The writing's on the wall. Except, it's not.

>> Tuesday, 23 September 2014

We are considering a move back to the UK within the next year.  Nothing's certain, but in an effort to have all our ducks in a row in case we do relocate, Boys #1 and #2 need to get ready for entrance exams to possible new schools.

This presents any number of challenges, but one of the main ones to exercise my mind at present is teaching them how to write.

Yes, of course they can write; let me explain...

Their current school is very keen on IT, to the extent that Boy #1 in Grade 5 should already have access to his own laptop (he doesn't - but only because we haven't got round to sorting that out yet), and every child aged 7 upwards has access to an iPad in class.  Developing the children's typing skills is seen as being equally - if not more so - important as their being able to write continuously for 20 minutes or more.

Now, I am all about new technology; you're reading this on a blog, after all.  But for some time I've thought that being able to write a side of A4 - definitely for a 10/11 year old - should be a basic skill and one that most children should be able to deliver.  I've thought it, yes - but until this summer I didn't do anything about it.

Cut to the end of the summer term this year, when it suddenly became clear that if we want our Boys to have the chance to enter one of three schools in the area we may move to, they are both going to need to sit entrance exams.  Separate ones, for each school.  And separate papers, for each school.

Which, as I discovered when visiting the schools in June, will not be on a computer.  (Well, of course they won't.)

You might not think this would be much of a problem.  Surely filling in any holes in their learning from having been taught a different curriculum should be the main thing?  Actually, there are fewer holes than you might imagine, but in any case, that's not my prime concern.  Because it doesn't matter how much they learn about paragraphs, punctuation, fractions, long division, or creative writing if they can't actually sit and write about these things for more than 5 minutes at a time.  And until June of this year - when their school holidays started and Evil Mummy stepped in to make sure that they actually just sat. And. Wrote. for longer and longer periods of time, - my two boys were unable to do that.

Writing for extended periods of time takes muscles, you see; something that we adults, used to doing everything online nowadays, tend to forget.  And these muscles are different to the ones we use when tapping away on a keyboard.  And as I discovered in June, Boys #1 and #2 were, until recently, physically incapable of just sitting and writing for more than a few minutes of time without developing muscle fatigue.

So, we've been working on it at home.  But that's not enough, and today I had to go into school and meet both their teachers and explain exactly why it was that some of the online homework they are being set will be coming back in their notebooks - hand-written - from now on.  And I could see, in my separate conversations with them, that the teachers were struggling to understand why this was, so I decided to set it out simply for them.

Here's an abridged version of those two conversations.

Both boys will need to sit entrance exams.  Yes, that they understood.  Both boys will need to sit different exams for up to 3 schools.  Yeeees...  That's three different lots of exams.  Yeees...  Times 3 sets of papers, for each.  Okaaaayyy...  Each paper lasting between 30 minutes and one hour, depending on the school.  Riiiiggght.   (The penny was starting to drop).  So if, as is possible, they sit the exams all in the same week (to avoid our having to fly backwards and forwards and to minimise the amount of time they were out of their current school), they would need to have the muscle strength to sit and write for up to an hour continuously more than 6 times in the same week.

Cue panic in the teachers' eyes as they both realised how far removed that is from what they are currently teaching their class.

And, more than likely, cue a slight change in how they ask my children to deliver their homework.

Boys #1 and #2 will be SO pleased with me...


Iota Manhattan 23 September 2014 at 07:55  

Oh, this just brings back to me all the fine detail that a mum has to think about for a move. Well done you, for working out in advance that this will be an issue, and not just packing your kids off to an entrance exam unprepared.

However, I do have to say that I would love schools to be moving more quickly to where your sons' school is. The hours that young children spend learning to write, set against the occasional bit of typing practise in IT... it's just ludicrous. No preparation for the reality of the life ahead of them. I can't bear the curly cursive writing that my daughter has been taught. Takes ages to do, and is just so not 21st century. (I was dreading them all having to do American cursive, but they seemed to get off lightly there, and then my youngest had to learn it back in Blighty.)

And yes, you're going to have some fun homework hours ahead...

Iota Manhattan 23 September 2014 at 08:00  

And gosh, I feel for you, with the uncertainty of a move that might or might not be.

Iota Manhattan 23 September 2014 at 08:31  

Could you ask if they could do the entrance exams typed? No. Thought not.

Nappyvalleygirl,  23 September 2014 at 09:47  

I think you're doing the right thing. From what I've experienced in moving back, British schools are much keener not only on writing by hand, but writing in really good cursive script. Littleboy 1, having not learned this at all in America, is still struggling now with joined up handwriting while his brother, who is younger and went in to UK school at Year 2, learned it all last year and now has beautiful writing. Our school is very keen on handwriting, and keeps saying how it can make a 2 grade difference at GCSE (not that we're there yet, thank God). I'm sure the schools will make allowances in the entrance exam if you explain, but once they're in the school it will undoubtedly benefit them to be used to writing by hand.
Good luck with all the school entrance stuff. I've been there and I know how stressful it is. All I can say is, if the school thinks they are bright and interesting kids, they will definitely make allowances for the different in education.

Family Affairs 23 September 2014 at 15:43  

Good luck with all and very pleased to hear you might be back! Lx

Muddling Along 26 September 2014 at 13:55  

Good luck to the boys (and you) - I mostly type but have been trying to write more and have discovered, despite thinking I write a fair bit at work, that there is a big difference between note taking and sitting down and writing a long letter, your muscles do need the practice

MsCaroline,  29 September 2014 at 07:40  

Good for you for having the forethought to realize this was coming up and do something about it. Teaching in a German school, I see on a daily basis the difference between expectations in European schools and US schools with regards to handwritten work - as well as what my American eyes perceive as a lack of technology in the classroom (something that goes into your teaching evaluation on a regular basis if you are a teacher in the US - how much and how well you integrate technology into your instruction.) Amazingly, my students seem to be learning just as much without their own personal laptops and a SmartBoard in every classroom. I've no doubt your boys will do very well. Good luck to them!

reluctantmemsabib,  3 October 2014 at 08:49  

Will you be pleased? to go back? what do the boys thinK

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