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Son in yr 1 struggling with writing & teacher using a 'Timer' to hurry him!!

(45 Posts)
3LittleHens Sun 07-Oct-12 14:38:19

My son has never been that interested in writing or drawing, and up until now I have not been too worried about it - taking the view that he will never be an artist, but more importantly, the writing will surely come. (He is however excellent at reading and good at sums).

I was recently informed by his teacher that she now has a large class - 28 in total (Reception and Year Ones) - "so things have got to speed up now, and I am using a 'timer' to hurry his writing up."

It was about 2 days later that the penny finally dropped, and my thinking was if you have a child that is struggling with a subject, how would this help? Surely being timed, when there is clearly a problem, would only put horrible pressure on a child? In my view, a child who struggles needs help - not pressure?

(I know she does it with my son's friend, because he finds reading difficult, but apparently when she uses the timer, he totally clams-up!).

However, since this chat with his teacher (2 weeks ago), I have been helping my son for 20 minutes or so every day after school. I started off with the basics -ie. CORRECT letter formation, using join the dots etc., and he is going great guns and really seems to be enjoying it now that he knows HOW to do it!

I am not a teacher, and I would be grateful for your views - ie. has anyone had a similar experience? Has it helped their child? Has it made the situation worse? What makes other schools successful with their childrens writing - ie. how do they do it? Should I tell the teacher to please stop doing it?

(Incidentally, this primary school very recently had an Ofsted report, which very clearly states that its writing standard for Year 1 is below average. Perhaps this is a new strategy to force children in to action - afterall by the time the next Ofsted audit is carried out, they'll want to show a marked improvement, not to mention good league table results).

squeakytoy Sun 07-Oct-12 14:47:45

personally I think yabu not to have been taking much interest in your childs writing at home before now..

nameuschangeus Sun 07-Oct-12 14:49:33

Please say something to the teacher. My ds1 had a bitch similar teacher in year 1 and it set him back loads.

adeucalione Sun 07-Oct-12 14:57:17

A friend recently told me that her DS's teacher is using a timer with her DS, but in his case it is because he is reluctant to invest the time in writing a good quality piece, so he procrastinates a lot and nothing ever gets written down.

His teacher started using a timer so that she could 'promise' him that he only had to write for 10mins (or whatever it was), and he could clearly see when he would be able to stop, making it less of an open-ended and onerous task I suppose.

It seemed to work for him but It seems like an unusual step to me, and I agree that it could add pressure and have a negative impact - I suppose, like anything, it depends on the child.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Sun 07-Oct-12 14:59:13

Ask the teacher why she is doing it. She wants your child to lean to write well too, she's not doing it just to annoy you or be a bitch.

I'm sure she has a reason why she thinks it will help, so ask he what it is before making judgements. Maybe she is doing it to encourage your child to do his writing instead of sitting and daydreaming or doin nothing.

If you know he can do it when you are helping him, then you know he can do it. Maybe because he doesn't particularly like it, he doesn't put much effort in in class, and she has to have some kind of tool to keep him on track because she can't be over his shoulder the entire time as she has so many other children to supervise at the same time.

3LittleHens Sun 07-Oct-12 15:10:01

Dear Squeakytoy
Please don't berate me - I feel bad enough about this already - I need some constructive advice, not critism. Believe me, I beat myself up enough about this already, and as I stated, I am addressing it every day now, and he is going great guns.
You haven't actually answered ANY of my questions - as I say, I would be very grateful for any constructive advice on using the 'Timer' method.

Some posters just like to show themselves up as ignorant twats OP, add to your spreadsheet of twatishness and ignore.

kim147 Sun 07-Oct-12 15:24:45

Some children find writing difficult especially in year 1 and reception. My DS finds it hard - he has developmental dyspraxia but school have not been very supportive.

It is frustrating as a teacher when children don't seem to be doing much work. But at the same time, I fully understand the difficulties some children have in writing. There is so much to think about.

I don't think a timer helps. Too much pressure. I wish this country would not be so obsessed with pushing so much writing at this stage.

3littlefrogs Sun 07-Oct-12 15:29:03


I had no idea when I sent ds1 to school at the age of 5 that it was MY responsibility to teach him to write.

He wasn't making much progress, then another mum in the playground showed me the practice books everyone else was using (from WH Smiths).

I bought the books, spent some evening and weekend time with him, (and subsequently with his younger brother), he caught up very quickly. DS 2 could read and write before he started school, because he joined in with the practice sessions.

This was 20 years ago, but I think it is the same today, with large class sizes, the teacher can't give the one to one help that most children need.

