These days, the issue of Federal oversight of education, particularly children’s education, has come to the fore as the issue of a country-wide curriculum– “Common Core”– has been debated. There are a few points to be made here that touch, if only peripherally, on the subject of Common Core. First among these is the disinclination of school districts around the country to teach cursive writing.

Certainly schools have a responsibility to teach their students the skills they will need to gain other skills, and in these electronic days that means being able to use the computer/ipad/laptop/ iphone. At the same time theorists in education have begun extensive examination of the effects of typing (i.e. keyboarding) versus handwriting. The current data seem to show that handwriting makes use of the brain more extensively and in different ways than does typing. More importantly, that extensive use appears to stimulate those portions of the brain that mediate understanding. Somewhat oversimplified, then, research supports the notion that (hand)writing helps the student learn to read, as well as other learning.

Part of the reason that writing equals reading and retention is that typing on the laptop computer is done more or less mindlessly, recording a great deal, while handwriters are more selective, recording mostly the “meat” of lectures, for example. They are, in other words, editing on the fly. In order to do that it is necessary to understand almost immediately what one is hearing.

Next is the issue of repetition. There has been some fuss about whether Common Core has enough or too much repetition. Research cited by Dr. Barbara Oakley of Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, writing in the Wall Street Journal of 23 September 2014, tells us that extensive practice is necessary in order to develop expertise. For us tutors “expertise” equals fluency. That extensive practice may very well include drills which, tedious or not, develop in the brain those connections necessary for mastery of subjects.

All of what is said here is already included and almost taken for granted in our tutor training both as theoretical background for prospective tutors’ understanding, and also as practical “how to” of teaching adults to read. Here, as elsewhere, it’s abundantly clear that we amateur teachers do indeed love our subject.

~~ Phil Fultz

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