Handwriting skills not a tech victim
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Feb 19, 2013 | 2351 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cursive is still cool
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Local education administrators for curriculum see cursive handwriting as an important skill for students despite increases of technology in classrooms.

Cursive writing has taken a back seat in some classrooms as technology and additional subject matter are emphasized. However, it is still taught in local public and private schools.

“There is so much to cover we have to keep everything in balance,” said Jeff Elliott, supervisor of curriculum and instruction for Cleveland City Schools. “It’s an important skill and we don’t want to see that go away.”

In Cleveland City Schools, cursive writing is introduced in the last nine weeks of second grade. It is then taught in third grade as well. In some Bradley County Schools, cursive is introduced at the end of second grade. Most county schools teach cursive in the third grade.

Local private school Tennessee Christian Preparatory School places a focus on cursive starting in kindergarten.

“We begin teaching cursive writing in kindergarten and we teach cursive through fifth grade,” TCPS lower school Principal Kathi Douglas said.

Cursive is a focus in kindergarten through second grade. At the upper elementary level, the skills are further developed.

Students are not required to write in cursive for all subjects.

“Some students write quicker in cursive than they do in print,” Douglas said.

With the entire cursive alphabet introduced in kindergarten at TCPS, some parents are nervous their children will have a difficult time. Douglas said she reassures these parents by reminding them that when their child first experimented with coloring, they did so in circular motions.

“The cursive is natural for students, and it’s easier for them to learn, actually,” Douglas said.

As the public schools move toward Common Core standards and digital versions of state-mandated tests, the importance of keyboarding skills seems more accentuated than the necessity of cursive.

“Common Core doesn’t say that we have to (teach cursive). It kind of leaves it up to the systems. As of right know we have not made a change,” Newman said.

Time restraints create a challenge for cursive being emphasized in public schools.

“It doesn’t get the attention that it used to as far as the hours of practice,” Newman said.

Student motivation is also a challenge. Students are often more comfortable with technology because they use it so much.

“How do you motivate a student to want to write in cursive?” Elliott said. “How much are our kids exposed to it, if they’re reading everything in print anyway?”

Elliott said teacher evaluations may also play a part in the emphasis city school teachers put on cursive writing.

“Their observations and their personal evaluation scores aren’t based on cursive writing. It’s based on the other content that is being taught,” Elliott said

In area public schools, it is up to the teacher whether they want to require work to be completed in cursive or not. Overall, more emphasis is being placed on what students write in a class rather than how they write it.

However, studies have found students whose work is neat and easily read received higher grades than less legible work, according to Newman.

Cursive writing skills have long been said to have benefits for students.

Cursive writing has been linked to improved motor skills and memory for students.

“The physical movement helps the memory to recall some of the words that have been written, and it reinforces what you’re learning in that format,” Elliott said.

Bradley County Schools supervisor of elementary instruction Sheena Newman said it also increases reading skills.

"It leads to increased language fluency ... adds in development of importance,” Neman said.

Newman said one study showed students remembered things better when they were writing notes than when they were simply typing them.

"It’s a useful backup tool [based on the fact] students might not always have access to a computer," Newman said.

Douglas said studies have shown cursive writing creates “neurological pathways in the brain ... that typing does not.”

Douglas said writing helps increase memory because there is a motion associated with the information.

This is especially true for spelling because there is a different motion for forming the letters as a student writes a word than when it is typed.

Handwriting (cursive or print) gives a student a chance of accomplishment they do not experience when using an electronic format, according to Douglas.

TCPS upper school Principal and curriculum director Audri Wood said cursive writing connects the left and right brain functions in one activity.

“Cursive writing is not a subject. It’s a skill,” Douglas said. “It’s not a graded subject (at TCPS).”

Cursive writing also gives speed to some students. Newman said approximately 50 percent of students can write faster in cursive.

Newman said no one really knows what benefits students in schools not teaching cursive are losing. Wood said if students cannot write in cursive, they most likely will be unable to read it. She said this could create challenges in high school and college if a teacher writes on the board in cursive.

“The research isn’t showing what is happening to these students who weren’t taught cursive [as far as neurological functions]. People are making the decision not to do it without having all the information,” Douglas said.

How often administrators use cursive writing also varies.

“I love it. I think there’s an etiquette to it,” Newman said. “I love to see a handwritten thank-you note.”

Elliott said he seldom uses cursive outside of his signature.

“I still sign my checks and I do my signatures,” Elliott said.

With more and more legal documents and banking going to electronic formats, even paper and pen signatures are on the decline, according to Elliott.

Wood and Douglas said they use cursive writing on a daily basis. Douglas said she uses a mix of cursive and print handwriting when she takes notes.