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Friday, March 06, 2009

Cursive Writing - Outraged?

A little more than a year ago, I published a post Touch Typing - Cursive Writing - Why? that asked why they would spend so much time teaching my kids cursive writing and not teaching them touch typing. The comment that I just received on this post was great and I couldn't let it be buried ...
I am as perplexed as you why many schools do not see the need for students to learn how to touch-type. In my daughter's school, they spent time learning cursive and then were not required to use it except for limited projects. Are they expected to type their reports, though? YES...without learning how to type beforehand.

I am a business teacher who has taught keyboarding in Grades 9-12 for many years and who taught keyboarding in Grades 3 & 4 for two years. Our school did not want to have to hire an extra teacher, so when a high school business teacher resigned, I was moved back to the high school and the keyboarding program was dissolved.

My daughter is now in fifth grade in the same school district as I teach. It drives me crazy that the administration does not value proper keyboarding skills. In fact, our superintendent deleted keyboarding in Grades 9-12 WITHOUT placing it anywhere else in the district. He believes students do not need to spend a class period learning to "doink" on the keyboard.

We teach students how to properly hold a golf club, football, tennis racquet and such...however, we do not teach them a skill that they use everyday of their life. It amazes me that more people are not outraged by this. However, many believe that people can learn to type their own way and that is sufficient.
Within two years, none of my older kids are still using cursive writing. And now my youngest is about to go through learning cursive writing.

I believe we have pretty good schools here, and I really like some of the things they do (writing starts immediately in elementary school). But this does make me wonder:
  • Should I be outraged?
  • And if I was outraged, is there actually anything that can be done if you believe things in schools should be changed?


Sue said...

I completely see your point. And I am amazed that it hasn't bothered me until I read this. It is ridiculous to teach children things they may never use in real life as opposed to something they are probably already using. I have a son in 3rd grade. He is in the middle of learning cursive. He still prints when he writes. And he types almost daily. Now, he doesn't type anything more than a username or password usually but still.
I think you have a right to be outraged. I know I am now that I've thought about it. But I have no idea what to do about it.

Robert Kennedy said...

Wow! I hadn't thought about this much before. We get to the point in life where we just "accept" the things that we are supposed to learn without question. We forget about the whole point of usability in life. My daughter is in kindergarten now but computer skills are probably going to be more important to her than cursive, although she is beginning to write cursive and enjoys it. But outside of personal use, note taking, letter writing, etc, she will not use it much in the academic or work world. So, if the school won't place emphasis on it, I am now going to take the bull by the horns and make sure it is something that my daughter knows. I remember in my own elementary school, we had a "typing" class periodically and then they cut the class altogether. So, I never formally learn, although I do ok. But typing all those papers in college and high school sure would have been easier :-). Thanks Tony.

Ludwiczak News said...

Anyone hear of Zaner-Bloser? My kids attended a small k-8 elementary school and all competed in the Zaner-Bloser handwriting competition. I was always amazed that they spent so much time on this competition beginning in 3rd grade and didn't teach keyboarding until 8th. Cursive handwriting was held up as some sort of lost art and students were even required to "write out" essay assignments and papers - not type them! After questioning the principal regarding this they did begin requiring those types of assignments be typed. The good news is that since entering high-school they all have learned to type well. Thankfully this skill gets lots of real-world practice even when not encouraged in the classroom.

Sharon Boller said...

I have to agree with the author. I have a high schooler and a college student. Neither uses cursive writing at all except to sign their names.

Thank goodness our high school does have a computer apps course - taught in 9th grade- that all kids are required to complete. They learn keyboarding in this class.

However, as far as I know, every elementary school is still teaching cursive writing in 2nd grade...and requiring kids to use it until about 5th grade when suddenly reports are to be typed.

It doesn't make any sense...the author is right.

Jane Bozarth said...

I concur with teaching typing over cursive, and add: ditto for silly memorization. I do not CARE what the capital of Vermont is. No offense to Vermont, but I need to know where the nearest big airport is if I'm traveling to Vermont.

