Saturday, April 27, 2013

No Time Like the Write Time to Care about Time

Is telling time by an analog clock still taught?

“Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care (about time)…?” 

Robert Lamm wrote and sung these lyrics for the band, Chicago, in 1969, a time when so many people were questioning the conflict of Superficiality vs. Significance. Forty-five years after he asked this question, I want to give him an answer- I care.
I care about time, well, telling time that is.

I care about writing right and thinking deeply.

I care about the Superficiality of so many edicts handed down to teachers in the name of progress that are overshadowing and undermining the Significance of learning.

In regard to time-telling time- let me share a story from my days in Room 216. While completing a group chart on the symbolism in The Stranger one October afternoon during Sixth Period, I noticed a trio of senior boys seeming to be spending more time snickering than scrutinizing Albert Camus’ words. When I sauntered by their desks, though, they were doing a credible job of adding examples and explanations from the story, so I left them alone, but kept an eye on them.

About five minutes later, one of the boys, I’ll call him George, jumped up, grabbed his back pack and ran from the room, a look of panic turning his eyes into half dollars.  As the door slammed behind him, his buddies burst into laughter.  Seeing my usual raised right eyebrow questioning glare, Bubba caught his breath and gasped, “We told him it was 2:05.”

George had shown me a check-out pass for two o’clock because he had a dentist appointment and needed to get out of the parking lot before the final bell so he wouldn’t be late. The analog clock ticking away above the door to my room gleamed 1:05. This young man sported a digital watch crowded with the time, a lap timer, a countdown timer, military time and an hourly chime, but he Couldn’t. Tell. Time on an analog clock. Big Hand? Small Hand? They might as well have been hieroglyphics to George .

“Didn’t your parents and teachers have you learn this when you were in elementary school?” I asked.

“Mine tried,” Amy said, “but the TV, computers, microwave and all are digital in my house, so it was hard.”

“Same here,” Tyler said. “My teacher had us make clocks from paper plates with construction paper hands, and told us to practice at home, but it was much easier to look at any of the digital clocks in the house.”

Incredulous, I just shook my head as told them to get back to work while Tyler laughed and said, “You need to get with the times, Mrs. C.” His comment made me wonder if analog clocks were now obsolete. ..or if I was.  I just toured my house. We have exactly one
analog clock- an ancient alarm clock perched on the night stand in the guest bedroom. Oh, and our watches. My husband’s and mine have dials.

A few weeks later, that same class of seniors and I had another Close Encounter of That Was Then-This is Now.  As I offered information about the themes in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I scribbled points about surrealism, alienation, animalism and various other literary terms on the board while I talked. I say scribbled, because I have never been on friendly terms with my small motor control, and my half print/half cursive handwriting clearly showed this. Every year my students had to learn to decipher my comments on their papers. Their “What does this say, Mrs. C?” type of questions never stopped me from writing them, though, or kept them from understanding what I wrote. They learned because they had no choice.

About half way through my lecture, I turned around and noticed only one student taking notes. “Why aren’t you writing this down?” Annoyance edged my sigh. “You know the rule- if I write it on the board it’s fair game for a test.”

“I type a lot faster than I print,” Bubba said. “I’ll remember.” He smiled and tapped his head.

“So write in cursive.”

Rolled eyes and “Get Real” laughter filled the room. Amy explained that most of their schools didn’t teach cursive because they spent the time on material that would be on the SOL tests. “Teachers want us to type our papers, anyway, and we don’t need to know cursive to send texts or emails,” she added.

Just then, Connor sauntered to the front of the room, aimed his smart phone at the board a clicked a picture. “See,” he said as a big grin spread across his face. “Who needs to write down notes?”

Choosing to hand out the novels  while my blood pressure crept down to the safe zone, I told the students to read the first ten pages and come up with at least one example for each of the terms on the board. Then I said to Connor, “You’d better hope that your professor allows the 250 kids in his English 101 seminar to record his lectures on your phone and doesn’t smash it like the guy in the YouTube video.”

I turned to the whole class, “Some professors have you complete massive amounts of reading and only test on their lectures, too. Note-taking isn’t a lost art, my dears.”

Why do schools still need to teach writing in cursive?
Cursive Writing Sample

Because actually forming the letters develops thinking skills since the brain pings on the letter to write and sends the message to the hand. Grasping a pencil/pen and then forming the letter hones eye-hand coordination.

Writing, be it cursive, printing or a mixture of both (which most people do) promotes listening skills, and employers will check their candidates for short term memory/listening skills.  

Writing is needed for those dreaded Blue Book college exams, for SOLs, SATs, GREs,  LSATs and the vast majority of licensing exams. Typing is not permitted.

Writing-Note Taking- is needed in meetings detailing mortgage loans, doctors diagnoses, and during boss/employee sessions.

Spelling, capitalization and punctuation will always count as will comprehending reading. GrammarCheck is quite fallable. Don't count on it.

Writing in cursive isn’t required legally-maybe it should be if we want a population that can think clearly and write coherently besides earning Proficient ratings on standardized tests.

A statistic that I learned in a college education class explained that if students just listened to a lecture/lesson, in a week they would forget about 90% of the material; if they read it and talked about it, in a week they would remember about 60% of the material, but…but, if they listened, took notes and then discussed the material, in a week they would remember about 90%. If students can’t write about it, can they truly understand the material?

Is cursive becoming as obsolete as analog clocks, too?

Someday, will my grandchildren click onto Facebook- or its futuristic facsimile- and see pictures of analog clocks, the Declaration of Independence in all of its cursive glory, mortgage papers and signed checks with captions asking, “Remember This?  like my friends posst of recyclable glass milk and soda bottles, metal  (not plastic) TV character lunch boxes and clothes lines?

Will the significance of teaching children to tell time on an analog clock or to write in cursive fall victim to quicker and more trendy but less substantial brainchildren?

“Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care…?”

Howdy Doody always knew what time it was-he always cared. So do I.

Until next week,


  1. Re: "Because actually forming the letters develops thinking skills. Typing doesn’t do that."
    Proof, please?

  2. Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

    Cursive's cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May - June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September - October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest