Teaching a new skill

Published 10:26 pm Thursday, February 27, 2014

One of the primary ways children learn to write is by … writing. Listening to teachers explain the difference between nouns and verbs is surely an important part of the process, but there comes a time when students must actually put pen (or pencil) to paper and begin composing their own thoughts, and that’s when the real learning takes place.

The same thing is true for just about anything we humans learn. We can hear lectures about a topic, watch the “experts” show us how it’s done and read volumes about it, but the real connection and the real reinforcement of the lessons we’ve learned takes place when we somehow begin to use the new skills and ideas. The concept holds true for surgeons and school bus drivers, for janitors and jail officers and for countless vocations and avocations in between.

So it is appropriate that children in Tracy Terwilliger’s first-grade class at Creekside Elementary School spent part of a lesson on letter writing recently actually writing letters. No better way to learn it than to do it. In the process, though, the children also learned another valuable lesson — one about gratitude — and that could be as important as the writing lesson that spurred the whole thing.

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Terwilliger’s class sent “Dear Hero” letters to American troops serving overseas. In the time-worn tradition of elementary school personal letters, they shared a thought or two about their own lives and then offered a brief sentiment of gratitude or solicitude for the soldier’s situation. “I hope you come home safely” and “I hope you see your family soon” were common refrains.

Gratitude is another skill that is honed with its use, and sometimes it seems even rarer than a command of the English language or a penchant for handwritten letters. We’re glad to know teachers like Terwilliger see the benefit to teaching all of these important skills.