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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Composition/Grammar Help for High School students?

Composition/Grammar Help for High School students?

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I just sat down with one of my teen son's language arts teachers. She remarked that more and more students are having issues with writing, specifically the mechanics- grammar, punctuation, spelling- than ever before, and many have really poor handwriting skills that are effecting their composition and note taking skills.

Is this an isolated phenomena, or is this happening all over? What do you think the reasons are for this, and how can we fix them?

While I think the de-emphasis of handwriting and grammar in early grades is in part to blame, I don't know that for sure- any thoughts?

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Secondarily- and I should have included this above- what can we do to remediate these skills in high school students?

I haven't seen a lot of effective tools- any help would be greatly appreciated!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

I think it goes without saying that kids don't do well at things they don't practice, so poor handwriting is surely the result of the lack of emphasis in earlier grades. I wonder if they keyboard more effectively? My son (who has dyspraxia) can't write to save his life (even HE can't read his writing sometimes!)- but he's a typing whiz. As soon as his teachers started letting him take notes on a laptop, he started doing better. But we don't always have access to a device, so there has to be some emphasis on handwriting at some point- be it in early grades or at the secondary level.

On the grammar front, (at the risk of sounding like a cranky curmudgeon), I put some of the blame on the informality of the web and texting. We learn proper grammar by experiencing it, to some degree, by hearing it around us and reading it. There's not a lot of emphasis on proper mechanics on the web, kids don't talk to adults as much as they used to, and texting...well, do I really have to say anything about that?

No solutions I guess- just commiseration.

Tanya Hembree-Buckley's picture
Tanya Hembree-Buckley
New Tech Network High School English

One resource I have had success using is Don Killgallon's Sentence Composing for High School. There are also versions for Elementary and Middle School as well as college level. The lessons are short and focused, great for exit tickets or warm ups!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator

I believe that there are several reasons handwriting is not as strong in students these days. While I agree that elementary schools focus less on handwriting instruction, I believe there are other issues at hand. Schools focus less on worksheets and seat work instead choosing to do more discussions, hands on activities, etc so as Laura said they practice less. But also I have read recently about how children's hand strength and muscle structures are changing due to the amount of gaming controllers and electronic devices used to communicate therefore negatively effecting a child's ability to correctly form written letters and numbers. Informally I have noticed that my early elementary education students who game often have poorer handwriting skills and seem to have difficulty holding and controlling their pencil for handwriting.

I don't have a solution, but I believe the more we can get schools to reemphasize handwriting, involve students in writing across the curriculum, and get families on board with limiting screen time and instead get kids reading and writing more often outside of school. In my parent conferences almost ALL parents admit their child never writes at home except to complete homework assignments.

I'm sorry, but I don't have any solution to remediating these skills on a high school level. Hopefully someone else has some ideas.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi John!

I also know I have talked to OT/PT folks, and they also see pencil grip issues and other motor problems they trace back to so many more kids doing the "back to sleep" program to combat SIDS, but also not spending a lot of time on their bellies, crawling, etc. It's probably multifactorial, but the issue is how do we change it?

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