Home | In The Classroom | Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 1

Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 1

Write, erase; write, erase; write, erase. Practise, practise, practise, achieve. Repeat.

Here we have the universal imperative actions of gross and fine motor skills and the power of sequence learning, which leads to robust handwriting skill efficiencies developing, with associated narrative writing and executive function critical thinking progressions occurring. All of which then has the potential to develop enriched academic learnings, higher-order thinking, insightful and reflective social and emotional understandings, and biologically connected holistic brain-and-body developments taking place.

Walk the walk, talk the talk, with chalk

This is where the use of chalk and the small (hand-held) slate or chalkboard (with the accompanying application of the tripod grip) is profoundly important. The axiomatic actuality is that highly skilled efficient handwriting automaticity (and its absolute immutable connection with the skill and the intellectual development of narrative writing) is not something that just happens. As with any skill, in all disciplines, advancements will only take place by and through the application of quality instruction, modelling, mirroring and unrelenting personal practice.

Tech-tapping, swiping and finger pointing is not writing

Tapping, swiping a screen, or using the ‘pointing’ finger on a screen is not handwriting. These actions will not lead to developing the all-important skill of handwriting. The research dealing with handwriting and compositional narrative writing development is unambiguous; handwriting and narrative writing is not only complex, it requires desire, discipline, dedication, determination, perseverance and resilience.

The ideal genesis for developing handwriting and narrative writing

The skill of handwriting must begin with the application of the tripod grip, which is applied to the chalk stick, in preparation for the action of writing to take place. The next stage is to apply the tripod grip, with the writing implement of chalk to which is the handheld chalkboard. This use of chalk and the small handheld chalkboard is the ideal genesis for developing highly skilled and efficient handwriting action, and its absolute connected and essential development of narrative writing and composition understanding to take place.

Chalk, talk, write, erase, repeat and saving the environment

Chalk never dries out. One can write with chalk even as it breaks. The use of chalk and the chalk board does not use tonnes of plastics or megalitres of chemical liquids. And chalk does not cost ‘billions’ (worldwide) to purchase. One could describe the use of chalk, and the chalk board, with its ongoing human motor energy writing and erasing process, as being one of the best, if not the most efficient and the most inexpensive method available in the development of human intellectual potential. Plus, at the same time, this process is also helping to protect and support the environment. Financial and environmental savings are self-evident.

Immense financial and environmental savings

How many millions, or perhaps even billions of plastic whiteboard markers are being purchased by schools throughout the world? What happens when these whiteboard markers dry out? They are ipso facto discarded and become plastic waste. And what about the millions of litres of whiteboard liquid that is used? The financial cost of these items to schools and the environment is significant, not only for today, but forever?

There simply are no shortcuts in developing skills, mastery and knowledge

All skills, and the combined knowledge that arise with this process, must be developed in a specific step-by-step sequential manner. Janusz Starzyk and Haibo He, point out that “[t]emporal sequence learning is one of the most critical components for [the development of] human intelligence”.

Added to this is the research by Tim Curran and Steven Keele, who point out that “[a] fundamental type of learning in which humans excel is the learning of sequential patterns of behaviour”. The importance of sequence learning is further emphasised by Haibo He, who notes that “[s]equence learning is widely considered among one of the most important components of human intelligence, as most human behaviors are in the sequential format”. This includes but is not limited to skill acquisition, speech recognition, natural language processing, reasoning and planning.

All skills are holistic brain and body living circuits

Referring to the UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) neurologist Dr George Bartzokis, Daniel Coyle reported that Bartzokis was firmly of the view that “[a]ll skills, language, all music, all movements are made of living [neurological, glial, neuromuscular] circuits, and all [of these living] circuits grow according to certain [universal brain and body hólos] rules” which fires and rewires the brain.

The brain and body (the hólos)

Hólos derives from the Greek: όλος ‎ ̶  ólos. The English word holistic is derived from hólos. In terms of definition, holistic and hólos offer the same classification. Holistic and hólos incorporate the concept of holism. The idea is that the brain and body is more than the sum of its parts; it is one unified holistic entity. Therefore, when a specific and holistic descriptor is required to explain this immutable single brain and body operational system, the construct that unifies the brain and body into one entity is: the hólos.

The hólos

Guy Claxton writing in his book: Intelligence in the flesh: why your mind needs your body much more than it thinks, declares: “We do not have bodies; we are our bodies”. Added to this, Claxton points out that it is thinking, action and movement which ultimately develops the brain and body (the hólos).

