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Friday, June 27, 2014

Teaching Handwriting: An Important Skill to Master

With the integration of technology into the classroom and limited instructional time, teachers spend less and less time on the teaching of penmanship.  In fact, many schools have stopped teaching script altogether.  Instead, the instruction and practice time, that was once used to refine printing and cursive skills, have been reallocated to other tasks such as keyboarding.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Limited Instruction on Penmanship?
Because young learners are spending less time on penmanship, many students do not fully develop this skill, and their fine motor abilities suffer.  Therefore, when they write, they have to think about letter and word formation, leaving little to no room for listening, the formation of ideas or sentence structure.   In addition, we are seeing a number of adverse effects across areas of academics:
  1. Because student handwriting skills are not fully developed to a degree of automaticity, many students still need to concentrate on penmanship.  As a result, they have less cognitive space to devote to the complicated tasks of listening, writing and solving mathematical computations.  
  2. Note-taking skills suffer as students are concentrating on the act of writing instead of the academic content that the teacher is instructing.
  3. Poor penmanship can result in illegible notes and students can lose points on assignments that are difficult to decipher.
  4. Many students are less motivated to write because the process is labor intensive and tiring for the hand. 
  5. When students have poor penmanship, they are often shy about others seeing their work.
  6. Practicing penmanship also helps to develop fine motor dexterity and strengthen the muscles of the hand. 
Areas to Focus on When Teaching Handwriting?
  1. Formation of letters: Teaching the proper formation of the letters is key to neat handwriting.
  2. Legibility of Penmanship: Helping students to learn the proper sizing and placement of letters and words is important too.  You might like to check out one of my products: Color Coded Handwriting 
  3. Speed of Penmanship:  Practicing penmanship also helps to increase a student's ability to form letters quickly.  This can be key to developing comprehensive note-taking skills.
What Can We Do To Make the Process Fun?
  1. Consider the expression: "It's all in the presentation."  Be sure to make your activities sound fun.  For example, instead of calling an activity "learning script" or "learning cursive," consider using a fun, exciting name such as "learning roller-coaster letters."
  2. Strengthen fine motor dexterity by integrating fun activities such as mazes and coloring into a daily routine.
  3. Get tracing paper and let your students trace images and words.  Also, using carbon paper between an image and a blank piece of paper will allow kids to trace over images and reproduce them on the blank piece of paper.  These activities will also help to develop fine motor skills.
  4. Have fun making a collage of letters.  For instance, when teaching the letter "b," cut out this letter from magazines and paste them onto a piece of cardstock.
  5. Allow students to form letters and words out of fun tactile materials such as sand, marbles, shaving cream, clay and more.
  6. Consider reading my blog post: 5 Strategies that Make Learning the Alphabet a Lot of Fun.
I hope you found this helpful!  I'd love to hear your comments.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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Friday, June 20, 2014

Using Free Mac Text to Speech to Edit Student Writing

For many students, it is a struggle to edit one's own writing - if it is even done at all.  We all tend to read what we have written the way we meant to write it, and it’s easy to scan over misspelled words, word omissions, improper word choices and more.   Typos like “form” instead of “from,” will never be detected by a spell check and these types of mishaps can be very difficult to notice.  However, activating text to speech on the Mac can really help with the editing process.

What is Text to Speech?
Text to speech is an assistive technology device that allows the writer to highlight text and with a simple command, the computer will read your writing aloud.  It uses computerized speech, but there are a couple voices that are quite realistic.  
 
How Can I Use This Technology on My Mac?
  1. Go to system preferences.
  2. Select “Dictation and Speech” which offers a microphone icon.
  3. Select a "System Voice" (my personal favorite is Alex), and pick a speaking rate by sliding the icon between slow-fast.
  4. Select the check box next to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed."
  5. Select the “Change Key” button and make your preferred selection.  Let me suggest using the control key and the letter s).
  6. Now, select the text that you want the computer to read and hold down the control key while selecting the letter S.
What Else Can I Use Text to Speech for?

