Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hot topic: Cursive writing

This from an SF K Files reader:
The SFUSD public elementary school my kids go to focuses a great deal of energy on cursive writing -- even making it mandatory at a certain grade level. While the students do get to do a limited amount of computer time, there is no emphasis on getting them to teach students how to type. This seems to me to be a somewhat archaic stance to take in this day of computer ubiquity. Indeed, I've heard from co-workers that some schools in the suburbs are completely downplaying cursive and instead focusing on getting kids to type on a computer. One school in the East Bay, for example, gives homework writing assignments with a "first choice" preference that it be done on a computer. I'm just wondering what parents with kids in upper elementary grades are finding their schools, be they public or private, are doing on this question.


  1. My kids asked that question and so do I, and I've never gotten a satisfactory answer!

    Either Time or Newsweek, I forget, did a piece on teaching cursive a while ago. Its point was that cursive is taught less and that people have bad handwriting, but it didn't really clearly state whether handwriting is worse now -- and the piece IMPLIED that cursive is necessary and not teaching it is bad, but never really said so. It was really s#!t journalism, if I may say so.

    I was going to blog about it and interviewed one of the sources that the Time/Newsweek piece used -- they used a quote from him to support the notion that cursive needs to be taught, but when I interviewed him, he said that's not his view! He just believes people need to have facility with SOME mode of written communication, whether cursive, keyboard or printing.

    I got sidetracked by some major education news event and never did blog it. But my view is that the whole cursive thing is bull. If anyone anywhere can ever make a case for it, I'm open to hearing it, but so far the case is: That's what we've always done!

    I don't have time right now to find the article or the name of the guy I interviewed, but you get the drift.

  2. When my daughter was in the fourth grade she was learning to write extended essays. They all had to be hand-written in cursive. It was painful to watch! Personally, I was more concerned that she focus on the art of writing as to the art of cursive writing. She is now in middle school, and the cursive writing continued.

    We did buy her a CD Rom to help teach her how to type - the program is called Mavis Bacon, and it did help. She is now in the 8th grade, and does use the computer more often now.

  3. Why does it have to be an either/or? I'd like my child to have nice cursive for those times when he needs to write a thank you note and be able to type. My 3rd grader is really loving the cursive instruction. Happily wrote all his holiday thank yous in cursive all on his own. His school has a fair amount of computer time, but not sure if they teach typing exactly. Hope so.

  4. In the past, I seem to recall one study saying learning cursive has a similar impact on brain development as learning a second language. Here is a link summarizing some of the hypothesized benefits of learning cursive on the brain.

    Also, I have heard that in Europe they use Script which is supposed to be easier.

  5. My kids never learned touch typing, but they seem to type as fast and easily as I do.

  6. I went to school in Europe and learned both. Our kids learn to write in first grade and start cursive in 2nd. I learned to type later, but this might be earlier now. I'm all for cursive writing - it's so much faster and you need handwriting all the time.

  7. IMHO, kids do not need to take typing lessons because they learn very quickly on their own once they own or spend time on a computer.

    That was the case with my kids anyway.

  8. I don't have time at the moment to consult the CA standards to see what they say about cursive, but my personal view is that some form of cursive writing is important because script is so much faster than printing (I know people use laptops in college classes to take notes nowadays but I have never managed to get as much down that way as I can by scribbling away in my weird messy cursive that uses print capital letters because I never learned the cursive capitals very well. :-)
    I will say that my older daughter really struggled with cursive when it was introduced in 3rd grade and her teacher was great about not requiring her to do it -- for her it was just frustrating. She has gotten much better over time, and now in 5th grade has a readable but not particularly neat script.
    My frustration has been the way it's taught, which works for some kids and not others -- I would LOVE for us to adopt Handwriting Without Tears to use with all our kids, because it doesn't hurt the kids who grasp handwriting easily and it really helps the ones that don't. But, you know, adopting a new curriculum and training everyone to use it is really, really expensive . . .

  9. Handwriting Without Tears rocks. They should use it it to teach printing also. Maybe the HWT people could come and train SFUSD staff for free and then do some research on how the kids do. Then they could use us as an example of a district that chose this great program with good results.

    Therapist and Mom of a Boy Who Did Not Learn Great Handwriting in Kindergarten

  10. At our SF public school, cursive became mandatory in the middle of fourth grade, which produced a great deal of tears for my kid who was really struggling with it. After a bit of back and forth, the teacher relented on requiring everyone to do cursive. It all seems so unnecessary when I look at something like the "Handwriting without Tears" that some commenters above referenced. The cursive there seems so much simpler than the one they are teaching in my kid's school. Very simplified and easy to copy! Do folks think it would confuse my kid to try to start with Handwriting without Tears now, since his public school is teaching the more elaborate cursive style?

