A Case for Cursive
Cursive is more than just another, unnecessary way to write
Should we continue teaching cursive in the elementary grades? There are compelling arguments on both sides of this debate. Many argue that cursive writing has become obsolete in this new world of technology. The Common Core standards do not include cursive. It was felt that technology should be the priority. Teachers involved in the creation of these standards were concerned about the enormous amount of time it takes to teach cursive. Because there are a limited number of hours in the day, and so many things to be covered, tough decisions have to be made about what will and won’t get taught. As a third-grade teacher, I can attest to the numerous things being added to our expectations every year. Something has to be given up when another thing is added.
However, some states, including Oklahoma, have added cursive to their state-specific standards.
Some argue that, due to time constraints, teachers shouldn’t teach more than one form of writing. The argument is that it’s not an effective use of time. American children typically learn to print before they learn to write in cursive. However, many European countries begin with the latter. It has been suggested that American students may also want to focus on cursive over print. Because handwriting skills aren’t included on high-stakes standardized tests, teachers are not spending as much time on these skills as they did in the past. This isn’t because teachers don’t want to teach better handwriting skills. It is simply not possible to devote adequate time to this in addition to those skills that are being tested.
There are also many excellent arguments being made in favor of continuing to teach cursive. Some studies have found that the continual movement used in cursive helps the writer to think in complete words instead of the individual letters used in print. This makes our thinking more fluid and increases our comprehension. It has also been shown that writing in cursive improves spelling skills. A person writing in cursive thinks of words, instead of letters, as single units. Have you ever been asked how to spell a word, and you feel the need to write it down? Chances are that you write it down in cursive. This is a direct result of this very thing.
Writing in cursive can also improve comprehension. When typing notes in class, a student typically transcribes the words verbatim. This can be done without retaining much information. When writing notes, a student can’t write down every word spoken. The information must be processed, and the student must distinguish between needed and unneeded information. The student may also use summarization skills. These skills aren’t used when typing notes. Attempting to take notes using print is too slow to be effective. Students are likely to miss some critical information. Once proficiency in cursive is achieved, the person can focus more on content. The College Board reported that those students who wrote in cursive on the S.A.T. exam scored higher than those who printed. Other studies have shown that information that is hand-written is retained better than information that is typed.
Cursive writing involves fine-motor skills, which require a great deal of practice. From what I’ve witnessed in my classroom, these skills seem to be lacking more than ever. Many students are forming letters in unusual ways, and they appear awkward when forming them. It is my opinion that this may be due to spending too much time with screens. Some of my students will actually try to skip all assignments which require writing and work only on computer assignments. Learning cursive writing helps develop fine motor skills, which leads to less resistance to written work.
Writing in cursive also helps to develop sensory skills. Students learn how much force is required to get words written on the paper. They learn how to position both the pencil and the paper, and to plan how to form the words without lifting their pencil.
Once proficient, it is much quicker to write in cursive than print. It also encourages children to write more and to increase their attention span. Elementary students express more ideas when writing than at a keyboard. Furthermore, some printed letters are easily confused, such as the b and the d. Young students often reverse these. For these reasons, writing in cursive can be especially helpful for those who struggle with learning disabilities, such as dysgraphia or dyslexia.
It may seem like cursive is just another way to write. However, it actually activates different pathways in the brain, and it improves neural connections. It gets the left and right hemispheres of the brain working together in a way that typing doesn’t. Learning this way of writing actually helps to develop the brain in much the same way as learning to play a musical instrument or learning a foreign language. It cultivates the brain in the areas of thinking, language and working memory.
Through learning to write in cursive, a person also learns to read in cursive. When people are unable to read things written in cursive, they become “cursively illiterate.” There are things such as historical documents or hand-written letters that even some adults are unable to read because they never learned cursive writing. In my opinion, this presents a great loss.