The hólos is a single firing, rewiring, connecting, enriching, improving, entity

This evidence of firing and rewiring the brain is further supported by Norman Doidge. Doidge, referring to Eric Kandel, points out that thinking and learning, and accompanying behavioural changes (handwriting requires thinking, and it is also a behavioural change) leads to brain and body (hólos) biological changes. These hólos changes result in turning on specific genes in our nerve cells and significantly advancing hólos potential.

A highly efficient and highly erudite entity

This process is what then provides the biological means of these excited cells to make connections between other cells of the hólos. As noted above, Guy Claxton points out that we do not have a brain and a body. The brain and body is one entity, the hólos. In terms of development, Claxton points out that it is the unrelenting and intense determined integrated process of thinking and movement is what ultimately develops the hólos into a single and highly efficient and highly skilled erudite entity.

Universal biological and operational realities

These axiomatic brain-based neurological, neuromuscular and universal biological hólos realities indicate that if one is to achieve success in any discipline, one must apply the axiomatic truth of engaging in relentless hard work and acceptance of ongoing struggles (with the universal inevitability of mistakes taking place). And with this, there is the ongoing requirement of repetition, and having the mental and emotional capacity of resilience. It is all of these imperatives that lead to achievements and mastery experiences being realised. As Daniel Coyle profoundly points out:

each time we deeply practice… we are slowly installing broadband [myelin] in our circuitry…. Struggle is not optional – it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must, by definition, fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and [you must] pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit – i.e., practicing – in order to keep myelin functioning properly."

The axiomatic required actions

In terms of teaching handwriting (and narrative writing), as emphasised, this begins with the application of the all-important tripod grip, followed by the application of sequence learning, explicit teaching, worked-examples, with accompanying mentor modelling and explanations of the skill in question. All of which needs to be begin with self-motivated action.

Not if, but when

In terms of self-motivation, Daniel Coyle points out that this ignition (that starts the engine of action), must be fired by the individual’s personal desire, drive, passion and commitment. And it is this intrinsic and concomitant extrinsic action, which then sets “off signals and subconscious forces that create our identity”. It is these moments, according to Coyle, that is what leads “us to say that is who I want to be”. This process links in with the concept of the self-system, as described by Philip Kendall and others. They describe the self-system as being “the principal and first level of student engagement”. This means that the first level of student engagement can only take place, when, not if, the students decides to act.

The first principle

It is this first principle (the self-motivating self-system) that will be the deciding factor as to whether or not, according to Kendall, et al., “a student [will choose] to learn,” to behave or to engage in any learning process. In terms of the tripod grip, the act of handwriting efficiency, and the all-important linked development of narrative writing, it is this self-system, i.e., the internal fire, the personal passion of desire, that ignites the engine of action and learning. And, in terms of handwriting and the development of narrative skills, the first principle is the tripod grip.

The tripod grip

Suzanne St. John, informs that the “tripod grip is the ideal grasp where the thumb and pointer finger grasp the [writing implement] with an open web space, while the [implement] rests on the middle finger”. In terms of shaping neurological, neuromuscular, gross and fine motor skill pathways, the research indicates that for efficient and skilled handwriting to develop, it is important (from the outset) for children to learn how to use the tripod grip.

The most biomechanically efficient and effective grip

Skills do not ‘just happen’. Like any skill, in any discipline, as alluded to above, the skill in question needs to be demonstrated, observed and then practiced. The tripod grip is no different. Because the tripod grip is biomechanically the most efficient and effective grip. The tripod grip is the grasp which provides the greatest potential for efficient and accurate handwriting to take place. All of this provides the possibility to then develop and advance the skill of handwriting automaticity, which then leads to skilled narrative writing, and coupled creative writing capabilities, which is associated with orthographic-integration.

This completes part 1. Part 2 will introduce the reader to the following: orthographic-integration; orthographic-motor integration and orthographic knowledge; the inability of being able to write a cogent narrative; gross and fine motor skills; foundational skills; seamless holistic integration; physical and cognitive coordination of letter knowledge; an effective approach to pedagogy; reduction of cognitive load for the purpose of advancing skills, knowledge and understanding; ineffective teaching practices that increase cognitive load; effective teaching practices that decrease cognitive load; faster neurological firing, thinking and skill potential, and more.

Dr Ragnar Purje is adjunct lecturer in the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University. Under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, Purje’s doctoral dissertation focused on the success of his neurologically focused acquired brain injury rehabilitation therapy.

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One comment

  1. Japanese children learn to write with a brush, which is more like an electronic stylus than it is chalk, slate, pencil, or ball point pen. Early writing used a stylus pressed on clay to form pictograms, much like computer icons. Tapping, swiping and finger pointing on a screen are just as much writing, as is swishing a brush for a Japanese student today, or pressing a stylus into clay was for a Mesopotamian student learning cuneiform thousands of years ago.

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