Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Sometimes Its Good When Old Habits Are Hard to Break #SOL18
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Slice of Life: Sometimes Its Good When Old Habits Are Hard to Break #SOL18

You know Mom and Dad, nothing says over 40 like two spaces after a period.

While left speechless, I was not left immobile. I turned to Google. Sadly, what seemed like a playful insult from my eighteen year old son, was actually true. Who knew the double space was for the typewriter? Who knew you don’t have to double space for ease of reading on a computer? Who knew you are dating yourself every time you do it?

Here’s the thing -old habits are hard to break. I am sure you are taking notice of my spacing in this post. I tried to stop. I can’t do it. It completely breaks my train of thought and fluency. It is just automatic in my fingers. I am not making a conscious decision to double space, my brain just signals my fingers to do it.

It has me thinking a lot about automaticity for kids today. It feels like every day I find myself in a conversation with teachers about automaticity. Why can’t students spell words they know correctly while drafting? Why don’t they include punctuation? Why don’t they accurately use capital letters? They seem to know the rules in isolation, but when in context they don’t transfer it automatically.

So, what are we to do? Clearly, I was taught how to space, and I learned it with automaticity in context. Trying to change it now is hard, but at one point in time, I did learn how to do it without thought. How did that happen? How was I able to learn in this way? Why are so many kids struggling with learning conventions and spelling with automaticity?

My first step in answering an instructional question is always to ask the kids.  As I confer with students, I notice when they recognize words as readers, but don’t spell them correctly. I notice when they can tell me rules, but then don’t apply them when drafting. I notice when they cannot read their own writing and ask them what is making it difficult. Interestingly, most kids are pretty reflective and many give the same answer when asked why they are not employing the rules they know…

They don’t think it is important to their writing and they see it as something you do at the end.

This is a double whammy. They are not valuing it so they are making tons of mistakes AND they are waiting until the end of the piece so there are so many mistakes it is too overwhelming to fix them all. It is much easier to do it as you go, and I think that is how you eventually begin to do it without thinking about it. But first, we need to value it.

Kids need to be able to read their own writing and each other’s writing. Voice, craft, AND conventions are essential to writing. They do not need to be mutually exclusive. Once we value it and kids are in the game, then I think we need to consider how to balance instruction to give them time to focus on each. There need to be times throughout the year when a student’s goal is to practice employing conventions and spelling with automaticity. They still choose their topic and engage in the writing process.  We just need to expect that the quality of the writing may dip for a week or two, but it is a necessary step for some writers. They can’t keep all the balls in the air when they are trying to learn something new and commit something newly learned to memory. Some writers need this time to gain automaticity.

It seems we are in such a rush to meet and exceed standards. This pace is not allowing our students the time they need to form good habits and learn new skills and strategies at a level of automaticity. We need to give them time to process, practice, accommodate and assimilate new information. If we don’t they are in a continual cycle of learning and relearning the same information. Eventually, this catches up with them and the gap becomes too wide to close. Early elementary is the time to give students the opportunity to slow down, play with, experiment with, study, practice, and commit conventions and spelling to memory.

Clearly, I’m over 40 … but I am glad I have habits that are hard to break. Let’s give our kids time to develop some good habits!

Clare

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year

9 Comments
  • Aileen Hower
    Posted at 10:50h, 06 March Reply

    I also think there might be a bit of learned, the teacher will fix it for me going on too! Love the double spacing comment. I’ve been commenting on that with my grad students since I learned we didn’t need it anymore.




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  • Cathy M
    Posted at 11:02h, 06 March Reply

    Ha! I can’t break this habit either and, honestly, I prefer to read a piece that has been double spaced after the period. I guess I have just dated myself.

    It does take time to develop automaticity which is something we need allow students to do. Before we can develop automaticity we have to notice when something isn’t quite right and fix it. Helping students learn to monitor is a first step on the road to automaticity. It’s an interesting point you make about pace:

    “This pace is not allowing our students the time they need to form good habits and learn new skills and strategies at a level of automaticity. We need to give them time to process, practice, accommodate and assimilate new information.”

    I’m going to ponder that for awhile.




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  • Erika Victor
    Posted at 11:25h, 06 March Reply

    Great way to bring your point home-automaticity has to be learned (and sometimes unlearned). I thought about the muscle memory involved today while I was playing cat’s cradle with a third grader today- I could make those moves automatically but it would be much harder if I had to do each step slowly. I also like the idea of asking students why they are not using all the skills that they have. I like to remind them periodically to take just a minute to look over their work for one thing (like spelling) and hopefully, those short breaks build routines that will stick.




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  • Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 12:47h, 06 March Reply

    Old habits are hard to break, but you are so right. Listening to students and learning from them — what they value and what they know– is key. Slowing down, giving practice, that’s what leads to automaticity. I took typing and still remember the endless drills (a, s, d, f, g, f, space; j, k, l, ; j, h, j, space) over and over again until the keyboard was forever branded in my head. I’m not suggesting drilling conventions rules, but the slowing down, the careful application, that’s time well spent.




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  • Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 13:27h, 06 March Reply

    I love how you started with the anecdote about your own experience – the habit of doublespacing when you keyboard. I agree – I do it automatically, too, and have to stop to think when I am writing manuscripts, and it does break the flow of words. You made so many good points. I love the way you always turn to your students for answers, listening to what they are thinking and feeling and why. The idea of slowing down and taking time means less is more. I am an advocate! Elementary school children need to linger over new learning so it can become part of them. It is a shame that American education systems go for breadth and not depth. A kind of “hit and run” approach to learning.

    So valuable: “This pace is not allowing our students the time they need to form good habits and learn new skills and strategies at a level of automaticity. We need to give them time to process, practice, accommodate and assimilate new information. If we don’t they are in a continual cycle of learning and relearning the same information.” I think you have the beginnings of a book, Clare.




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  • Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 22:14h, 06 March Reply

    I’m so glad you shared this post! I think this is the one we talked about. Content and context come to mind here, as well as the analogy of spinning plates. We can only ask people, regardless of their ages to learn and internalize a finite amount of information. Otherwise something that seemed close to mastery is going to drop to approximation, if that. We also have to keep talking to kids about the responsibility they have as writers to make it easier for their audience and the power they have as writers to control those writers. I love telling kids to take control of their readers’ experiences.

    I don’t double-space, but I”m sure that I do other things that scream forty–or fifty…




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  • Susan Kennedy
    Posted at 00:57h, 07 March Reply

    Ahhh. Patience grasshopper.




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  • Kendra Limback
    Posted at 01:12h, 07 March Reply

    Thank you for the reminder of time. Time to develop habits. I too, am over 40. #doublespaces.




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  • Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: What I Have Learned From the Ellipsis… #SOL18
    Posted at 12:01h, 08 March Reply

    […] the use of conventions to working memory.  When they are writing authentically, they have no use for most […]




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