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Teachers learn write from wrong at this cursive class

for The Brooklyn Paper

A group of Brooklyn teachers went back to school last week for some vital retraining. Computer skills? New Math? No, good old-fashioned handwriting.

About 70 educators attended a workshop at Boerum Hill’s PS 261 on Pacific Street on Election Day organized by Handwriting Without Tears, a national group that hopes to keep handwriting from becoming a lost art in the age of the keyboard.

“Let’s learn pencil grasp,” shouted the workshop leader, Diane Eldridge, starting off with that most-basic of skills because, she said, she recently saw a child holding a pencil as if it were a Stone Age tool.

Several teachers nodded knowingly. Others stared at the chalk with puzzled faces. A couple, looking slightly embarrassed, glanced down at their pens to see if, they too, were guilty of the offense.

Eldridge told teachers that the key is preparing to hold a pen properly.

“Writing is like scuba diving,” she said. “Before jumping into the ocean, you need to jump into a pool.”

During the workshop, teachers were asked to bang wooden sticks, clap their hands and sing — all strategies for preparing kids for the act of writing.

“Pick up a crayon, this is easy to do. I just tell my fingers what to do,” sang Eldridge.

“My thumb is bent, pointer points to the tip, tall man uses his side, I tuck my last two fingers in and take them for a ride.”

All this fun, games and re-education doesn’t come cheaply — PS 261 Principal Zipporiah Mills spent $17,000 this year to get her staff up to speed on teaching cursive writing — but parents definitely approve.

“It’s a lost art,” said Klara Carames, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at PS 261. “Nobody teaches cursive anymore, and I’m glad the school is offering this program.”

At the end of the workshop, the happiest students were indeed the teachers themselves.

Claudia Rivera, a 30-year-old special education teacher at PS 261, had entered the room typing quickly on the keyboard of her Blackberry. When she left, she was drawing a neat capital “D” on a mini-blackboard.

She looked like she had re-adjusted to the ancient tool called chalk.

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Bitter McPeabody from Brooklyn Heights says:
What is the purpose of cursive handwriting? I suppose it might have some use if you're going to grow up to be a society wife, penning lunch invitations and gracious thank-you notes daily with your goose-feather quill, but how many of Principal Zipporiah Mills's charges have that in their future? Surely PS 261 has better uses for $17,000 and for the classroom time that will be spent on an area of study better left to finishing schools.

My school taught us cursive handwriting, but not how to balance a checkbook. Is PS 261 the same?
Nov. 8, 2009, 5:42 pm

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