Home » Education » Cursive – Yay or Nay?

Cursive – Yay or Nay?

I learned cursive in third grade.  And was terrible at it.  At some point along the line one of my teachers asked me to please print instead of writing in cursive.

A lot of schools are getting rid of cursive.  Few people still write in cursive; many people can’t read cursive since they never learned to write it.  Cursive is viewed as archaic and unnecessary. The computer and keyboard rule the kingdom of written communication.

My school teaches cursive in second grade (which means I have to teach it!).  Second graders are expected to write everything in cursive from that February on through all grade levels.  The only exception is essays when they get older, which are expected to be typed.  In first grade, students learn D’Nealian handwriting, which we refer to as cursive prep.

I have mixed feelings about cursive and cursive prep.

Well, actually, only about cursive.  I think D’Nealian is a waste of time.  Kids can go from printing to cursive just fine.

My school really emphasizes neat handwriting.  Students even get a penmanship grade each term on their report cards.  (I usually grade my students fairly leniently on this; after all, they have the disadvantage of learning from me!)

I agree that neat handwriting is important.  As a matter of my own personal convenience, (selfish, I know), I would much rather read an essay written very neatly than one that’s very messy.  Sometimes a student’s grade hinges on me deciphering what the kid wrote.

Neat handwriting is also connected to a lot of other things.  Students with neat handwriting are also (in general) more organized and more articulate.  I can’t help but make the connection that the students with the best handwriting and the students with the most complete, detailed, and insightful answers are the same students.

Now, I’m not saying that neat handwriting makes the students more insightful.  My most insightful students will be that way whether or not I teach them cursive.

However, the students with the least legible handwriting are generally the students who make the least progress.  There is definitely a connection here, though certainly not a simple cause and effect one.  It’s true that when I’m conferencing with a student about their work, if I have to spend several minutes just trying to read what they wrote, I can’t spend as much time on helping them improve their ideas and mode of expression.

I believe that handwriting is important.  Students need to learn to write correctly and neatly.  I’m on the fence about the importance of cursive in particular.  I’m not entirely convinced that cursive is especially important, but I’m not ready to relegate it to obscurity.

What do you think?  Should schools be teaching cursive?  In the day of the computer, is handwriting important at all?

I decided to write this article after reading “What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain” on psychologytoday.com, about the supposed benefits to thinking skills from learning cursive.  To me it is more persuasive on the need to learn handwriting, rather than cursive in particular, but still a good read.

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3 Comments

  1. It’s a Yay for me. Besides the article you quote there are numerous studies sighting the benefits of learning cursive writing. Taking the argument that cursive writing is outmoded by keyboarding and such technology is a small step away from arguing against learning to spell or do arithmetic because spell check and calculators work just fine.

    Beside there is the aesthetic beauty a proper penmanship.
    Bart

    • You bring up a really good point. Technology shouldn’t be used to replace useful skills. Kids need to learn to express themselves clearly, and part of that is good penmanship.

  2. Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant. (This is, for instance, true of studies cited as support for cursive in the PSYCHOLOGY TODAY blog-thread you mentioned.)

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

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