's office at the front of the school.  It's just one of the many ways that we celebrate and show the value of knowing multiple languages at our school.  I organized it by simply asking each classroom teacher to invite their bilingual students to submit a piece of work for the special acknowledgment, and then just added the bilingual border.  How does your school celebrate biliteracy and bilingualism?  What do you do in your own classroom to encourage this advancement in literacy?  Leave a comment, share, and check back for more soon!