Don't feel bad. It is all new with your first child.

Sassyfrassy Sun 07-Oct-12 15:35:37

There are different ways a timer can be used. Some children spend a long, long time thinking about what to write and end up with nothing in the book. A five minute thinking time timer can help. For others, they need see how much time left, often with a clear expectation of how much should be written.

I find that there is now a lot of pressure on producing a large amount of writing in each lesson. Senior teachers, ofsted and other authority figures will go over your books with a fine toothed comb and if there isn't sufficient quantity, quality and a hundred other things then you are in for a very uncomfortable talk.

ContinentalKat Sun 07-Oct-12 15:43:26

How exactly is the timer used?
We just did a new writing exercise this morning called 'speed writing'. Dd (Y2) has a set of tricky words to learn. The game is to write down, in cursive, as many as possible in 30 seconds. It supposedly helps to automatise hf words. She managed 2.5 'they' in 30 seconds.

I think that when using specific games like above a timer can make sense.
In most other circumstances I would find using a timer counterproductive, it just puts unnecessary pressure on the child.

I would grill the teacher further re. the exact benefits of using a timer.

Tailtwister Sun 07-Oct-12 15:48:03

I would definitely have a word with the teacher OP. Then you can ask her what you could do with him at home to help him improve.

squeakytoy - I do find your comment to the OP father unfair. If the school requires some learning/practice at home then they should be clear and say so. I was asking a P1 teacher (Scotland) the other day what she wanted children to be able to do before they started. She said not to do anything specific at all! I wanted some guidance as DS1 is taking an interest in writing and if I'm going to be helping him I want to do it in a constructive way. She said it didn't really matter, despite the fact they teach cursive handwriting.

The work you're doing at home sounds great OP.

BackforGood Sun 07-Oct-12 15:52:01

What adeu, outraged, and sassy said.
Many children benefit from having the task of that piece of writing (which can seem overwhelming) broken down into smaller sections, or smaller tasks.
So, they don't have to think about the whole piece, but, by 'x' I want you to have written the title / copied the learning objective / written the date / or whatever the first bit of the task is. then they get the next bit..... By 'y' I want you to have done the first sentence {insert bit more instruction as to what this will include}.
Also, as some say, the idea of an "endless task" is too much, so showing them that they only have until the end of the set time to work on this, it makes it less painful for a none-keen writer, rather than putting pressure on.
It really would make a lot of sense to have a chat with the teacher and say you've not come across this idea of using a timer before and were wondering how it helped the children - (s)he will then be able to explain to you how it's being used.

TroublesomeEx Sun 07-Oct-12 15:54:19

3littlehens I just wanted to say, I would also find out exactly what the issue is and why they are using a timer.

Some children respond quite well to having a set period of time - almost like they can feel it happening and see the time passing if they have a timer. They also know they're not going to be left there indefinitely writing.

Some children find it easier to write as much as they can in 10 minutes than they find it to write 2 paragraphs for example.

How the timer is used is far more important than the fact that it is being used at all. If that makes sense.

The teacher will (hopefully) have a whole load of tricks, techniques and strategies designed to get reluctant writers to write. Not all approaches will work with all children. Hopefully, they are just trying to find a way of working with your son.

So, for example, if the planning stage is done - all the 'talk for writing' bit and he knows what he has to write, he has his word bank to hand, he has the modelled sentence or whatever on the board, then giving him a set amount of time to do his writing might be better for him.

Or it could be turned into a game "come on then, let's see how much of this you can get written down before the timer pings"

TroublesomeEx Sun 07-Oct-12 15:55:55

In fact, what sassy said!

It's unlikely that in this day and age a year 1 child would be held to the timer with a threat.

The pressure on teachers to get reluctant writers to put pen to paper is huge. And you can't just say "he's not really ready for formal education yet".

Because formal education is the system we're in and SLT and Ofsted want to see results.

hm. my ds had that. experienced all sorts of pressure on him to perform. you might find it useful to ask the senco for an ot assessment, to rule out physical issues such as dysgraphia or dyspraxia. if they are reluctant then go to your gp and request the same. dyspraxia is classified as a disability therefore comes under gp remit. my ds was diagnosed as dyspraxic....via gp. i found it much quicker to go via gp and means you have the upper hand. sadly budgets impact on school referrals. if it comes back all clear then you can proceed in tandem with school. if there is no physical or processing impediment ( ie ds hand writing on 2nd centile, cognitive on high 80s...) tools like timer may well be appropriate. good luck

and squeaky - what a pointless and aggresive post. what is your problem?

