Shorthand in the Homeschool Curriculum

This thread is meant to be a place to discuss the integration of shorthand into a homeschool curriculum.  A place to raise the relevant questions and considerations, and to explore all sides of the issues raised.

Here are a few questions that come to mind.

–When is shorthand best introduced to the student?  What developmental milestones tell the teacher the student is ready?

–Is Gregg the best shorthand to use?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of a phonetic shorthand vs. an orthographic (traditional spellings) one? If not Gregg, then what?

–Notehand was fairly highly developed but is still under copyright.  Greghand copyright status is less clear.  The very early Gregg materials from the 1880s and 1890s are very similar to Notehand and Greghand and are out of copyright.  How important are these issues to most homeschoolers, and what are the legal issues with promoting these various types of materials?

A little on my motivations for starting this thread.  Earlier this year I put a series of videos up on YouTube on shorthand for note taking.  There has been some interest, as they have over 16,000 views so far. There are subscribers from across the globe.  I intend to post a video on the integration of shorthand into the homeschool curriculum, referencing both my existing videos and also other  approaches the homeschooler might take.

My background related to this endeavor includes a Master’s degree in Science Curriculum and Instruction, 4 years as a high school teacher of math and physics (almost 30 years ago), and overseeing and participating in the homeschooling of my three children.  My kids have all completed their bachelor’s degrees now at various institutions, and my son is working under a NSF grant on his PhD in areas related to neurobiology.  Although I am past the stage of homeschooling my children, I still have interest in the endeavour and would like to help others who are going down that path.  The experience of this group, both in scholarship related to historical forms of shorthand, and in education, will, I am confident, illuminate the various issues related to teaching shorthand to young students.

24 comments Add yours
  1. Hi Howard,

    Great set of questions! Great to see there are a bunch of folks interested in teaching kids shorthand, I'm looking forward to an expansion of this sub-community!

    I should give a disclaimer that I don't have much personal experience in teaching kids. But I'm gearing up for it with my newborn daughter, so I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. More thoughts, less experience. 🙂

    I'll give two subsequent comments on the first two questions you raised.

    But, regarding the copyright issues, I don't know. I am a big fan of Creative Commons licenses, but the question of a strategic choice of shorthand for an instructional program you will create in conversation with the licenses of materials currently out there: a big important question, but not something I feel knowledgable enough to contribute to quite yet!

    Thanks again!
    Steven

  2. I would suppose my thought on the question – when to start learning shorthand – would be "now"! Teaching could start at any age, if the materials are available and the parent feels comfortable.

    When do we start teaching kids to read? I would think that happens automatically as soon as their eyes can focus on the font size of the stories we're reading them. So if we're include reading to them from shorthand childrens' stories as "teaching shorthand," I would say that's an all-ages-appropriate-activity, no?

    Teaching writing is a different trick. A stereotype would be a 19th century 5-year-old scion of a landholding family sitting down with an elderly great-uncle: the kid holds the brush and ink, and grandpa holds a bamboo stick… But I'm not a big fan of "fois-gras" education!

    A less awkward mode of teaching kids to write at a maximally early age, more along the lines of a play-time activity, is here: http://forum.brillkids.com/general-discussion-b5/can-you-teach-a-3-year-old-to-write/

    That's more along the lines of what I hope to implement! 😀

  3. Which version of shorthand? For the computer age, I would say some kind of light-line phonography. Gregg. There is a school in Bangalore still teaching Pitman… but the Thai parliamentary stenographers still use a version of Gregg for Thai transcription, and the Chinese used a Chinese version of Gregg very prevalently for decades until they got digital stenotype machines in the 90's, etc. I had originally started learning Pitman, until a friend of mine who uses Gregg in Portuguese convinced me to make the early switch to Gregg.

    So much existing equipment is optimized for light-line, from ballpoint pens, to iPads, to high-contrast scanners. I just can't imagine myself advising young modern students to learn something that has thick and thin lines and dots. It seems to entail a lot of chasing down fountain-pen nibs, as well as niche tablet computer software and hardware.

