Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Happy National Handwriting Day!!

Please don't rush out to find the Hallmark Card for this holiday - I checked and there isn't one! So instead - share this post with a friend!!

A few weeks ago, our family would have celebrated this day with a cake and festivities. My second grade niece had been counting down the days until Christmas break ended because her teacher told her they would be learning cursive in January. She loved the loops and how "adult" it made her writing look - she would practice her version of cursive every chance she got. Of course - when she got back to school, they never wrote in cursive- they just practiced strokes and swoops and swirls. And instead of her very neat, very legible cursive style being used, she now obsesses over the angle of the slant.

It seems that almost every meeting I attend lately around student writing comes back to the lament that we can't read their writing, that they are too lazy to write when they can text, that we need to revive cursive handwriting instruction. In fact - it made the front page of our Sunday paper!!

What about wanting our students to love writing? Does it matter if it is typed, written in crayon or using perfect Zaner-Bloser cursive? Or does it matter if it is full of ideas and voice, with wonderful, wonderful words that paint a picture and that are spelled correctly?

I love to write. I don't always do it well or effectively - but it helps me wrap my head around what I do or learn and it certainly helps me communicate with others. I think it is a powerful tool for everyone to have - particularly our students. But the how we write is less important to me than the writing.

Our students are growing up in a different world than we did - in a world that changes every day. In our ever flattening world, we have no idea what to prepare them for in terms of jobs. But I firmly believe that if we teach them to read, to write and to think - they will be prepared for just about anything.

So today - I will celebrate writing of all kinds no matter what tools they are written with!

Monday, January 21, 2008

To Cite or Not to Cite....

OK. I've been taking a bit of a breather and trying to beat a nasty cold. After a marathon sleeping weekend - I think I kicked it and the weather is perfect for catching up on my on-line life. Lucky for me - my friend Jenn has not kept her head too low and has sent me many, many happy links today.

The one most appropriate to this blog is on plagiarism. I'm a bit sensitive to this topic, having just finished teaching a graduate course in which two individuals took some liberties with the syllabus and turned in work that was suspiciously familiar. And because it is the number one complaint of teachers when it comes to research projects - that students are just "cutting and pasting" the information into an essay format and turning it in.

Now - we all know that we should cite sources. This world has become a bit more gray lately as there is so much more that is published on the Internet - pictures, blogs, wikis: how do we cite all of those?

And we all know that we should use quotation marks if we lift something directly and at least paraphrase the information without them. Basic writing 101, right?

Strangely - no!

It seems that a pretty well known romance novelist has stolen some key dialogue from a science article. That's right - re-read that last sentence carefully!! The story really is best read from the science writer's perspective (aka "the victim") which is also one of the best examples of voice in writing I have read in a long time.

While the science writer has forgiven the romance novelist ( that a plot in the making?) it is sad that plagiarism has sunk to this level. Reading the passages that are in issue - it is hard to imagine the language being that of post-coital bliss. Didn't the editors notice that? Teachers can tell when writing is not that of their students - can't editors? Why did no one check that?

Even more depressing - apparently the romance novelist stated in an interview that she didn't know she had to cite sources. Really?

I mourn for writing today - for original ideas, for playing by the rules, for the spirit of a good story. But on the other hand - I sure did giggle. I just wish I could share this example with students.....

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's like a tattoo....

There is a crop of "word of the year" blogs out there - people selecting words to focus on for the new year rather than making resolutions. I've always been a big fan of Jim Burke's well words so I had my word selected back in July. (FYI - it is "toss")

In teaching writing, we often work with kids on putting to bed their "tired" words. We bury them, we ban them, we circle them in bright red pen as a reminder to select a more appropriate word for their writing.

But what is funny is that we abuse words ourselves. I know, because I hear my nieces inadvertently mimicking their teachers in how they talk. I feel as if I know these individuals long before I meet them because I hear their voices at the dinner table and during play. In second grade, Amelia's teacher must LOVE the phrase "not necessarily" because that is all we hear. In kindergarten, Sydney's teacher is a big fan of "absolutely!" We knew this, of course, because we heard it two years ago when Amelia had her!!

So I found it amusing that Lake Superior State University created a list of Banished Words for 2008. I have found that wordsmithing is the one word on the list that has long been a pet peeve for me and I inwardly cringe whenever I hear myself saying it. "It is what it is" makes the list and has my vote as well: I hate resignation and much prefer pushing the envelope a bit so this phrase is a bit like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Any other words/phrases out there that should be banished?