Dave Ferguson said...

I think cursive's a pretty silly target for "outrage." While it's overemphasized, so are many things in the elementary-school curriculum, which is virtually the embodiment of regression to the mean.

I wonder how many school districts would give a child academic credit for keyboarding if he'd learned on his own (say, with the Mavis Beacon program)? A required keyboarding class could be as tedious as cursive, especially if you'd mastered the skill for your level of use.

Would there be one level for all, within the grasp of third-graders? Would we expect a higher level of skill for eighth-graders?

My hunch is that one factor behind the persistence of cursive is that it doesn't require each child to have a computer. If they all do in your kid's school, great, but that's not the norm in American elementary schools.

This connects to a second factor: teachers need to review and correct the work. (If you hate that "correct" business, they need to provide formative and summative feedback. Happier?) And if the kids can't provide keyboarded work, they've got to do it on paper. From time spent teaching SAT prep courses at one of the highest-ranked school systems in the nation, I can tell you that the range of pen-on-paper legibility among highschoolers is very wide.

Let me make clear that I think schools should integrate keyboarding into the curriculum, should do so early, and should reinforce it. Like most problems, though, this issue has a simple solution that's more simple than solution.

Mattias Kareld said...

Here in Sweden we see the exact same thing. When I was in high school typewriting was a compulsory subject. And back then the subject seemed quite strange to us since me and my friends almost never came in contact with typewriters outside the typewriting classroom.
A few years later i realised that what I learned in the typewriting class was actually something I could use when I got my first computer. Now when almost every student has a computer at home this subject has disappeared. Strange!
On the other hand I can see more important things for the school to focus on (not cursive writing though).

subquark said...

Keyboarding and penmanship should both be taught. They are fundamental communication skills.

I wish I had learned keyboarding in school since so much of my life is spent doing it!

Beatriz Arnillas said...

I agree that both key boarding and cursive writing should be taught.

Cursive writing develops fine motor skills, which are in turn linked to other functions of the brain. There are lots of studies about how learning to draw, or music education make our brains smarter.

Many of our kids are no longer exposed to a myriad of activities that were available to us when we were young (like working in the yard, biking in the neighborhood, free play, baking at home, etc.) All these activities were fun, but they also helped us develop specific skills and coordination. I have taught art studios for many years, and I see the difference. Young adults who did not have exposure to "fine" and "gross" motor skills activities struggle with their coordination, skills and even with the ability to think in creative ways.

Daryl said...

Cursive writing IS an art form.

We use it, primarily, for our signatures to identify ourselves as individuals. Just like a graffiti artist's tag or symbol.

It should be taught along the same lines as the teachings of how to hold a golf club or tennis racket.

We should all have good penmanship, whether we are writing in cursive or plain letters, in order to more readily facilitate communication between people.

However they should focus more on typing skills as it is more likely for people to be using computers more in the future. From instant messaging on social networks to text messaging on our cell phones more and more a keyboard is employed versus a pen.

For me personally, learning cursive was just another way for the system to try and force me to use my right hand instead of my left. Using my left hand, I was doing it "wrong."

The memorization that Jane Bozarth mentioned is still a good thing so long as we retain the knowledge beyond the test. I learned the 50 US states in fifth grade, their capitals in sixth... and while I do not recall all of the capitals I find the states come in handy. Jane... it's Montpelier. So often in my various work endeavors I have encountered coworkers who routinely ask were this place is in relation to another. (Where exactly is NSW?). I see mailing labels filled out incorrectly because the person filling them out either was never trained properly or chose to forget it. I swear they asked what the zip code was for Nigeria.

Sorry personal rant.

But we as people should know more stuff, have it memorized and not just rely on some electronic database.

Every day I work on computers, at night I go home and play on computers and during the summers I go camping AWAY from computers. I carve on walking sticks with hand tools I don't wish to rely on a power tool for the help... it makes it slightly less personal.

Elysio Soares said...