    As to which Gregg to teach, I think that will depend more on the age of the child.

    I will be starting with flashcard-play and an infant, so I am picking Anniversary for three main reasons. It's public domain, there's extensive available reading material, and it opens a door to max speed in the future. The "Early Learning" aficionadas say that babies will have fun learning anything, and really key directly into the caregiver's positive energy. Chinese kids doing EL learn the pronunciations of Chinese characters with this method, and I feel like shorthand outlines aren't terribly different from characters. So it should work for reading comprehension. And, I plan for us to handle the large quantity of briefs during the infant/toddler language-window, making the study of Anniversary feasible at that age. (I expect.)

    However, Howard, I watched your great video on "Differences Between Business and Personal Use of Gregg Shorthand." Then I skimmed portions of the Notehand Teacher's manual that you reference. Two items in your video pushed me toward switching toward Notehand: your discussion of how ambiguous outlines (homographs?) can require additional thought-effort that distracts from the content, and your discussion of the difficulty of requiring perfect compliance with "standard" shorthand in students' written work.

    Reading your materials (while writing this response) is encouraging me to be open to continuing to refine my approach! I am now planning to continue learning to read Anniversary, but when I start *writing*, I will try following the Notehand method rather than the Anni writing drills. And I am thinking to follow the same path with my child: reading Aniversary, writing Notehand.

    In a similar vein, for a 7-y/o or older child learning shorthand, I would think that the learning burden would become more important. The process of teaching shorthand should be less about the script itself, and more about the process of learning: developing interest in a subject matter, developing self-motivation to learn, learning to manage expectations and study deliverables, etc. In that case, it might be useful for caregivers to pick a shorthand like Greghand or Notehand with an easier learning curve, to better focus on developing active-learning habits.

    When the child who can read Anni wants to build speed, their habit of reading books in Anni may facilitate that. But as the Notehand Teacher's Manual notes, perhaps speed-building should be postponed indefinitely until the self-motivation to do so catches up, and a Notehand habit is stable.

  4. One of my concerns with a young person's developmental stages relates to the logical and easily understood nature of phonetic representation. If a child learns that first, will the child be handicapped in learning the illogical standard spellings that they will have to master in order to function in the modern world?

    Good points on the systems that use variable line thickness. There are still a lot more besides Gregg that don't though.

    1. Howard, Dr. Gregg addressed this in a speech in 1913 (http://greggshorthand.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-story-of-gregg-shorthand-1913.html, p. 30, 2nd para) as follows:

      "And, really, our system is so easy to learn and so legible that there is no reason why should not be taught to children early in life. If it is taught early in life, it becomes almost second nature. . . .

      "I know, too, of a gentleman who taught his children Gregg Shorthand before they learned their A, B, C's, and he said that they made more progress in writing and reading afterwards because they had learned to write by sound first."

      A parallel comes to mind with Esperanto. There are two well known studies involving French and German.

      In the first, a control group studied four years of French. The experimental group took one year of Esperanto and three years of French. After four years, the latter group excelled the former in both speaking and writing of French.

      The study involving German was conducted in like manner, only for three instead of four years, with the same outcome.

      These interesting results have been attributed at least partly to the very logical of Esperanto, in which there are no exceptions to the rules of grammar. This very quality makes it easier to grasp and understand basic grammatical concepts, which actually facilitates the acquisition of national languages that so burdened with awkward exceptions.

      This may hold true with shorthand & longhand as well. The point is simply to get the child to understand the concept of written symbols representing words. If shorthand can accomplish that more easily, there's probably no harm done; it may even be an asset to learning longhand, as Dr. Gregg suggests.

      -Joel

    2. Dr. Gregg was very interested in Esperanto, and actually attended the 1910 "Universal Congress" of Esperanto that was held in Washington, D.C. Early issues of the Gregg Writer had occasional reports about Esperanto-related events and information.

