Writing, Typing, and Brain Processes

There are constant discussions about writing tools and writing styles – by pen or by keyboard, cursive or print – and how they affect literacy and learning. The discussions range from the importance of continuing to teach cursive writing in schools – does it help with learning or is it just for tradition – to an even more pertinent question of whether we should continue to treat writing by hand as an important skill at all. With these discussions, I have found that each medium is pit against the other as polar opposites; you can either have this or that. Either we keep cursive writing in the curriculum or we take it out entirely. Either writing by hand is important or typing is the way.

Scouring the internet to get a balanced viewpoint of the advantages of hand writing and typing, I came across a lot of articles that defined typing based off of the advantages and disadvantages of writing by hand. But, to me, a disservice is done by not exploring typing in its own terms rather than as a “how it differs from handwriting” kind of definition.

In my opinion, typing is not writing by hand, it’s typing. It has a rhythm; one that allows you to flow through a piece of writing coursing through your mind or pummel through a report that needs to be done. It’s convenient and fast but it’s also allow you to be more creative because you can get more on paper, or should I say, onto the screen.

With writing by hand, you feel what you write. As quite a few articles pointed out, writing by hand forces you to slow down. It works with the muscles in your brain, creating a muscle memory that can help you remember and learn and be more involved with whatever you are writing. (Cursive writing fans will be pleased to know that joining letters together helps children recognize groups of letters as words, minus the fancy curls which are not as important.)

So maybe the solution is not to choose one over the other but to understand how each works for us and employ it that way. In a classroom where students can enhance the learning process as they take notes or where we, as parents, teachers or influencers in their lives, want them to dig deeper, maybe they can be encouraged to write by hand. If the students have an avalanche of words in mind that have to be ousted immediately, then perhaps let them take the waterfall that is typing and run. All we have to do is guide them to know which is which.

So maybe the question we should be asking whether our students are being given enough tools that will help them express themselves in written form. What are your thoughts? Are they?

 

A Student’s Perspective on Homework: Necessary, Evil, or a Necessary Evil?

“Today’s homework will be…,” “We will complete the rest of this handout for homework…,” “The majority of work on this project will have to be completed at home….” These phrases, and similar others, are things I have heard on a near-daily basis throughout my time as a student. Like many of my peers, I also found myself dreading them. Homework is an integral part of any student’s school experience, mine included.

As I wrap up yet another school year, I am reflecting on homework’s importance. Has it been a necessary tool in my academic journey? Or is it an outdated, pointless tactic of academic evil?

Almost every student has probably thought homework to be a waste of time at some point in their lives, and I am no exception. I have found that certain aspects involved in the homework process require a lot of effort without providing much academic payoff. Spending hours gluing together a poster or trying to format a second line indent have not made me better at science or a more proficient writer. The formatting and assembly often involved in homework assignments are, quite simply, tedious, and not something that I believe improves my abilities as a student. What these experiences have taught me, however, is that seemingly tedious and futile work is often necessary in creating a finished product. Further, I have even found academically beneficial homework to be unproductive at times. In situations where I already have a strong grasp of the material, doing countless homework questions can feel pointless. These are the times when I find I have to decide how to best use my time and sometimes that means not doing all of those homework questions.

Homework has helped me to learn a number of important life skills. For most of the homework I am assigned, if I do not get it done, there will be consequences. Therefore, homework has predominantly helped me to develop time management skills.

When balancing homework for a number of classes, extracurricular activities, and personal and social obligations, I must prioritize and divide my time accordingly. In order to get everything done, I have learned how to be efficient. Further, homework has taught me to be responsible for completing my own work and has helped me in developing collaborative skills whilst working on various group endeavours both in and outside of class. Homework has also helped me to learn an unfortunate reality of life: sometimes, no matter how much you don’t want to do something, you just have to do it anyway.

Even if I don’t always want to do homework, I do acknowledge that it has consistently strengthened my academic abilities. In certain subjects, such as math, where you have to learn a technique or formula, homework can be extremely useful. The repetitive nature of doing homework question after homework question may be tedious, but ultimately, I have found that it does a fantastic job of keeping the information in my brain. Practice is a great way to learn, and in situations like this, homework is simply prescribed practice. In writing and research based subjects, such as English and history, homework has helped me to get a better grasp of the material and the world around me by taking a deeper look at it. In nearly every subject, from the sciences to the arts, homework can be helpful in becoming better at the subject, or gaining further insights into the information being learned. Ultimately, by extending my exposure to the subject, homework will help me to perform better.

In recent years, I have noticed that my school has put more effort into acknowledging and accommodating different learning styles. This includes offering different ways for students to complete assignments and teaching in multi-dimensional ways that target auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. I have noticed from personal, firsthand experience and through observations of my friends and peers that providing students with different, personalized ways to learn is immensely beneficial.

