This week, I gave one of my favourite lessons to the mainstream Year 3 classrooms. As a start to their handwriting lessons for the year, they needed to be reminded of good old pencil grip and posture when writing. Pencil grip is important…the kids with the wrong grips in high school are the ones who are struggling to finish their exams on time or they are constantly rubbing their tired hands. Sometimes the wrong grip can become a “blockage” in expressive writing. If your “printer” (as in your hand) is not working properly, then your actual “printing” or product might be problematic.
I marched into the Year 3 classrooms and to capture their attention, I wrote the word, “DIFFICULT,” in large letters on the board. I then showed them a bag containing something strange and issued them with a challenge. They needed to earn 6 points from me before the end of the lesson. If they did, their teacher would have to wear what was in the bag for the entire next lesson. Poor Mrs. F had to wear some enormous, sparkly glasses and Mr. A got stuck with a Viking hat!
Now that I had their attention, I asked them what the word on the board meant. After hearing their answers, I confirmed that from their explanations, they would agree then that, “Difficult does not mean impossible!” [I learnt this from Marva Collins. I like to refer to her as my friend while I teach. Watch this space for more information on her soon and the lessons she has taught me. I have that quote taped above my work station. I often have kids go and have a look at what it says…they need to learn to not give up.] During this lesson, when they have to change their grip or the way they write, they tend to complain that it is too difficult. Well, not on this teacher’s beat!
Here are some brief notes about what I do next:
- I demonstrate some incorrect postures for scoring soccer goals and playing tennis (well…I suppose if I am bringing some public humiliation onto the teachers, I should succumb to some myself.)
- So, I tell them that in order to write properly, you need to sit like an important person. We then decide that the most important person in the school is our principal. I whip out some photos of the school principal doing all the wrong things while he is writing e.g. slouching, holding his chin, lying on the desk (it was hard work to get those photos because principals don’t normally do those things. But I tell the kids I don’t mind if he was cross with me because I have another friend called Marva Collins and she taught me that, “Difficult does not mean…”) Of course I end up with a photo of the principal sitting as you would find him if you walked into his office.
- I hand out a photocopy of two identical paragraphs, except one has been written with a sharp pencil and the other – a blunt one. The kids decide that the sharp pencil piece looks better… it always does. They have 2 minutes to sharpen their pencil and get back to their desks to earn their first point. Works every time!
- Kids take the photocopied page and hold it in their writing hands while sitting on the other hand, so there can be no cheating. They hold the paper up in the air, with one hand and have to crumple it up into a ball while not touching their bodies. This is to warm up their fingers and hands for writing. For those who complain it is too easy, I get them to unravel it in the same way. No boasting on my beat!
- I show them a picture of a peacock with her feathers closed. Pretending our hand is a peacock, we hold the pencil in the peacock’s mouth (thumb and pointer finger.)
- I show a picture of a peacock with her feathers open. We then take our feathers (the other fingers) and fold them behind the beak.
- We are ready to write! I provide students with a page of jokes and tongue twisters and get them to copy these into their writing books. I advise them that at any interval, my buzzer will go off, which is a signal for them to freeze. If the whole class is sitting like important people and holding a peacock grip, they will earn a point. They now need to earn 5 points for their teacher to wear the item above. In the old days when we were allowed to use food rewards, if I was working with individual students, I would use a dish of M&M’s. Every time the buzzer went off, they could have one, but if they had the wrong grip and posture, I got to eat one.
- Because success is always attainable, we keep going until they earn all 5 points. How excited they get to achieve their goal as a team.
Follow on activities:
- I leave behind some small peacocks for the teacher to contact onto students’ desks. This serves as a visual reminder to students, but also aids the teacher that when she walks past a desk, she does not have to continually moan – she can just tap the picture.
- For students who are pressing too hard, I put a tissue under their paper. The goal is to press softly that there are no marks left behind on the tissue when they are finished writing.
- I generally teach students about the 4S’s rule – Sit properly, press softly, write smaller letters (for most kids with handwriting difficulties) and write with a sharp pencil. So: Sit, Soft, Small and Sharp.
- Ensure that kids use the correct grip for all writing, not just handwriting lessons.
- I am a reluctant user of pencil grips because I find that once you remove them, the child reverts automatically to the incorrect grip. I do use them very occasionally.
- I take photos of the teachers wearing their challenge items, laminate them and hang them up in the classrooms with a reminder of, “Are you using your peacock today?”