Madame I am begining to think that Squeaky has taken over from Fabbychic as the "bitchplopper" of mumsnet.

bamboostalks Sun 07-Oct-12 16:19:44

Well it is only early in year 1 still. I mean how good are they going to be? These children are 5! In many countries, they would not have picked up a pencil yet. The foundation stage focuses on emergent writing and now they're moving into more formal purposeful writing. I think our standards are v high. He sounds fine to me. I do not do anything extra in the way of writing at home. How horrid to be forced at 5.

jamdonut Sun 07-Oct-12 16:33:45

What Sassyfrassy said.

Some children find it so difficult not to get distacted from their task. You can have, say, 1/2 hour to do a piece of writing, and at the end of that time there are always children who have only got as far as writing the date ,and, if you are very lucky, the Learning Objective. For year one, you would expect to get 3 or 4 sentences at least in that amount of time. So a timer ,for however long, is a way of visualising the time, especially if they are not ble to tell the time from a classroom clock,yet.

ah, fabbychic. am i alone in also rather missing m....o?

grin madame

good to see you hobs...its been too long....

Always happy to see you too Madame grin

Timeforabiscuit Sun 07-Oct-12 17:01:59

DD has started reception, and she is not at all keen on the writing!!

What I tried was getting her to do painting, colouring in, join the dots type things in play so she can at least do the motor control bit without it being too formal.

Tilly28 Sun 07-Oct-12 17:11:06

I use a minute timer in class for a couple of children who do not get things written down and generally waste time just staring into space! (Year 3 btw). First we discuss their sentence, improve it verbally, then they have a minute (or occasionally 3 mins, depending on sentence type) to get it onto paper before we discuss the next sentence. Sometimes this is only needed for the first couple or sentences and then they continue independently.

purplehouse Sun 07-Oct-12 17:11:08

My ds had a timer in y1. It was very effective helping him focus on the task. Teacher not remotely horrible, in fact she was vv good. ds happy with timer.

Op do not beat yourself up over this. A 5/6yo can learn quicker than a 4/5yo anyway and he is still very little. You have nothing to panic about re your own involvement. You are on the case!

CecilyP Sun 07-Oct-12 17:18:33

Sounds an awful approach with a Y1 who is only just starting to learn to write. Of course it is going to be slow to begin with. As others have said, it may be useful for a Y3 procrastinator who knows how to write but does everything to put to put off doing so.

FamiliesShareGerms Sun 07-Oct-12 17:35:39

OP, your son sounds just like mine a year ago, but I was the one who instigated the timer for homework. He was competent at eg spelling, but hated (and really wasn't good at) writing, and is a natural procrastinator. I think he'd still be sitting waiting to start his homework now if I hadn't helped move things along!

I found that the timer helped him focus on the fact that he had a specific task to complete and didn't have all day to do it. It definitely helped him. Suggest talking to his teacher about why she feels it is appropriate, and what happens if he doesn't complete the task when the timer is up.

3LittleHens Sun 07-Oct-12 19:36:40

A very big thank you to everyone for helping me by sharing your experiences and wisdom on this issue - It has definitely made me broaden my thinking.

My instincts say to go and speak to the teacher in more depth to see exactly what's involved, as it is so easy to make an incorrect judgement and worry about something unnecessarily.

I will post the outcome once I know.

Thank you once again!

Salmotrutta Sun 07-Oct-12 19:37:33

OP it could be that your DS is a bit of a daydreamer (as others have suggested based on their own DC) and the timer may very well be a tool to help him focus.

Just ask the teacher what the strategy is that she is employing. She should be more than happy to discuss it with you.

I use a big interactive whiteboard timer a lot but I'm secondary - it gives the classes a chance to see how long they have for various tasks. They love it actually, especially if I play a tune at the same time!

lljkk Sun 07-Oct-12 19:43:03

I would have thought that a timer would help with lots of the children. It isn't all pressure, it's also a game and if done sensitively, sets an appropriate target.

Also, at end of the day there is a time limit, the teacher can only devote so much time to the task, so it's explicitly letting the children know that.

mertin Sun 07-Oct-12 19:53:04

I think the problem with my dd was that when she was ready for letter formation and wanted to express herself in this way i.e. reception - there was no teaching available.

I'm just a parent. But I noticed that there was no formal teaching this year, and her ability dropped and her interest sapped.

In year 1 they did some handwriting practice - but if you have a daydreamer like mine, they don't pay much attention. The moment where she was interested was missed.