Homework can become stressful, however, when there seems to be more of it than hours in the day. I attend a semestered school and have to balance four classes each term. When you put together day-to-day homework, larger assignments, and the time required to study for tests and evaluations, the amount of effort required can really add up. In my school, and at most high schools, students will usually have a different teacher for each subject. Since the teachers are not responsible for the entirety of any student’s academic schedule, it is up to the students to organize their time so that they can tackle responsibilities from each class. As a result, the time commitment required to do well in each individual subject can be rather significant. Oftentimes, I have found myself having to choose between academic success and personal commitments, and have had to sacrifice time put towards recreation and hobbies in order to get everything done.

When I find the time to do my homework, I do reap the benefits. Homework has been a way for me to test-run my knowledge and abilities before evaluations. By doing my homework, I am able to discover where my strengths and weaknesses lie within the subject, allowing me the opportunity to get help and focus on the areas in which I need improvement. I do not always enjoy homework, but it is much better to find out that I do not understand a certain concept while doing homework as opposed to finding out in the middle of a test.

On the whole, homework seems to be a sort of necessary evil, something that can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately, is beneficial. The role of homework in my life has had a number of benefits, and has improved my skills and abilities both within and outside of the academic spectrum. I believe that like any good thing, homework is best in moderation. Take it too far, and it can become overwhelming, but get the balance just right, and homework is a greatly useful tool on the road to success.

Feel free to share your thoughts on or experiences with homework in the comments below!

Creativity: An Outlet of Expression for ALL Children

In today’s society, children engage their creativity through a number of ways: art, drama, and writing to name a few. Creativity is a form of expression, and can be possessed by all no matter an individual’s capabilities. Our bodies provide us with tools that help in expressing ourselves and our creativity to others. For example, our hands help us write an imaginative story, our eyes to read, our voice to read a personal poem, our muscles to act out a dramatic scene. However, a lack of such capabilities doesn’t prevent creativity, but forces children with certain disabilities to think of a new way to engage in certain activities. An experience that has opened my eyes to the different methods of creative expression was when I began to tutor an incredible little girl, Sophie Sullivan.

In February 2012, Sophie Sullivan, a healthy eight-year-old girl, suffered from a brain hemorrhage due to an eruption of an arteriovenous malformation. As a result, her fine and gross motor skills were affected, as well as her ability to communicate verbally.

After the incident Sophie couldn’t speak and as time passed, she began to make sounds, although still not words. Being a friend of the family for the past five years, I became Sophie’s tutor in October 2015. My first task was to try and develop an easy and convenient way for Sophie to express her thoughts and ideas. With help from her speech therapist, we created cards with letters on them that I taped onto a large board. From this alphabet board, Sophie used her eye movements and sounds to pick out letters to spell words and form sentences.

This strategy emphasizes how seeking alternative forms of communication can allow children with certain disabilities to effectively communicate and show their creativity. This opened up a whole new way of communication for Sophie and allowed her to express her opinions and ideas to myself, her family, and her friends Before, all those who interacted with Sophie had an idea of what she wanted or how she felt. But now, the board allows Sophie to explicitly tell us what is on her mind, her goals, and her dislikes—we know without a doubt. Her first Christmas card to her parents in 2015 emphasized how much Sophie appreciated her family and everything they did for her. It was extremely moving and made me realize that there is probably a lot this little girl has to say.

Children with disabilities should be able to participate in creative activities like their peers. A child’s ability to express themselves helps in development, but also gives them the opportunity to show others who they are as an individual – their values, beliefs, passions, and goals. Following the Christmas card, I encouraged Sophie to use the alphabet board to help her with her writing.

Over the summer of 2016, I discovered Sophie’s love of stories and fairy tales and thought it would be fun for Sophie to create her very own and wow, did she not disappoint! Princess Sophie’s Amazing Adventure is a fairy tale about family and coming together. It is full of excitement and adventure, and is centred around Princess Sophie, a princess who embodies love, forgiveness, and courage. Seeing Sophie’s excitement as she wrote and the creativity that progressed made me finally realize how writing can be about personal expression. It is a way for individuals to communicate to others their morals and important messages that are deeply rooted in who they are as a person. This story doesn’t only show how important Sophie’s family and friends are to her, but it also portrayed her as a caring, adventurous, and forgiving girl.

After reading about Sophie, I hope you see how anything is possible when there is determination and perseverance. Sophie’s accomplishment shows that anyone can reach their goals and be whatever they desire with the right attitude and support behind them.

Her disability did not stop her from pursing her love for writing stories; instead, it made those around her come up with a suitable, alternative form of communication that she could easily use to show her creativity. For families with children that have disabilities similar to Sophie or any disability in general, do not be discouraged.

