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PRO: Cursive helps students write faster, more legibly

By KBell
Oct. 16, 2011 at 5:16 a.m.
Updated Oct. 17, 2011 at 5:17 a.m.


tHE ISSUE

In a year marked by education budget cuts and a new state assessment, it may be surprising that teachers in the Victoria school district found themselves delighted to buy new textbooks on a subject not even covered by standardized tests: cursive writing.

The Texas Education Agency requires handwriting instruction for kindergarten through fourth grades, and cursive is mandated in the third grade, Winters said.

After one year of learning cursive, usually for only 10 minutes a day, students are free to use the handwriting style of their choice.

Texas is in the minority when it comes to requiring cursive education. As of late, 45 states, including the District of Columbia, have adopted the Common Core Standards curriculum, which does not require cursive instruction.

That curriculum does, however, emphasize keyboarding skills.

The TEA also set out technology standards for the 2012 school year, which include for third through fifth grade using proper keyboarding techniques, knowing how to convert file formats and the ability to use word processing, databases, spreadsheets, multimedia and programming languages.

With all of the new expectations and emphasis on standardized tests, where does then pen stop when it comes to cursive writing?

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Jane Fry, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Houston's School of Education and Human Development, said teachers use a developmental technique when it comes to teaching kids how to write.

First, students are taught block print, then script, then work toward electronic forms of literacy.

Teaching script, as opposed to block print, actually helps guide students' thinking and reading, she said.

"When you use script, it's to constrain the flow of writing, so there's a smooth flow from thought to language for students, and it promotes reading words as opposed to just reading letters."

When asked if they write in cursive, a group of Victoria College students jumped back in their seats and replied vehemently, "No."

But when they got to thinking about it, the students said they do usually connect their letters, use wavy writing and sometimes unknowingly scratch out the characters they were taught a decade earlier.

In short, they use a hybrid of cursive and print that research shows is the fastest, most legible way to write.

Steve Trowbridge, associate professor in the literacy department of the University of Houston-Victoria's School of Education and Human Development, pointed out the 1998 study that looked at the writing styles of students in grades four through nine. The research showed a "robust" advantage in using a mixed style of writing compared to simply print or cursive, which alone did not differ much in legibility and speed.

"Of course, this assumes the teaching of cursive so that they can be combined. The question becomes, is it worth it?" Trowbridge wrote in an email. "I happen to believe that it is for the very reason stated. People need a choice."

Linda Winters, a Title 1 learning facilitator in Victoria school district, said educators in VISD are working toward just that - giving students a choice. Besides, students still need to write in the most legible way possible on their standardized tests.

"I understand with the technology and all of that nowadays, that we think handwriting is kind of a lost art," Winters said. "We still do things with a paper and pencil, so we still need to develop that skill as well."

The new cursive textbook in VISD, "Handwriting Without Tears," was written by an occupational therapist and offers quick, developmental instruction, Winters said.

The college students mostly agreed they would still like to see cursive remain in elementary classrooms.

"They should have to go through what we went through," Megan Joy, 18, said, laughing.

But seriously, she said, she thinks students should learn the different styles so they can later develop their own hybrid style that works for them.

Sarah Zepeda, 19, said she used a cursive-print mix of writing on two of her four English papers this year. The other two were typed.

But her sister, Leslie Zepeda, said as technology becomes more common in homes, kids will more naturally be able to pick up keyboarding than handwriting.

"To learn how to hold a pencil and actually write with it - that's going to take more effort," she said.

Winters said she doesn't think students would mind making the extra effort, though.

"They're still very excited about getting to do cursive. They think it's the fancy writing," she said.

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