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Cursive or computer

Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012, at 2:17 PM

Will cursive writing go the way of the dodo bird?

Is it going to be a lost art or an outmoded way of communication?

It looks that way.

Cursive writing is slowly losing ground in elementary school curricula as technology invades the classroom. It is no longer high priority in many schools. There's now keyboarding, spellcheck, texting, and emails.

Already 45 states are moving toward adopting national guidelines that don't include cursive handwriting in 2014.

Instead, it requires proficiency in computer keyboarding by the time pupils exit elementary school.

Still, some states have added a cursive requirement to the national standard. Those states include California, Georgia and Massachusetts. Some states, such as Arkansas, have made it optional teaching for school districts.

My daughter, Judith Abbey, teaches cursive writing in third grade in Paragould School District. She was given a choice whether to opt out or not.

"Absolutely not," she said. "Students still need to be able to sign their names and read text that has been written in cursive."

She says she totally supports technology and thinks keyboarding should be introduced in kindergarten. She adds, "Just because it's new doesn't always make it better."

"Someday handwriting may be obsolete, but it isn't yet. How sad not to be able to read a handwritten note from your grandmother."

Mrs. Abbey teaches cursive writing as a regular course, with grades.

But, she says it is getting more difficult to find time to schedule it. Other required subjects are crowding out the time once used for teaching cursive. "It's definitely harder to find the time," she says.

She finds about 30-45 minutes a week instruction time....usually about 15 minutes at a time. "Mostly I have to combine it with something else, like writing their spelling words in cursive, or copying a short poem for seat work first thing in the morning."

She notes that her students go to computer lab once a week for 40 minutes, and she supplements by having them type something they wrote in class. However with only two computers in the classroom, that poses a problem.

Some educators believe more time needs to be spent in teaching math or reading, not writing.

A new survey shows Kansas elementary students also receive instruction in cursive writing but interest in teaching the subject is waning.

While I was shopping at a Goody's store recently, I saw a man with a clipboard taking some kind of inventory. I approached and asked if he was writing in cursive. He said he wasn't, and noted that in Tennessee, where he resides, teachers aren't required to teach cursive writing anymore.

He thinks that is a mistake. "They, at least, need to know how to sign their name," he said. "There are always documents that need signatures."

One educator stated, "If we do away with cursive we will be forgetting our history and failing to honor time honored traditions."

Also, researchers point to studies that demonstrate cursive writing stimulates areas of the brain untouched by keyboarding and helps children develop skills in reading, spelling, composition, memory and critical thinking. Today we are letting the computer do much of that for us.

Others say we aren't losing anything; we are gaining convenience and a greater ability to communicate through the use of technology.

Cursive was, and still is an art, not a necessity, some say.

Whatever it was, to me it was a great achievement in grade school as I formed and connected the letters of the alphabet.

I prided myself on my penmanship and used it throughout my lifetime. I was a senior in high school before I was introduced to typing, but that didn't replace cursive writing. I found a balance between handwriting and typing.

I eventually forgot my typing skills and didn't reintroduce those skills until I was almost 40 years old and began to write.

By then, I had a firm foundation in spelling, reading, composition and handwriting.

Some proponents of handwriting say it is much quicker than printing. It also benefits brains, coordination and motor skills, as well as connects to the past, whether to handwritten historical documents like the Constitution or to their parents' and grandparents' letters.

Is technology cursing cursive writing?

Only time will tell.


Comments
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A lot of people, lately, have been making a lot of noise about the death of cursive handwriting. They don't want cursive to die. Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?

Research shows that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations below.)

What about _reading_ cursive? This matters vitally -- it takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

(In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

Of course, some folks claim that cursive has magic powers not shared by any other handwriting. Without exception, the research they cite (when they bother to give actual citations at all) turns out out to be misquoted or misrepresented. Read the actual studies: you'll see that the mental benefits ascribed to cursive are in _all_ styles of handwriting. They are not limited to cursive. (will leave it to the misquoters and their disciples to ponder why the misquoting is done -- and why any medium of information has uncritically accepted it.)

What about signatures? Is cursive needed there? Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, then verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger's life easy.

The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.

There's also this to consider: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (On this, I could quote legal sources -- and lawyers -- but that would take more room than a letter permits. So don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

In short, there is neither common sense, nor fact, nor legal necessity, behind the idolatry of cursive. Remember that research about the fastest, most legible handwriters? Most people who write that way were never taught to do it. Like the rest of us, they'd probably been taught otherwise. They had to stumble on those useful habits themselves, by consciously or unconsciously discarding what didn't work in the printing or cursive styles they'd been taught, and keeping the best components of what was left -- which meant breaking some of the rules they had been taught.

But why leave it to chance and breaking the rules? There are books and (in the texting age) software designed to teach those better habits from the get-go and save handwriting. (Which are they? A letter like this is not the place for product reviews -- though I welcome reader inquiries.)

CITATIONS:

/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY.

1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/2754...

and

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.

DEVELOPMENT OF HANDWRITING SPEED AND LEGIBILITY IN GRADES 1-9.

1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/2754...

(NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.

Shouldn't there be more of them?)

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone

Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

and the World Handwriting Contest

http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

-- Posted by KateGladstone on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 3:42 PM

Dear Kate, thanks for your comments. I believe cursive is on the way out. But I connected with four teachers (one a principal) who think that it should stay. One fourth grade teacher says she writes everything in cursive on her blackboard. She teaches as much cursive as she can, but she does not take grades. Once the student leaves the fourth grade, it doesn't seem to matter how they write; it's the content they are graded on, one teacher said. "I'm just old fashioned enough to think cursive should be taught and used," she said. The reason I wrote about cursive writing in my column is that I was surprised to read how few schools are teaching cursive writing or will be by 2014.

-- Posted by billy066@centurytel.net on Tue, Dec 11, 2012, at 5:46 PM


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