It might take time to figure out a suitable method of communication for your child, but time does not correlate to impossible, rather, to patience. When the incident first happened in 2012, Sophie’s eye gaze and her ability to make sounds were not as nearly developed and controlled as they are today. Time is what Sophie needed to get to a place where she can effectively communicate with others and engage her inner creativity. Her story is a testament of how far she has come and proof that children with disabilities can engage in creative outlets that will make them feel heard and acknowledged.

Shaking the Back-to-School Slump

Our brains react to new sensory stimuli in our surroundings, forcing us to be more attentive. So, after the holidays or even after the weekend, when students are least likely to be motivated to learn, you can encourage engagement by doing some brain stimulating activities in class. Here are some ideas for the first week of school after the holidays:

Let students have their way

After a holiday, there are lots of stories students want to share. Allow them to tell their holiday stories but add an extra requirement: for every story involving a gift they received or a trip they took, have students share something meaningful they did for someone else. Or you can have them create a holiday memory book. Tell students to draw or bring in a picture of their favorite event, outfit, or gift from the holiday, then ask them to write a few words about the image.

Do a physical activity

Physical activity stimulates the brain but to really get those neurons shooting, do exercise that involves brain. A common way of doing this is to hold up cue cards with words requiring a physical activity, like “jump” or “skip” or “wiggle down,” and asking your students to do what is written on the cards while reading the words out loud.

Go outdoors

Taking your students outdoors for the beginning of class (or for the whole lesson) can create a memorable experience for students because of the change in learning environment. As a bonus, most people will agree that doing a creative activity outdoors will be an unforgettable class. A simple creative activity could be doing a quick grammar game (get some ideas for a grammar game from our previous post).

Go on a field trip

Why not start the new school term with a field trip? Okay, so budgets may be tight and that can impede the likelihood of one, but it does not have to be a costly trip. Is there a monument close to the school grounds or on the school grounds that would help the lesson? Are you discussing flowers? Why not go out to look at some? And if nothing is available close by, why not go on a visual field trip? Watch a video or go through an interactive tour of a place, allowing students to guide you while you discuss.

Be weird, be creative, have fun

As the teacher, why not get involved in the back-to-school fun by dressing in an unexpected way–maybe in a period piece or costume if you are doing a historical study—that is sure to get your students’ attention. Or, you can play games with your students to review work they were doing before the break, perhaps in a gameshow format. And don’t forget to let students be creative–can they explain the lesson in story form? Or act it out?

Don’t forget, the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! The deadline is closer than ever now: March 31st. Remind your students to send in their stories!

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Which of these do you plan to try out? Do you have suggestions for some games?

Resources used to create this post that might be useful to you too:
http://www.teachhub.com/post-holiday-classroom-activities
https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/03/how-engage-students-lessons-after-holidays
http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-ways-to-make-learning-fun-and-engaging
http://minds-in-bloom.com/20-three-minute-brain-breaks
http://www.stressrelief4teachers.net/getting-students-revved-back/

Holiday Reads

Give your students the gift of reading this holiday season by suggesting a good book! Here are some filled with holiday spirit that are sure to make your students want to write stories of their own:

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    This is a Christmas classic that can be read every year as a tradition. As kids read the original tale of the the ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet to Come, they too can create their own version of Christmas ghosts.
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
    This is an all-time favourite! Most kids might have heard the story but not everyone has read the book. This book is a great reminder to be nice to people and also a good way to encourage kids to write, not as a school project, but just for themselves. For example, they can write their own continuation of the story on behalf of Grinch.
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis.
    The  first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, it is a tale of four siblings who discover the land of Narnia through the passageway in their uncle’s wardrobe. This is a great book to read over the winter break to immerse yourself into the icy, cold, mysterious kingdom that might leave you wanting to create your own fantastic world as well. How many possible adventures can we go on if we change the direction of the plot? Maybe your students can find out. An added bonus? There are six more books in the series for your students to discover!
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    After presents, food is the next major component of the holidays. This book, full of candy adventures and the spectacularly sweet world of Willy Wonka’s factory, will set any kid’s imagination free. A big bonus is the tight-knit Bucket family portrayed in this novel, reminding students to appreciate the family time that this season brings even more.
  5. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
    This book has no words, just breathtaking illustrations. But the lack of text should not be a deterrent to suggest it to your students. It helps them to think outside the box and gives them an alternative perspective on what a story can look like. Why not encourage them to create new storytelling forms of their own?

What other books are great for this time of year? Share with us in the comments.
Remember the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! One or more of your students could write the next Christmas classic. Don’t forget to remind your students to send in their stories.

