cursive

This is a tough one to answer. While an overwhelming amount of evidence shows the benefits of writing by hand, few studies differentiate between print and cursive, and even fewer come to definite conclusions about which should be taught.

But we don’t need hard scientific evidence to begin a discussion about cursive’s possible merits or drawbacks. With the removal of cursive from Common Core standards in a number of states, the country is engaged in a lively and important debate about the value of cursive in today’s world. Educators are torn over whether cursive has enough value to justify the time it takes to teach. Now that teachers must make room for lessons in keyboarding and other technology skills, is there still space for cursive in the classroom?

The Science

Educational psychologist Virginia Berninger conducted a study showing that cursive activates different brain patterns than print (Konnikova, 2014). So it’s possible to argue that because cursive presents another way for students to conceptualize and recognize letters, this variation creates stronger and more flexible connections to text. Students will be faster at letter recognition, and quicker to understand letters regardless of their design (script or even font type). Is this increased flexibility worth the extra hours of instruction? This is where opinions differ.

A few scientists suggest that cursive might benefit students with learning disorders or disabilities. It’s possible that cursive prevents the inversion of letters, because unlike print, all the lowercase letters begin on the same line. It has also been proposed that its joined nature discourages reversals. (McInnis & Curtis, 1982). This may especially benefit students with dyslexia and other learning impairments. However, the last studies were conducted in the 1980s, and more research should be done to fully back this claim.

Structural Advantages

Researchers point to other structural advantages of cursive, saying that its flowing movement reinforces left-to-right directionality, the joined letters visually replicate the blending of sounds within words and show each word as a cohesive unit (“Why Cursive First?”). The logic here seems intuitive, but hasn’t been sufficiently studied.

What About Speed?

Some teachers swear that cursive is faster, while others disagree. A 2013 study by Bara and Morin found that students taught script wrote faster than those taught cursive. However, students first taught cursive adopted a blended style in later grades that was faster than both (Ball, 2016). Where does that leave us? Perhaps the question of speed should fall more on an individual case basis. Our minds and bodies work in different ways — cursive might be faster for some people, and slower for others.

Personal Expression

Some scholars support cursive for reasons of expression and identity. They believe children should be given all the writing options, so that they can figure out what feels most comfortable to them. Trying out various modes of writing gives them more opportunities to express their personality and develop their personal style.

If we abandon teaching cursive, will future generations be able to read historical documents – like the U.S. Constitution?

If we abandon teaching cursive, will future generations be able to read historical documents – like the U.S. Constitution? What’s your perspective on the value of teaching cursive?

Pride and Aesthetics

Penmanship can be a source of pride and artistry. Those stressing the importance of handwriting remember the pride they felt in developing their own personal signature in cursive and wonder, will kids even be able to sign their name anymore?

History and Tradition

Tradition is another factor to consider. Cursive enables students to read some pretty important historical documents (the U.S. Constitution!), or the writing of older family members. Should we preserve a form of writing widely believed to be more elegant and beautiful than print, one that has so gracefully recorded major moments in human history?

Modernity

Our world is changing, and some people, such as literacy expert Randall Wallace, do not believe that any potential benefits of cursive justify the amount of time it takes to teach in the classroom. Wallace believes that students will receive all the benefits of handwriting instruction by learning print, and the time previously spent on cursive can be allocated to developing the technology skills needed for the future (Ball, 2016). Time constraints are Common Core’s reasoning for cutting cursive from the requirements, and many teachers echo these concerns.

There are valid arguments on both sides. What do you think? Is it time to let go of cursive, or do you see its benefits?

Whether you are looking handwriting practice for print or cursive, VocabularySpellingCity makes all of your spelling lists available as handwriting worksheets. You can choose print, cursive, D’Nealian font, or sign language; guiding arrows on or off; lower and upper case; small, medium, or large type size; and alignment to the left or right, depending on which hand each student writes with.

Simply click on the name of the list, and then click the ‘Handwriting Worksheets’ link. Click here to see an example.

Works Cited

Ball, Philip. “Cursive Handwriting and Other Education Myths – Issue 40: Learning – Nautilus.” Nautilus. N.p., 08 Sept. 2016. Web. Nov. 18, 2016.

