I woke up with thoughts of handwriting. Strange, I know, even for a teacher. Prompted, I suppose, by the new tablets I bought at Dollar General last night. I was shopping for something else, but I usually check out the school section for anything new. That's when I discovered the new shipment of writing tablets. Gotta have!
I suppose I'm a traditionalist when it comes to handwriting. My students have to write something each day, from the first day of school until the last. I teach them to write in the traditional sequence- first lines, then shapes, letters, numbers, words, and then sentences. But I know they won't be traditional writers. Many will go through life actually writing very little more than their own name. They will talk, text, and type, but they will not write. I teach them anyway.
I remember making pages and pages of loops and squiggles for my own teachers. We spent hours on letter shapes and size. Most children started school with very little handwriting experience and were taught together by their teachers. Everyone learned the same basic handwriting form. Today I get students who have been "taught" handwriting by their parents, preschool teachers, grandmothers, and siblings. They arrive in my class with a pencil grip that cannot be altered, a style of handwriting that is a combination of two or even three forms, and no concept of shape or size. We start over and try to learn together.
I have the opportunity to see a lot of handwriting- much more than the average person. For decades most of our written documents- from wills to tax records to the Federal census- were done by hand. Some of it is beautiful and easy to read. Some of it needs an official interpreter! I pour over some of these documents until I'm dizzy. And I often think about how long it took to record important legal events by hand. Of course that is precisely what makes some documents valuable, not only in a sentimental sense, but sometimes monetarily- the person wrote with their own ink and effort. I remember how shocked I was one day to realize that the precise handwriting on a census page I was reading was that of my great-grandfather, apparently the enumerator for his area. Thank goodness he had good handwriting.
Before DNA testing, handwriting was often a key factor in court cases and handwriting experts were employed by the defense to prove that their client didn't write the ransom note, or forged will or whatever. Good handwriting was considered a sign of culture and education. Even the type of handwriting you had been taught spoke volumes about your status. A handwriting test was sometimes part of a job interview. Handwriting was a specific grade given on report cards. I actually worked three years for an advertising agency where all of the weekly grocery ads were printed by hand and many of the items for sale were drawn, not photographed! Now, handwriting is a lost art. I honestly think it would be easy for a person today to go through life without knowing how to write, and no one would be the wiser!
My own handwriting isn't the greatest. I still write a few letters and many, many notes. I grade papers and write comments. I write on the board. I write notes when I'm researaching at the library. But I'm usually in a hurry and my handwriting suffers for it. My Aunt Betty has the best handwriting I've ever seen. She was trained in drafting and did a lot of very precise writing as part of her job. Still has beautiful handwriting! Most people just have readable handwriting and we should be grateful for that. Of course doctor's are notorious for their poor handwriting. However, since all handwriting changes over time, and changes for the worst if we are in a hurry, and changes if we are stressed, I think we need to forgive our doctors. No wonder most now carry laptops!
So...in a few hours my students will practice their handwriting on our new tablets. They will write about spring and insects and our newly hatched butterflies. Some of their scratching and scribbling will be unreadable and mean Mrs. Maurer will make them try again. Some will be beautiful and will earn a shiny sticker. They may not write again all summer...but I teach them anyway.