Across the Street column: Is cursive really a curse?
Across the Street
Cursive writing is defined as a style of penmanship where some characters are written and joined together in a flowing manner. It is generally used to allow an individual to write faster. I distinctly remember practicing penmanship in the sixth grade from my teacher, Mrs. Johnston. She had beautiful handwriting, and we tried hard to copy her lead. She wanted everyone’s handwriting to be perfect, and we practiced daily. It was the closest thing to “art” that we had in her class.
Cursive writing instruction over the years has declined. For some classrooms that’s because of the amount of curriculum teachers must cover but more recently with the adoption of the Common Core Standards in 2009, it just isn’t required. Instead, students are taught keyboarding skills and encouraged to type. The controversy regarding whether or not cursive writing should be taught in the classroom has resulted in research that leans toward bringing it back.
Research has revealed that motor and visual skills, or eye-hand coordination, is improved with the practice of forming the letters when writing in cursive. For young children, it also benefits dexterity between the hands and fingers and enhances the connection between hand and brain. There may be an analogy to the skills of a surgeon, dentist, computer technician or artist.
Handwriting skills or cursive writing begins around third grade or age 8 and is then continued and refined through elementary grades. There are many penmanship activities that a kindergarten and pre-k student can do to strengthen the skills necessary for handwriting and higher learning potential.
In 2012 Florida researchers found a 4-year-old’s fine motor writing skills are more predictive of later achievement than early math or language skills. They studied 1,000 second-graders and compared their pre-kindergarten writing skills. Students with better penmanship in pre-k had higher scores in both reading and math in second grade and also had higher scores in general on standardized tests. Those with strong handwriting marks in pre-k had an overall rating of B average as compared to an overall C average for the students that did poorly on writing tasks in pre-k.
Researchers also found that learning to write in cursive can make students better readers and writers. The continuity of letters in cursive writing help to guide students eyes from left to right. This reinforces the same pattern used in reading. The ability to write in cursive also helps with spatial skills because one automatically leaves spaces between words while writing in cursive. Writing in cursive also eliminates common letter reversals because the movement and flow required to write letters in cursive makes it impossible to write a letter backward.
I picked two key reasons why students should be taught handwriting from a list of 12 posted and cited by Amanda Witman in 2015. First, the brain engages differently when we write something by hand as opposed to typing it on a keyboard or by touching a screen. Studies show that writing improves memory; students retain learning better when working with new ideas through handwriting instead of typing.
Secondly, being able to write effortlessly enables the mind to focus more fully on a topic. Struggling with handwriting takes valuable brain energy away from any writing task, but when that skill is mastered, it makes all the difference. Skilled, fluid script is an asset to learning.
So, for grandparents who have asked me why cursive writing is no longer included in their grandchild’s education, know that there are many online resources to help you teach them. And who knows? It could help you find those lost car keys.
Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.
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