      If anyone is interested, the Duolingo language-learning program now offers a course in Esperanto. Currently more than 200,000 people have enrolled.

      https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online

    3. Dr. Gregg was very interested in Esperanto, and actually attended the 1910 "Universal Congress" of Esperanto that was held in Washington, D.C. Early issues of the Gregg Writer had occasional reports about Esperanto-related events and information.

      If anyone is interested, the Duolingo language-learning program now offers a course in Esperanto. Currently more than 200,000 people have enrolled.

      https://www.duolingo.com/course/eo/en/Learn-Esperanto-Online

  5. Steven,

    Some things you should consider in relation to your proposed approach of reading Aniversary and writing Notehand. The representations in Aniversary are quite different, with reversed circles indicating r's and a lot of standard abbreviations that are not standard in Notehand. The "Functional Method" approach was very successful in first reading extensively and then writing the same system. It seems that if you get good enough to read the condensed forms of Anniversary you may as well write them too.

    I took an approach in the videos of teaching something similar to Notehand, then covering the abbreviating principle and pointing the students to the Anniversary dictionary for examples of abbreviations they might want to consider writing for words that they used frequently. Since each student will have a unique set of frequently used words in addition to the standard ones, this gives them the ability to customize a small set of personal abbreviations without learning the entire Aniversary theory. A student taking this approach would not be able to read materials written in Aniversary, as they would not know most of the abbreviations. On the other hand, they have the ability to learn a system much more quickly. Also they do not have to expend as much mental effort figuring out sometimes ambiguous abbreviations. Although they still have to deal with some ambiguity, it is less than in Aniversary.

  6. This is a great thread! I've certainly been mulling over these same kinds of questions in my own mind.

    I don't know what the ideal age might be for beginning shorthand. I think the youngest group that Gregg tried to teach was 6th graders. My daughter is just starting 5th grade, and I know I want to make sure she is a little more settled in her spelling skills before I introduce shorthand to her. I'm thinking I'll start her out next summer. But I'm slowly making my way through Gregg's various teaching books, for any hints about his teaching methods with the youth.

    Literary License still publishes the first edition of Notehand (available on Amazon). I feel Notehand has one particular advantage in that the reading material is more interesting than the business letters that are found in other editions. This would be a plus for kids. But it is a "closed system" to be sure, with limited practice materials confined only to the textbook– though not as limited as Greghand (if only we could secure a copy of the Greghand Reading Book!)

    What we need is a modern-day plate-writer to create new material! How about Harry Potter in Notehand? How I wish (it's available in Latin… why not Notehand?!) (Heck, I'd be happy to see the Bible and classic lit in Gregg shorthand– books in the public domain.) Maybe someone needs to pitch a book idea to McGraw-Hill! The old business model for shorthand may be dead, and it may be a struggle to convince them of such a project's viability when public schools seem to be downplaying even cursive these days. Yet, homeschoolers are a pioneering and counter-culture lot. There could be a niche market, though it would have to be created with a lot of promotion about why shorthand is still valid and useful in this high-tech, plugged-in generation. But what if someone was to letter a public domain classic in Notehand– would that run into copyright problems– are the Gregg characters themselves somehow copyrighted, even if the work was in the public domain?

    Something else to discuss when teaching children is pacing. While I, myself, was able to cruise through the Notehand text one lesson per day five days a week, my 13-year old was taking 2-3 days per lesson during the summer and has now slowed down even further with so much going on with the new school year. Now we're going to take about a week on each lesson from here on out. Shorter lessons are definitely better (The Essentials of Gregg Notehand has the right idea– you don't want to overwhelm them.) It should be fun. They would enjoy a book that had excerpts from familiar children's stories in shorthand– heck, throw in something about Minecraft, and you'd really have them hooked! But I guess I'm leaning towards a new kind of textbook all together. I don't think any of the editions out there are particularly kid-friendly, though Notehand comes closest.

    This discussion is really helpful. Thanks for posting it! And I look forward to your next video, Howard.