Well, here in Brazil I can see this topic has at least two viewpoints: one for and one against cursive writing. I believe it is important to teach/practice touch typing in schools, because we all agree this is going to be necessary in the future, for one´s job or in the academy. Nevertheless, how can we make sure all of our students will have access to a computer? In addition, eletronic devices are getting more and more advanced, so, who knows if this skill will really be necessary in the future? Touch screens is part of our real world, as much as voice programs that can recognize what one says. With so many issues to be taken into consideration, it is interesting to think that pen and paper can be used anywhere, regardless of one´s social class or country. The world as a whole is not hi-tech as it seems to be in Scadinavia or Japan... There´s much more to teach along with cursive writing than only a way of communicating: it helps kids deal with fine motor skills, hand-made school projects and so on. Have you ever observed critically a preschool class? Have you considered other school realities?

Anonymous said...

I ran across an article about cursive writing that I thought was interesting which explains why it is still important to teach it to our kids. I never linked it with reading or learning until now.

Thomas said...

Typing is certainly more important than any form of writing (at least for now), but cursive has its merits. I was fortunate enough to have a typing class in 7th grade (I'm 19 and a freshman in college now), but I did use computers since first grade or so without problems (I was a very slow typist, however). I agree that proper typing must be taught early on.

As for writing, I was forced to learn print early on, and then to switch to cursive in grade 3 if I remember correctly. But, unlike 99% of my class, I still use cursive almost exclusively. And cursive is in many ways superior to print writing. Cursive can take less space (no spaces between letters), it is faster than print, and I think it is much more beautiful and a link to our past.

I would also not do away with cursive technologically. To type on my phone, I use a handwriting recognition software. Computers have an easier time decoding cursive writing than print. My software can also run macros using written commands, something difficult with a keyboard. And as devices get smaller, who has room for a keyboard?

I have also been trying to learn to write lefty, and I can almost write cursive exactly as good as I can with my right hand with little practice, albeit a little slowly. On the other hand, I can not legibly write print lefty-style even at the slowest of paces (my right hand print is probably better than yours, almost unchanged since grade 3, it's like a computer font almost). It just takes longer to develop the motor controls to draw straight lines and perfect circles than for the very forgiving loops of cursive.

Another thing I just remembered; a few years ago when my history class looked at American historical documents, like the Declaration, some students couldn't read the cursive writing from lack of practice. I also write very legibly in cursive, and one of my friends can barely read some of my writing. One of my recent professors also deducted points from a clearly legible answer on a quiz I took. I would hate to see the next generation be unable to read cursive at all. Like the article in the previous post says, we need to teach cursive first. If you want to skip something, think print. We see enough of it when we type to know how to read it, and learning cursive first leads to better handwriting later.

Anonymous said...

A hand written letter is much more personal than a typed one. Why can't they learn and use both?

subquark said...

"Why can't they learn and use both?" Because we are too busy teaching to the test and there is no room in the curriculum to teach this anymore. :(

btw, I loved Thomas' response. It was eloquently worded and poignant. =)

Tony Karrer said...

It's a question of time. We only have so much time to spend on specific learning objectives. Is this where we should spend time at the exclusion of topics like touch typing.

Anonymous said...

I found this site while looking for cursive handwriting tips for left handed writers. The comments were very interesting. As a fourth grade teacher, I teach my students both. Students learn cursive writing, and most of my students have beautiful penmanship. Each year, my students keep monthly samples of their writing and can see their progress over the year. It helps develop fine motor skills, is a better presentation of hand written work, and even in its worse form is more legible than most children's printed work. Try readingastriingofprintedletterswithnospaces! At least in cursive a reader can tell where one word ends and the next begins. And they do develop a signature for signing their future paychecks. I also teach correct keyboarding to my students through the use of portable word processors. WPM range from 12 to 32. For ten year olds, that's a great achievement. During the second semester of school, my fourth graders retype handwritten journal entries and creative writing on their word processors or a computer. They must edit and proofread their documents before sending them to the classroom printer. We underestimate what children can do--and I teach in a school with lower socio-econimic students. You really can have both and the best part is the students benefit.