She's now in year 2 and the teacher is being quite harsh. They have spelling tests. She knows her phonics - she's a free reader with a reading age of 10. But her writing lags behind enormously. If her n looks even slightly like an h they mark her wrong. When what she needs is handwriting practice. But it's no longer on the timetable.

I feel it's a huge failing in the system. I don't feel timing him is a solution. they need to give the time to handwriting practice and to spot where they haven't been given enough time to develop this.

Nuttyprofessor Sun 07-Oct-12 19:54:19

My DS showed no interest in drawing and had never drawn a picture before he started school. He could write but did it so slowly he never finished any of his work. He was always being kept in at lunch time to finish his work.

I was worried about exams as I felt he may not finish them and would then have a reduced mark. He is very capable and can learn any fact and answer any question quickly, the problem came with creative writing, he seemed to have no imagination what so ever.

Any efforts to speed him up by myself or the teacher just upset him. I am glad to say he has grown out of it now. I wouldn't be too worried your DS is still quite young.

DeWe Sun 07-Oct-12 21:10:12

Timer worked really well for dd2, who tended to get distracted. It meant she didn't try to cram 10 minutes of writing into the 30 seconds after the teacher said "time to finish off". grin

I've used it myself to challenge on of my dc on various occasions to do something they don't like doing, but is necessary. They fnd it much more interesting trying to beat the timer than just having to do it.

3LittleHens Sun 07-Oct-12 21:32:04

Dear lljkk

With respect I think you have missed the point.

If a child finds writing very difficult and is struggling/individual letters are not written in the right sequence (& both are not due to a lack of concentration) - how can a 'timer' help no matter how sensitively it is done or indeed even as a game?

Doesn't that child need to get back to the BASICS of writing? Which, I hasten to add, I did with him, and it took hardly any time for his confidence to grow. He is not only doing well now but is also doing it at a very good 'normal' pace - because 'I' have shown him how to form the letters correctly. With my intervention this only took a couple of days.

I don't want to sound arogant, but shouldn't the teacher being doing this - ie. so that bad unbreakable habits are not formed at such a young age. I don't want to go on and it is changing the subject, but how can they then go on to learn to do joined up writing if they are writing individual letters in the wrong sequence - I know they can, but it is very awkward writing isn't it?

So, I say, once again - why the timer - sometimes just a little bit of basic 'help' is appropriate.

You can blame class sizes or resources etc etc., but how come some primary schools manage to do it very well although their class sizes are huge?

As a much older mother, this does make me realise more and more (and from lots of your comments too), that a LOT of support is needed at home these days. It wasn't like that in my day, but I guess the plus point is that perhaps they get to do many more 'fun' things, and if so, that can't be bad as they are only little children for such a short period of time.

3LittleHens Sun 07-Oct-12 21:46:21

I forgot to say that I do totally agree with a few of you that said you use a timer, and how effective/helpful it is. But your use is to aid/guide your children and not to make them feel total panic/pressure like my son did.

janelikesjam Sun 07-Oct-12 22:43:45

Dear OP, the teacher is clearly wrong. I cannot begin to understand such a useless and potentially back-firing tactic i.e. how to make a child feel anxious and failing, aged 6. One of the wonderful things about being aged 6 is having no sense of time in the clock sense but just doing an activity for the sake of it.

Year 1 is also very young. My son didn't start writing properly till around Y4, as he was simply more artistic-minded. He is fine now, though I did put in a little time myself in Y4 to help him. Your son's reading sounds very advanced.

I think his teacher should get off his case and start treating him like a little boy not a lab rat.

ReallyTired Sun 07-Oct-12 22:52:45

Ds' teachers have used a timer with him for writing in reception, year 1, year 2 and it hasn't harmed him. Admitally his reception teacher used the timer for getting changed from PE or tidying up. In general the teachers rewarded ds for producing good work in the set time rather than punishing him. Producing work under timed conditions made it easier to compare what ds could produce in say 10 minutes on different days. The timer focesed him.

Ds found writing difficult and even had input from an occupational theraphist during year 1. Ds was even punished on occassion when he produced absolutely nothing. My son had physical problems with his ligament that made it exceptionally hard for him to write, but he also tended to exaggerate and use it as an excuse for doing no work.

Sometimes children need a bit of tough love. There is no excuse for sitting there for ten minutes and producing NOTHING on the paper. Its not dypraxia, but sheer laziness. Provided the task and the time limit is reasonable there is nothing wrong with punishing a lazy six year old by keeping him at break to do the work.