  7. On the issue of copyright — I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice —

    There has only been one court ruling in the US about the copyrightability of shorthand systems. The court ruled that any given textbook describing a shorthand system certainly can be copyrighted but the system itself is an invention rather than a literary work and could only be protected by patent rather then copyright. You can read the decision at the following URL

    http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/48/555/1569115/

    Granted, that pertained to an alphabetic system rather than one that uses special symbols. So there probably needs to be another court case to determine whether the same principle applies. However it's hard for this layman to imagine how symbols that were first published in 1888 could still be covered by any kind of patent or copyright in 2015.

    Using terms like "Gregg Shorthand" or "Notehand" in a book title without permission might violate the publisher's trademark and "the right to publicity."

    A legal firm called Dentons prepared an explanation of intellectual property issues for language inventors; this applies tangentially to invented writing systems. You can read it here —

    http://conlang.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/Dentons-Conlang-Memo-public-version.pdf

  8. I helped my two kids learn to read, and have many friends who are teachers.

    Also, my son was speech-delayed. Was. When he turned 3 he was a year behind. Six months later he was a year ahead. (I still recommend getting help if you are at all worried. You never want to say, "If only I took action back when it was only a little problem." For speech delay, most of the therapy is in daily life, by the parents.)
    http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/earlychildhood/speechlanguage/index.aspx

    All parents should learn shorthand while their kids learn to read and write! It would reassure many parents that their kids aren't slow. The only reason we think it's easy is we have years of practice. They'll also learn how hard it is to understand the text while you are struggling to decode it, and the importance of repetition and interesting material.

    I recommend delaying shorthand until after the child is fluent in reading normal English. (Unless, of course, the child is interested.)

    In normal English, if there is no letter, the sound cannot exist. Shorthand involves a lot more guessing, and you cannot use, "Is there a letter that makes the T sound? Then that isn't the right word." (Shorthand is, however, good for learning context. Given the sentence / page, and the few sounds we do have, what would make sense? This can be simulated in normal English text by removing letters.)

    It's hard to recognize individual letters. The shape of Gregg letters varies between words. The T in IT is often a different length than the T in other words. Letters often blend together or affect each other, even when not in blends.

    Vowel sounds have to be guessed at, especially later in the book. (Yes, Gregg says his system includes vowels, but once you get into blends and abbreviations, many are left out.)

    For my kids, simply having them say each letter out loud was often enough help for them to decode the word.

    When learning to read, fluency and comprehension are vital. Many times, beginning readers sound like good readers but haven't a clue what they just read, although they can repeat the passage verbatim. (Solution: Let's read that passage again and find the answer. If that doesn't work, teacher reads it. Decoding is useless and boring without comprehension.)

  9. As for different oral languages, learning more than one language at a time is fine. There might be slight delays due to the extra work, but not much. However, you need to be clear which language you are speaking at the time. Set up a pattern. Morning/afternoon. Oma's house/our house. Mom/Dad. Living room / dining room. Otherwise, the kids have to do extra work separating the two languages. (This from several seminars on preschool speech difficulties.)

    However, once the child is fluently reading her primary language, with good comprehension, and enjoys reading (or at least the results of reading), and has reasonable penmanship, then by all means, add it to the list of things to taste. (I wouldn't add it to the required courses, just because there are enough Must Learn things already.)

    Our son also needed occupational therapy for handwriting. Teachers used to have special training in how to teach penmanship. Some of the programs were better than others. Now, they have to wing it. Our therapist showed us a study where kids were given paper with no lines. Most kids wrote neatly at a size much smaller than recommended for their grade, but had difficulty when forced to write larger. The Gregg experts recommend starting at Gregg-ruled size, then experimenting to find the best size for you. Repeat as you get better / older. I love it when experts in different fields give the same advice!

    I tried to interest my kids in shorthand for years. Given their pen control (the schools now give both of them computers and don't expect readable penmanship — even when other kids would be asked to respect the teachers' eyes and time) I recommend TeeLine rather than Gregg or Forkner. Maybe Pitman, since it can be broken into individual shapes.