Konnikova, Maria. “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” Editorial. New York Times n.d.: n. pag. The New York Times. The New York Times, June 2, 2014. Web. Nov. 18, 2016.

Phillip J. McInnis and Sandra K. Curtis, The Cursive Writing Approach to Readiness and Reading, M/C Publications, 1982

“Why Cursive First?” Montessori Learning Center. N.p., 2012. Web. Nov. 18, 2016.

Cursive Instruction is Disappearing. Is There a Compelling Case to Save It?

6 thoughts on “Cursive Instruction is Disappearing. Is There a Compelling Case to Save It?

  • December 5, 2016 at 1:08 am
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    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    Other issues with cursive, for many students whose visual and/or motor talents are less than average, include the difficulty that is accidentally created by assuming that all letters can start in the baseline all the time (since this doesn’t work for any letter that follows a cursive b, o, v, or w).

    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.
    (Other problems with cursive include the fact that starting every letter on the baseline forces cursive letters to change their shape and starting point whenever they follow a cursive letter b or o or v or w.)

    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too.

    Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (All that’s required is to show them, step by step, how the letter-shapes they already know gradually became the fancier ones that they sometimes see.)

    Given the importance of reading cursive, why not simply teach this vital skill — once children can read print— instead of leaving it to depend upon wherher a child can “pick it up” by learning to write in cursive too?

    We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/09/08/opinion/OPED-WRITING.1.pdf, briem.net, italic-handwriting.org, studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html, BFHhandwriting.com, handwritingsuccess.com, Lexercise.com, HandwritingThatWorks.com, freehandwriting.net/educational.html )

    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and not restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

    Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

    What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
    Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source (and no source is provided on request)

    or, almost as often,

    /2/ when sources are cited and can be checked (by finding and reading the cited document), the sources provided turn out to include and/or to reference materials which are misquoted or incorrectly represented by the person(s) offering these as support for cursive,

    or, even more often,

    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Handwriting research on cursive’s lack of observable benefit for students with dyslexia/dysgraphia:

    “Does cursive handwriting have an impact on the reading and spelling performance of children with dyslexic dysgraphia: A quasi-experimental study.” Authors: Lorene Ann Nalpon & Noel Kok Hwee Chia — URL: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/234451547_Does_cursive_handwriting_have_an_impact_on_the_reading_and_spelling_performance_of_children_with_dyslexic_dysgraphia_A_quasi-experimental_study
    and
    http://dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_keyboarding.html

    
    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    
    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    
    Background on our handwriting, past and present
    
    
    /a/
    2 solidly informed debunkings of the claims for cursive:
    

    http://nautil.us/issue/40/learning/cursive-handwriting-and-other-education-myths

    http://mentalfloss.com/article/86963/learning-write-cursive-might-not-be-important-your-teachers-told-you

    
    
    /b/
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

    Reply
  • December 14, 2016 at 11:42 pm
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    Cursive is a language. Not teaching it means that young people will grow up not being able to read or write a language that should be native to them. To put it simply: If your enemies know cursive and you don’t, you are in trouble. We would never encourage people to stop speaking their native tongue to learn English. Why would we not teach children a cursive form of writing when it is used in our nation’s original documents?

    Reply
  • December 15, 2016 at 4:30 am
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    I have introduced cursive writing to my students for the past 19 years. I am proud to say that teach in a school and school systems that sees the value of teaching students to read and write in cursive. I feel that ever American citizen should be able to read the important historical documents from there country.

    Reply
  • December 15, 2016 at 4:15 pm
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    I think it should be taught and like us, in our times decide if you want to use it or not. the reason I believe its important because scientists say it´s good for the brain

    Reply
  • December 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm
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    Great article. I personally think our kids should still be learning cursive, and I’ve been trying to teach it at home. Taking cursive out of public school curriculum is a huge disappointment and a sad commentary on where our society is headed with the next generation. It is a loss for the very reasons you highlight above. Thanks for supporting cursive learning with the vocab handwriting worksheet option!

    Reply
  • December 16, 2016 at 1:54 am
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    I started my son on cursive handwriting because he was flipping letters. His Educational Therapist said that the fluid strokes of cursuve handwriting make it harder to flip your letters. He started in second grade and is in eighth grade and still writes in cursive!

    Reply

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