Katja’s in the 2nd year of French maternelle (i.e. nursery school/Kindergarten). The teacher explains the objective of the exercise in red:
-learn the gestures of writing
-write one’s forename in capital letters
The worksheets are numbered so that Katja’s progression may be charted (essai 1 / attempt 1, essai 2 / attempt 2). All the worksheets are done on the same day as part of a morning’s writing activity. Attempt 1 starts off well. Katja’s concentrating hard… she wants to get her letters right and we can see the corrective measures she undertakes. After a while she appears to get tired. On the second worksheet, the 4th and 5th attempts to write her name show her frequent editing of the letter A and she writes the letter T twice. She’s probably tired, but she’s still doing her best to get it right.
Take a closer look at her J on the first worksheet. The teacher writes a j in lower case in her model; a j with a dot on the top. The exercise, however, is supposed to be practising writing in upper case (i.e. capital letters). Katja knows what a capital J looks like. It has a line on the top, not a dot. Katja practises her name seven times on the first worksheet. Take a look at the last two times she writes her name. What do we see? A dot and a line. On the one hand she appears to want to follow the teacher’s example, on the other, she wants to follow the teacher’s instructions (write in capitals). What we are dealing with here is not Katja’s inability, but with intelligence at work. The last three attempts on the first worksheet have been crossed out in pencil. They are wrong. I’d prefer to call them revealing.
Katja’s conflict continues on the second worksheet; there are less dots on the j this time and five of the six samples have a line on the top. Has Katja decided to write capitals, regardless of the teacher’s model? Nor has it gone unnoticed that the teacher’s J is more hooked on this worksheet than on the previous one (as well as considerably less hooked than on the final one).
By the third worksheet, however, Katja’s doing as she’s been told, not doing what she knows would be right. Her Js are dutifully dotted and only slightly hooked. Fifteen minutes of play-time between the second and third activities have clearly helped. Katja is focused once more; she demonstrates a greater control of space and directionality. Her As are lovely. Her Ts are straight, consisting not of one horizontal stroke followed by a vertical stroke, but of a horizontal stroke which bends into a vertical stroke. She then returns to the top of the letter with her pen to add the final part of her T in a penstroke which is visibly weaker than the left part of the horizontal line. And her Ks, well, they are coming along very nicely! I think it helps her enormously to only concentrate on a single letter at a time at this stage.
Well done, Katja!
Two weeks later, Katja’s writing her name on her own on her worksheets:
Look at her J: a capital J with a dot on the top. Very telling, in the light of what I have said about Katja’s awareness of upper/lower case. She’s obviously found a solution. For now. The teacher’s not quite happy with the accuracy of Katja’s work; on the second worksheet and in green, she points out where Katja needs to pay more attention, i.e. to try, try, try again. Such assistance, when additionally framed by positive verbal encouragement, will no doubt bring rewards. Not sure I’d say the same about that grim-looking green face judging the child’s overall performance. What do you think? But I’ll hold back with my comments given that I don’t have a record of the conversation between teacher and child that accompanied this activity. The much coveted smiley will come later. You did your best, Katja. Your best is always good enough. You’ve shown me that you know a thing or two about letters and I’ve discovered something else: you’re quite a little diplomat, not simply – or always – obeying instructions, but thinking for yourself and sneaking in what you know. Keep up the good work!