  10. Susan's idea of starting kids only after they have a firm grasp of conventional spelling seems like a safe course of action. Cricket makes another good point that a specific context for the "language" helps the learner keep from getting confused. In our case that would be a confusion between phonetic and traditional spellings. Perhaps context in our case could be "steno pad and pen – Gregg", "keyboard or regular sized paper, traditional longhand. "

    Rick, thanks for the information on copyright. It was considerations like these that caused me to use Gregg's 1888 pamphlet in my videos, and only reference Notehand and hold up a copy of the text. It may be safest to avoid the Notehand and Greghand designators to avoid possibilities of litigation. The "invention" of Gregg Shorthand as you note is longstanding and probably immune to challenge. I have been calling it Gregg shorthand, as that is the commonly used name coming from the name of the old inventor. I intuitively think we are fairly safe with that but my intuition could certainly be wrong.

    Susan raises the interesting point of written materials for reading practice. One reason that the written materials became dated is that each Gregg system had a different set of abbreviations and as the abbreviations changed the written materials became obsolete. Should we consider the idea of written materials that don't use phrasing or abbreviations at all? They would still have the Gregg efficiencies of phonetic representation and efficient letterforms, but would lose the great efficiencies (and corresponding reading difficulties) that come from abbreviation. The written material would then be system independent, and stage two of the learning process could be where the student adds or develops abbreviations for his or her personal writing.

    We develop personal, and sometimes shared abbreviations in longhand, but still read the fully written form also. For instance, I use "re" for "about" in longhand notes. I don't even know what it means but it used to be on paper memos so I started using it. I even used "re" in Gregg until I noticed the "ab" abbreviation for "about" in Notehand and saw that it was essentially the same thing.

    A 2 stage learning process with stage one being learning to read and write the phonetic alphabet, and stage two being developing an abbreviation set, has much to recommend it. Gregg written without abbreviation would also give us all a "common tongue" with which to communicate. Perhaps some of the prefix and suffix abbreviations could be maintained in the long version of Gregg. One hopes that is not a slippery slope that would reintroduce all the old problems.

  11. Cricket, can you expand on the reasons for recommending Tline? What are the criteria?

    I am more and more breaking my Gregg words into parts. Greghand shows the use of the breve to connect two separate parts of a word. I use the breve and break words to avoid awkward joins, to prevent words from going too far above or below the line, to deal with adjacent vowel sounds, etc.

    I don't remember seeing this use of the breve in other Gregg systems.

    1. Tline has more distinct letters that don't blend into each other. This makes it easier to read.

      It uses English spelling rather than phonetics. It distinguishes between S and soft-C, and C and K. It uses English vowels rather than what it sounds like. Fewer vowels are left out (at least until you customize it). This reduces spelling confusion.

      I'd stick with the official outlines rather than using the breve and break words in Gregg until you know the theory very well. You don't want to get used to an outline meaning one thing, only to learn it can also mean something similar enough to be confusing.

  12. I see in another thread Terri mentioned the "essentials of Notehand" text would be good for teaching kids, since it is briefer than the standard text designed to fit into the high school curriculum. The essentials text appears to have been oriented more towards professionals, as evidenced by the introductory material and the lists of vocabulary for various professions. Traditional schooling requires fitting content into quarter or semester chunks, which sometimes means the addition of filler material that is not really needed in order to flesh out a semester's worth of classes. The homeschooler has no such arbitrary constraint on classes, and so is at liberty to use the most time-efficient methods available to achieve the learning objective. In this sense, the homeschooler's objectives align with the professional's, in that they are both looking for an efficient way to get directly to their learning goal. Hence Teri's observation.

    Another group with a similar desire to learn by the shortest route is the enlisted military soldier studying to obtain a skill. Several military manuals were published, and they seem quite concise. I have a couple, but they are not where I can reach them for a week or two. Do any of you who have seen these manuals have thoughts on their use for the homeschooler? When I get back to mine I also want to look at the copyright pages to see if they have less restriction, having been published as government documents.

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