Gentleness Sun 07-Oct-12 23:36:35

He is soooo young and this teacher seems to be of the view that all children SHOULD develop at the same pace and they simply don't. It would be completely different if your ds was a competent writer who had trouble getting the first word down, or who day-dreamed, but he isn't. He is a developing writer.

I cannot tell you how many perfectly intelligent boys I've taught in mid-juniors who have already been labelled SEN because their reading and writing didn't develop at the same pace and in the same way as the majority, and have consequently had their confident enjoyment of learning leached away. These are boys whose thinking skills are absolutely fine, or even better than the "gifted" children who could read & write quickly. In fact my dh and a db were exactly the same. They learned later. They learned well. They went on to degrees and professional careers. But they both hated a lot of school, and their mums had to listen to empty concerns repeatedly.

This government-target-driven obsession with every child developing at the same pace is why I'm thinking of homeschooling for the early years. It makes me cross that there is STILL no real flexibility for individual learning styles.

FolkGhoul Mon 08-Oct-12 06:21:05

3littlehens I would also want to add that I think you are right, parents are expected to support children's learning more at home than they used to be.

That's not a reflection on the quality of teaching or the education level/ability of the teachers (I know you didn't say it was either smile) given that teacher training is more rigorous now than it was many years ago. But the expectations of the government/Ofsted are far higher than they used to be. In fact, Ofsted inspections didn't exist before 1992.

When I was at primary school (I'm late 30s) the national curriculum didn't exist and no one bothered about targets, raising standards or whatever. It just wasn't the case.

There is a lot of pressure on everyone involved in education to achieve more and perform better: HTs, SLT, class teachers, children, parents. And unfortunately, not all of this looks very pretty.

The fact is children are expected to do stuff now that they wouldn't have been expected to do years ago.

teacherandguideleader Mon 08-Oct-12 07:14:53

I've used timers a lot. As a teacher, when you have a new class it can be difficult to know why someone is struggling. Having a timer can be really effective as children often have no concept of time so when you tell them they have 10 minutes they spend 9.5 of those thinking and not writing. A timer helps them to see how long they have left.

However, it also helps distinguish between those who are getting distracted and those who are genuinely struggling. I wouldn't be concerned about a teacher trying it out as a strategy but if it has no effect she needs to try something else before it dents his confidence.

lljkk Mon 08-Oct-12 09:29:46

I did try to read to see if you were saying he couldn't move pencil quickly enough, or that he made so many mistakes because he couldn't remember what to do quickly enough, sorry I missed those obvious statements, is he really that different from most other children in the class?

Reading OP's last post makes me wonder if child was trying to be perfectionist about it, whether he just needed to plunge in and the more he tried the sooner he would get to the stage that he could do it quicker & reasonably correctly.

Obviously I'm not a teacher, but I think there are many ways to learn, and some children just need to get on with experimenting in order to make any progress. Having to do it just right each and every time will hold them up. Some mistakes are good, they part of the path to getting it right.

ReallyTired Mon 08-Oct-12 11:22:31

Having dyspraxia or any other special needs is not a licence to refuse to try. There is a world of difference between having special needs and simply making no effort to concentrate and get on with the work.

Provided that targets set are fair then I fail understand why there is problem. In my experience most teachers prefer to reward effort rather than punish laziness. I would rather that my children had a teacher that punished them for poor effort than one that said "Its alright Cecil that you have only written two letters in ten minutes. We know that you are incapable of any better dyspraxic."

Even children with the most severe of special needs can push the boundaries and be lazy. I don't think does their self esteem any good to accept less than their best.

Lovewearingjeans Mon 08-Oct-12 11:43:06

I haven't read all posts, so forgive me if I am repeating. I have always worked in childcare, so you might assume that I would have children who could write before school etc, but it doesn't work like that. My ds2 had no interest in writing or drawing, and this is a child who has been in Nursery since he was 8mths old (I know bad mother!) he is in y2 now. At the end of reception he could just about write his name (he is a May bday). I had pens etc out at home, a wipe board, clip boards, note pads like a good nursery nurse, but had to face facts that he wasn't interested, and to leave the writing etc for playgroup nursery. He was in a mixed reception/y1 class last year and was able to remember and write a story by the end, in his lovely muddled spelling. This was a huge achievement for him. He has his strengths in other areas, and more of a mathematical head, and a fantastic imagination. Don't feel guilty about not doing anything at home.
In regards to the timer, perhaps she uses it as a tool for doing his written stuff before he goes back to discovering, as it is a mixed reception/y1 class it will be very play based.

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