If you find text on the Internet, and you would like your computer to read it to you, all you have to do is highlight the desired text and hit the control key while selecting the letter s.  You can also use this to edit your emails.  I do it all the time.

I hope you find this helpful!
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Friday, June 13, 2014

10 Great, Free Typing Games


Over the summer months, kids can easily improve their keyboarding skills while having fun. There are numerous free typing games available on the internet, and this blogpost highlights a few of them.  The very first one listed, Dance Mat Typing, is by far my favorite of all the options.  In fact, it is better than many purchasable software programs and online lessons. The first two games offer lessons, while the last eight are games that allow students to practice their keyboarding skills.

This is a comprehensive typing game.  It is a free, beginners keyboarding game by BBC.

This site offers some simple, free typing lessons.

Kids can practice keyboarding skills by typing the words on the oncoming planes to make them disappear.

Type the letters to make the oncoming spaceships disappear while dodging their attack with the space bar. 

Kids can save a martian colony by typing strings of letters that will destroy the attacking flying saucers.

Kids type in the string of letters to destroy the oncoming meteors.

If kids type the string of letters, a frog will eat the oncoming words before hit the ground, if not, the frogs will disappear - one at a time.

Kids race down a road and type in the string of letters to drive past the cars.

If kids type the string of letters before they hit the ground they will disappear, if not, the ghouls will disappear.

This game helps kids learn the location of all the keys.  It involves shooting down bombs that have letters on them before they hit a city. 

If you know of any other great, free keyboarding games, please let us know by commenting below.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Teaching The Joy of Writing: A Scaffolding Approach

For many students writing can be an overwhelming, taxing chore.   In order to be proficient, students must be able to manage multiple tasks at one time, and to juggle these responsibilities, the following must be developed to near automaticity:
1.     Conjuring up and organizing ideas.
2.     Understanding and being able to implement basic grammar and sentence structure.
3.     Recording words through legible penmanship or proficient typing.
4.     Comprehending and utilizing various literacy devices.
5.     Knowing how to spell.
If a student struggles with any of the above tasks, their writing will likely suffer.

How Can Students Develop the Needed Skills to Automaticity? 
I evaluate each student's current writing capabilities and note any difficulties.  Then the two of us collaborate and write together.  The student picks the topic.  It could be a story, a research paper, a blog, a book of poetry, a diary, a recipe book...  In fact, I have been known to write 20-40 page documents with young learners that are illustrated and later bound.  
I never came across a student that didn’t have a wonderful imagination that could be unearthed, and I provide the support needed so they can get those ideas in writing.  I offer a scaffolding approach, which gifts the needed backing until the student can do each task on his or her own.  In the beginning, I am doing the majority of the work, but by the end, the student has taken over most of the tasks. This means that I first offer repeated demonstrations, then I present recurrent verbal reminders - where I think aloud, and eventually, I pass responsibilities on to them – when they are ready. 

What Are Some Examples of a Scaffolding Approach?    
1.    If spelling, penmanship, and typing is a problem, I offer to be the secretary - so I can capture their ideas. 
2.    If organization is a problem, I help the student to shape their approach. 
3.    If sentences are simple and word choice is poor, I teach the student how to use a thesaurus and help him or her to learn how to visualize their ideas and “paint with words.” 
4.    If grammar and sentence structure is poor, I walk the student through the process.  For example, if capitalization is a problem, I might say for each sentence.  “I start with a capital letter.”  After ten sentences, I say, “I start with a…” and let them fill in the blank.  Later I ask, “How do I begin my sentence?

5.    If they struggle with thesis statements, topics sentences and supporting details, we weave those concepts into the project.

I do offer three writing games that can also help to bring joy to the learning process.  Five W's Detectives was created for my beginning writers, Show Don't Tell helps students to develop creative writing abilities, and Word Shuffle assists students with the mastery of grammar and literary devices.  
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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