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education

Roman Holiday for Us

There is no place like Rome for the holidays. Two of our books are set there and the Eternal City, well, I admit it’s my favorite. It is an easy bias because, over the course of writing Molly Goes to Rome and The Shield of Horatius, I learned so much. I love talking about Rome.

Our first book had a distinct disadvantage: it was our first book. Molly Goes to Rome is a fun story and we immensely enjoyed the process of putting it together. However, each book is a learning process and many lessons were learned with our “prototype.”

Amy has a few more pencils and more tricks to show off these days.
Amy has a few more pencils and more tricks to show off these days.

So, we’re revising it. The story won’t change, though one misspell will be corrected. There will be a new illustration for the cover and each of the existing illustrations will get a makeover, as this one, featuring the Pantheon, has.

The revised edition will be out in the next couple of weeks. We’re very excited to do this.

Oval Meets a Square

While you’re here, let’s talk a bit more about Rome. One of the locations featured in Molly Goes to Rome is the Piazza Navona.

The Piazza is a plaza with three fountains, the most famous of which is the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) by Bernini.

The fountain and square area is a large oval. Some of my research indicates it represents what was once the competition ground of the Stadium of Domitian. This may or may not be true as the oval also defines the street that runs around the square. What is true is that portions of the stadium remain and are visible when you take a stroll.

One of the striking aspects, maybe because I was only there at night, is how enclosed the area feels. There is no visual continuity for the small streets that lead into the piazza. In other words, you can’t look down the street to see other buildings, etc..

When you’re on a tour looking for the next thing is a natural thing to do. The Piazza Navona, however, forces you to reckon with it, to appreciate it.

The old illustration, soon to be updated. Molly in the Piazza Navona.
The old illustration, soon to be updated. Molly in the Piazza Navona.

There was  another reason for me to appreciate it. I visited Rome as a student in my teens. The excursion to the piazza was not a planned one, and only a couple of students were invited. I was thankful then and continue to be grateful for this.

Then, as now, the piazza had a good place to get gelato. After we confirmed it still existed, there was no question that Molly and Michael would find their way to it. Our contributor to the book, who was born and raised in Rome, agreed it was an excellent place to include.

Part of the charm includes the art market that sets up there. This is depicted in our book where an artist does a drawing for Molly.

If you’re going, particularly if you travel with kids, the Piazza Navona is not to be missed.

 

Five Reasons (Six if you’re a writer) to Like Cursive Writing

Some things once given as necessary are now seen as expendable. Cursive writing is an example. Let me caution you before reading: maybe you don’t use cursive. This post is in no way meant to criticize that. If you are an adult, you’ve made an informed decision because you likely were required to learn it.

I advocate for its inclusion in education curricula for the reasons listed below. When I’ve had a conversation on the topic with someone that opposes it, the only argument I hear is “it’s obsolete.” This post should convince you otherwise. If not, there are some interesting bits here about cognitive development. Bottom line: give your kids the choice you had.

Fine Motor Skills

The intricate movements necessary to differentiate some letters lead to better dexterity for the hand. Researcher William Klemm talks about hand-eye coordination and elaborates, “in handwriting the movements are continuously variable, which is much more mentally demanding (than single-stroke block letters).”

There is a creativity associated with the movement as well. With “continuously variable” letter combinations, our brains constantly formulate new movements, new paths for our hand. Later, we add personal fluorishes to the movement. As adults, we don’t think of it anymore and our movements are practiced and quick. For children, it’s an important part of developing.

A Higher Level of Thought

Studies connect the use of cursive with a higher level of thought. The same parts of the brain we access during reading are used when we write by hand. Typing on a keyboard doesn’t do this. Single-stroke block letters do it only in a lesser way. The implications for the development of a child’s brain are considerable. In effect, their brains receive a diminished diet of stimulation compared to the education we had.

Just in case you forgot!
Just in case you forgot!

Test-Taking Skill

Cursive writing is also a test-taking skill that allows a proficient student to write more in less time. I taught eighth and ninth grade English for four years and required cursive writing on all exams and in-class assignments. This was not without controversy. There was some parental resistance. My students all went on to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, where final exams (in just about every subject) require considerable amounts of writing. This is one reason I, and the department-at-large, felt strongly that block print should be discouraged.

Students with developed handwriting convey more ideas in less time. Cursive writing aids not only the physical act of recording the thoughts, but the mental ability to organize those thoughts.

Better Learning

Everyone learns in a slightly different manner. Many of us benefit from visual learning. Charts, graphs, photos and videos help us understand. We all benefit from this to a greater or lesser degree.

The same is true for writing. It’s called kinesthetic learning and most of the time we associate it with learning physical skills. This is often referred to as “learning by doing.” In my case, and I’m sure others, it also means that the act of writing helps commit information to memory. Because I take the time to write something, my brain seizes on it as important. Anytime I write out directions to go somewhere, I don’t have to worry about whether or not the slip of paper is in my pocket, it’s already memorized.

Better Listening

This also affects note-taking in class. When I taught speech we went over mistakes people make when they listen. One of these was “listening too hard.” It means we sometimes make the mistake of giving equal weight to everything that is said, rather than pick out significant points or facts.

This is precisely the tendency for someone taking notes on a computer. Meanwhile, the person who writes his or her notes can still make this mistake (as I did), but has a lot of motivation to develop new and better listening habits. Sharpening the skill allows the student to pick out relevant information and the kinesthetic aspect of writing helps the student commit the information to memory.

Research for the Writer

The age of mobile phones and the vast tools we have access to via the web tend to downplay the need for written notes. Instead of recording information, we return to it at will by bookmarking its location. This plays out in a greater context than writing: there is an increased tendency for people to no longer remember an answer to a question, rather, they remember where to find the answer to the question.

Written notes for a writer, however, are a necessary thing. Writers very often must research various topics to plausibly use them in a story. What is easier, to bookmark something and continually return to it for reference? Or writing it down, thereby committing it to memory, and having access to it whether or not you happen to be in front of a computer? It is no contest, and the writing flows much more easily when you have knowledge of the topic, rather than rely on access to that knowledge.

Writing: More Important Than Ever

The Information Age brought us e-mail and social media. What does one do to realize the potential of these forms…oh, yes! One writes! Along with these things, we’ve seen the magnification of communications blunders. Nevermind talent, a merely competent writer is in demand! Today, he or she is a “content provider.” Does cursive writing make me a better content provider? It does, for all the reasons listed above.

Plus, I think a page of written notes looks cool. Thanks for reading!