Becoming an Author Today

A lot of kids want to be authors when they grow up. What if they could be authors now? Sometimes the whole idea of “what you want to be when you grow up” can establish the notion that kids need to sit back and wait for the growing up to happen before they can become authors or artists or app developers – whatever they want to be.

At Ripple Foundation, we believe that kids can become authors right now! Ripple encourages creativity, fosters confidence and reminds kids that they can influence the world they live in today. That’s why the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge runs each year. It is wonderful to see so much confidence in our winning authors as they offer some wisdom in the Meet the Author videos. Take a look at the videos and get your students inspired to be creative right now!

Here are some main points we took from the videos:

Just Write!

Since winning the contest at age nine, Safaa Ali, author of Why Peacocks Have Colorful Feathers, has started doing public speaking events and reciting her poetry. She reminds students that their voices matter: “Don’t be afraid or intimidated. Just write. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good or bad. Just write whatever you think is meaningful to you.” Remind your students that it doesn’t matter whether they think it’s good or bad as writers tend to be their own worst critics. Author of The Wish, Hannah Rennie, says it best: if we “write all the time, with all [our] hearts,” we can’t go wrong. “As long as [we] try, we can achieve anything,” says the young writer who won the contest in Grade 6.

What’s happening right now?

Finding the inspiration to write can be the biggest challenge for many students. Why not encourage them to start with describing whatever is happening at that particular moment, like Christopher Smolej did when he wrote his winning story, Escape from The Taco Shop at age twelve. “It was near lunch time and we were doing this for a school assignment and I was getting hungry so I started thinking of food and that led to a story about tacos,” explains Chris. He likes “writing adventure the most and sometimes a bit of fantasy because it can be spur of the moment writing, which is very fun and can result in some funny moments.” When we let go, our creativity sparkles. As with many other things, it is when we forget people are watching or void our thoughts of people’s expectations that the most authentic and beautiful journeys begin.

Share Your writing!

To end, some hearty advice from Leah Oster, who wrote Half Asleep in Grade 6: We must remember to “make sure that people read [our] work. If nobody reads it, [we] definitely won’t have it published.” So encourage your students to share their work. A great and simple way to do so is through the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge. Who knows, one of your students might be our next winning author!

The 2016/2017 challenge opened on October 1st, 2016 and will close on March 31, 2017. Click here to learn more.

6 Engaging Activities For Creative Writing Class

Making writing fun for a 4th to 8th graders is a combination of engaging their senses as much as possible and breaking down the semantics of writing into its smaller chunks. After scouring the inter-webs for ideas of fun writing exercises, I cherry picked my favorites to share with you. Without further ado, here they are!

  1. A great way to appeal to students’ creative side is to encourage them to write together.Already enthusiastic writers will encourage others and those who did not realise they cared will have a chance to shine. Give this game a shot to inspire teamwork in creativity: start with a prepared beginning sentence for a story, then divide students into small groups and ask them to complete the story together, with each person contributing a sentence. This will fuel their creativity as they have to build off of others’ ideas and get peer support.
  2. To focus on writing basics, you can try this grammar exercise with your students: write a sentence on a piece of paper, then circulate it around, asking each person to change only one word in it. Once everyone is done, read the sentence out loud. That’s right, it’s totally different! This exercise will improve students understanding of the parts of speech and their use in a sentence.
  3. Use technology to make writing more “cool”: ask the students to download a free app Next Sentence Lite on their smart phones, then divide the class into groups of four and have them create a short story together one sentence at a time. Have them share their creations with the rest of the class and together you can correct the grammar and sentence structure of their stories.
  4. Most of these are group exercises but of course students also benefit from thinking through ideas on their own, whether they discuss it with others before, after, or during the process.This activity works to encourage individual thinking: have students write a letter to a character and then reply on behalf of that character. It fully engages the students with the writing process and allows space for individual personalities to stand out.
  5. Trisha Fogarty’s Friendly Letters helps cultivate creativity through peer and teacher feedback. It is a more commonly used method of engagement that prompts students to give their classmates feedback on creative writing assignments. To assess a classmate’s assignment, students will have to fully understand the requirements–is it to learn verb tenses or avoid the passive voice? Students will also need to give at least two positive comments for every criticism they provide. All students will receive feedback from the teacher(s) as well. With this activity, you get the students actively participating in the editing aspect of writing; being a critic will help them pay more attention to similar problems in their own work.
  6. Another very useful motivator for creative writing is competitions. What can encourage a student to write more than knowing their story can get published for the whole world to read? The Kid’s Write 4 Kids creative challenge gives your 4th to 8th graders this chance! The added bonus? The winning story gets published both online and in print.

How do you get your students to engage in creative writing work? We’d love to know, so please share them with us in the comments below. Happy creative writing!