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March 31, 2014 With Common Core, is Cursive Still Relevant? By Brian Smith
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Popular or not, the large majority of teachers in the United States are teaching the Common Core State Standards. I highly doubt that everyone will ever agree on the CCSS, and that’s all right with me because respectful debating and synergizing is what makes us all better. What isn’t up for debate is that cursive writing is not a part of the curriculum for the 44 states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity) that have adopted the CCSS. So my question becomes, is cursive still relevant?

    I remember being an end-of-the-year second grader and getting a glimpse of how to write cursive. We were told that Mr. Page (the only third grade teacher at my school) would teach us how to write like an adult. It was a huge milestone and was still a milestone for third graders when I started teaching (which was also a long time ago).

    The argument against teaching cursive very often involves how all the advancements in technology are making using a pencil and paper obsolete. This is a very valid argument but my question becomes, is cursive worth losing?

    John Hancock's SignatureIs there nothing to be said for signatures?

    Do I really want to stand in line for a celebrity’s autograph so they can print their name in block letters?

    Is there no enjoyment in being able to read documents that our country was founded on?

    Do we no longer need the phrase, “Put your John Hancock here"?

    My wife and I occasionally serve as administrators for a very popular standardized test that is given to high school students. There is a section on the exam that requires these sophomores, juniors, and seniors to copy a statement in cursive. At every administration we work, I see so many kids overcome with a very panic-stricken look across their faces. Their eyes beg for help so loud that I can almost hear the shouts. Is being able to communicate through cursive no longer an important skill?

    Let’s take a quick look at what the CCSS tells us about what students should know and be able to do writing-wise, by the end of third grade:

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1
    Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.2
    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3
    Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.6
    With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.8
    Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

    Andrew practicing cursiveAs you can see, the standards mention using technology in one writing standard, while the others never mention print or cursive. The standards tell us what students need to write but not how to write.

    I only mentioned third grade because that’s when Mr. Page taught me how to write cursive. But maybe we need to teach this skill in second grade or even kindergarten. In Asheville, North Carolina, the Carolina Day School teaches students how to write in cursive at the start of their kindergarten year.

    When asked why Carolina Day School begins teaching cursive in kindergarten and what benefits they have seen from it, kindergarten teacher Carol Lareau responded:

    “Carolina Day started teaching cursive to our kindergartners about 14 years ago. There was not a great deal of research out there for such young children to guide us, but we knew it needed to be a part of our multisensory approach to teaching. When forming the printed letters, we found that there were so many stops and starts, along with directional confusion for children. Both of these problems are eliminated with the cursive. All of the lowercase cursive letters begin on the line. We teach only the lowercase letters in kindergarten, and we group them in families according to the way they are formed. We have appropriate kindergarten names for the families — rocket, stand tall, two o'clock, mountain, and waitress hand letters. The children begin the year tracing the letters in glitter and on paper. At this point in the year, the majority of the children can write their first names (independently) in cursive and are joining letters to form words. We will be modeling sentences in the coming weeks so that the children can add a text to their journal entries. Our lower school students are strong, descriptive writers, and it is in large part due to their ability to record their thoughts with the fluidity that cursive allows its writers.”

    Fellow Carolina Day School kindergarten teacher Betsey Gaddy said, “I will also add cursive helps tremendously with correcting the 'b' and 'd' reversals from print writing. Cursive has a calming effect on many children. I have watched the 'busiest' students in kindergarten, slow down and relax during their cursive writing instruction.”

    Now, you may already be asking some very obvious questions of me.

    Don’t you teach kindergarten?  Yes, I do.

    Do you teach cursive writing? No, I do not teach cursive but I am not opposed to it because I know that it’s good for kids.

    Do you know how much I already have to cover during the day? Yes, I get it. I really do. Teachers have too much to do and not nearly enough time or support to do it. I am right there on the front lines in the classroom with a roomful of very active 5- and 6-year-olds. I appreciate everything that teachers do for their students because it can be a thankless job a lot of days. I know that we have to create engaging lesson plans and then differentiate those plans one way for our students who are achieving above grade level and then differentiate those plans another way for our struggling students. Did you know, however, that students who are struggling with handwriting and spelling very often do better once they learn cursive and begin using it in day-to-day writing?

    I love how the British Dyslexia Association sums up the research that has occurred when looking at students with dyslexia and why cursive is important:

    Dallas writing in cursive“The most widely recommended handwriting style is called continuous cursive. Its most important feature is that each letter is formed without taking the pencil off the paper — and consequently, each word is formed in one flowing movement.

    The key advantages to this system are:

    • By making each letter in one movement, children’s hands develop a ‘physical memory’ of it, making it easier to produce the correct shape;

    • Because letters and words flow from left to right, children are less likely to reverse letters which are typically difficult (like b/d or p/q);

    • There is a clearer distinction between capital letters and lower case;

    • The continuous flow of writing ultimately improves speed and spelling."

    Cursive truly is one of those things that everyone can learn but it’s critical for some to learn. If we stop teaching it, are we robbing those students of success?

    Some people will agree that cursive is a skill that we should still be teaching and others will disagree. I love the fact that we can have debates about educational issues and I hope you feel free to leave a comment below so we can have a respectful debate about the validity of cursive instruction and its relevance in today’s educational system.

    Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

    I can’t wait to see you next week.

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