  11. 8:49 - My $0.02: I don't think it would confuse your son. Basically HWT teaches you an easier way to conceptualize how letters are formed, so that you can remember how to form them with pencil and paper. The letter forms themselves are basically the same, with a few, subtle differences.
    In the end, the point should be that children learn to write quickly and legibly, since that is a life skill -- as long as they can do both of those things, it's less important whether they can form perfect strings of o's and a's. I would think most teachers would accept that and be less insistent on absolute Palmer-method perfection. (Though I am always impressed by how beautiful most teachers' handwriting is).

  12. Update - here are the CA standards with respect to penmanship:

    3rd grade:
    1.2 Write legibly in cursive or joined italic, allowing margins and correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.

    4th grade:
    1.4 Write fluidly and legibly in cursive or joined italic.

  13. When my son was in fourth grade and asked me why they insist on cursive, I asked the principal -- and she had no idea.

    Cursive is not easier or faster for me than printing -- today I might be diagnosed with a touch of dysgraphia. My son (who's a lefty) is the same way. By contrast, my husband enjoys writing cursive -- actually does it for fun because he enjoys it. (He especially likes using a fountain pen, which I can barely write a grocery list with.)

    I would say that different people have more facility with different writing styles for reasons that have nothing to do with being good or bad students. For that reason, I'm opposed to teaching and mandating cursive the way it has always been done. (But it's always been done that way!)

    Also, an odd thing about that bizarre magazine article I previously referred to is that it discussed the problems caused by illegible handwriting, including the occasional fatality due to an indecipherable prescription. Oddly, the article didn't even remotely try to make the case that this was due to a modern lack of teaching in cursive. A perceptive reader would have seen what I think is actually the case -- that insisting that cursive should be used rather than printing leads to more illegible scrawling in cases where legible printing is preferable, if not life-saving.

    Here's the real reason for teaching cursive:

  14. "Oddly, the article didn't even remotely try to make the case that this was due to a modern lack of teaching in cursive. A perceptive reader would have seen what I think is actually the case -- that insisting that cursive should be used rather than printing leads to more illegible scrawling in cases where legible printing is preferable, if not life-saving."

    Agreed, also "why the f**k is the doctor handwriting prescriptions instead of using an electronic system."

  15. The funny thing for us was that it took our son LONGER to write in cursive then in print. It is better now, but nevertheless I find it funny that one of the reasons for teaching cursive is to quicken the pace of writing.

    From my experience, kids don't learn to type in elementary school. We had our son practice typing over the Summer before starting the 6th grade, because we figured it was a good thing to do, and it was.

  16. "Agreed, also "why the f**k is the doctor handwriting prescriptions instead of using an electronic system." "

    Back to my YouTube post again (Topol singing "Tradition" in "Fiddler on the Roof").

  17. This seems like kind of a trivial topic given the state of school funding, but it's nice to think about something besides the budget cuts. Most of the schools seem to use Denelian (sp?) printing these days, which is supposed to make the transition to cursive easier. Our first grader's school places a lot of emphasis on good handwriting and he's excited to learn cursive, even though he's a lefty and even printing is a bit of a struggle. There are times when a hand-written note is really the way to go, thank you and condolence notes being examples, and cursive makes you look more like a grown-up.

    EVERYBODY should learn to touch type in my opinion. It's easy to learn out of a book or with software, and most people can get up to 80 WPM with practice, especially on computers where you can erase your mistakes instantly. Hardly anybody can hunt and peck that fast. It drives me crazy when my employees generate original writing really slowly because they hunt and peck.

  18. But, but, what if you want you child to have a future in France?

  19. I think knowing cursive is part of a well-rounded education, even if the children don't use it much later...

  20. I my kids' private school, they teach cursive in 3rd grade and also teach typing at that point. The goal is to give every kid multiple tools with which to write, so that they have one that they can use with ease and not have the mechanics of writing getting in the way of the rest of the writing process (which, in the end, is what is most important).

    I know a lot of older kids use laptops to take notes, but at younger ages many schools don't offer such constant use of laptops to allow for that. I've heard more than once from college professors that the students are spending a lot of time in lectures on the internet, IMing, etc when they're supposedly "taking notes" - besides, it seems that laptops in the classroom would really distract from the interaction of the students. So, you're back at needing a quick and easy way to write on paper.

    Another benefit of cursive is that it's much harder (if not impossible) to reverse letters the way that you do with printing. Some kids who are not great printers end up having a much easier time with cursive.

  21. why learn addition and subtraction when calculators exist? learning to write is not just a motor skill. it does require cognitive processing and despite the proliferation of computers, people need to be able to write. it is not going to be mastered equally well by everyone but that is life. btw, there are many college classrooms that do not allow laptops.

  22. I cannot stand sitting next to people taking notes on a laptop in a class. That clickety-clickety-click makes me crazy.

  23. 10:35 PM said "why learn addition and subtraction when calculators exist?"

    Exactly. Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmatic. The constantly changing fads of American public education hurt us. Plus, learning to write cursive is a major part of learning to read cursive.