School bags, School copybook, and Writing lessons

It’s that time of year again when everyone has gone off to school with a new bag, new pens, new pencils and new copy books and new books! 

We are always complaining about the weight – but has anyone looked at the contents? 

I wish I could change it every year… My favourite part of going back to school – the only part I enjoyed was the new pens, markers and coloured stationary my Gran Aunt gave me from her shop in Tipperary. I blame her partly for my love of colour stationary but I also know its vital to my learning as a highly visual learner. 

There is not enough colour in our school bags! All I would like to see is colour, colour, colour. Coloured pens, markers, and most importantly coloured paper. 

The worst colour to write with is black and the worst paper to read from is white. Why then are we in 2012 still using these tools? 

The paper is school copybooks is too small. For many a student the paper becomes an obstacle that constrains them not a wonderful blank canvas to create on. The lines are too constraining – it’s all about being tidy and neat and ordered… Not about what wonderful concepts, connections or ideas or inspirations you are having in the classroom. 

I would love to see constructive doodling on a minimum of A4 paper and bigger a standard practise. 

We have shown over almost 4 years of work with students including many with severe learning difficulties that making the area larger, removing the lines and adding colour opens up a whole world of written expression for them. 

Similarly if we want there to be a great deal of structure and to make out a plan we use highly organised paper, squared paper! Still it’s not a linear exercise – we don’t want linear thinking, therefore we NEVER use Lined paper!

I have known many of our students to be given out to from drawing in class – these students need to create visual maps to remember by – its instinctive for them. They all grow up to be notebook lovers – they go everywhere with one and are always drawing ideas, maps, brainstorms and doodles in meetings and on the phone for the test of their lives – so why not at school? 

I have never understood the point of hand writing? It only works for a small percentage of students. The rest are left feeling they can’t “write” no they can’t form letters in a very limited obsessively structured copybook! Many of these students fail to make the connections on bigger and smaller letters, the order of the alphabet, how the letters are formed, what words start with these letters and of course they stop trying to write creatively because they can’t “write” 

If we suddenly have them make the letters from play-dough, make connections to well know words, work on large coloured paper and use stencils to show the formation of the letters – they suddenly become masters! 

Why do we have to do joint writing? We don’t type jointed? No one easily can read joint? We don’t read books in joint writing? What is the obsession with joint writing? For some students who have finally grown confidence in themselves and finally feel they have a voice and are creative we now move the “goal posts” once more and make them feel this magic art of “writing” is beyond them. 

This reminds me of a very well used example of continuing behaviour through suggestion. It means we never ask why we do something we just follow the order. A woman cooks Sunday roast and cuts the two ends off the meat before she puts it into the pot. Her husband over dinner asks why she cut the ends off – her mother is also at the dinner and the wife says ‘because that’s what mum did’ – so the husband asks her mother who responds because ‘that’s the way my mother cooked it’ – rarely it turns out the great grandmother is alive and so they ring her and ask her why she cut the ends off to cook the roast? The answer – ‘because my pot was too small’ so three generations of people have cooked the roast the same way never asking why they cut the ends off! 

I feel much of modern education can be attributed to the same suggestive behaviour. I’ll continue in the next article why I feel the books shouldn’t be in the bag… 

Dr Naoisé O’Reilly (Expression Developist™)