Reading Room – August 2023

Cursive Handwriting

This month in the Reading Room, we are going to be making The Case for Cursive Handwriting Instruction. The word literacy as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary “is the ability to read and write, and competence or knowledge in a specified area.” It seems that teaching cursive to students has created its own controversy over the years. In the early 20th century, the methodology of teaching was very strict, somewhat militaristic, and not much fun. Somewhat likened to drill and kill. Students were taught cursive, but their writing was all supposed to be uniform and perfect. As a left hander myself, my experience in elementary school learning cursive was not very pleasant either. I was pretty much left to figure it out on my own. Because cursive had a bad rap, we got away from teaching it.

Sadly, only 21 states currently require that students receive cursive instruction, and the Common Core State Standards don’t require it at all. In recent years, the benefits of teaching cursive have been researched and documented in many, many studies. Now the controversy has pitted cursive handwriting against keyboarding. We are of the mind that students need both. In this article, we will take a look at the benefits of teaching cursive and how to teach it to get the most benefit for your students. We will also attach some resources that you can access right away.

Unlike keyboarding, research shows that cursive handwriting activates both hemispheres of the brain as shown by functional MRIs. This dual activation can enhance memory, language function, problem solving, and abstract thinking. One study done at the University of Indiana showed that when writing by hand, areas in the brain associated with reading, language, and memory are activated, reinforcing both reading and writing skills.

One early study from the Journal of Academic Therapy found that writing in cursive with the continuous connecting of one letter to the next promoted an understanding of words as a whole unit, helping with fluency and orthographic mapping. Others have found that cursive writing promotes letter/sound knowledge, print awareness, and the conventions of reading and writing, such as the left to right orientation as well as top to bottom. Students learn to use correct spacing, capitalization rules, and how to use punctuation when learning how to write.

An article in the Washington Post titled “Once All But Left for Dead, Is Cursive Making a Comeback?” by Joe Helm addresses the importance of cursive handwriting. This article shared some research done by Professor Emeritus Virginia Berninger at University of Washington who is an expert on writing and cursive. Her research showed that when students are taking notes, they can write more words in cursive and print and put down more thoughts as opposed to keyboarding. It also helped them retain information and enhanced vocabulary development. An article that was in “The Economist” revealed, “The tactile practice of handwriting leaves a memory trace in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which is retrieved when reading the letters.” In other words, handwriting reinforces reading in ways that keyboarding does not.

When students don’t learn to write in cursive, they end up not being able to read it either. This really puts students at a disadvantage when they reach high school and college and have to read historical documents written in cursive or personal letters written by writers and poets, to use for a research paper.

Finally, Catharine Faust, former president of Harvard said this about handwriting notes as part of her job: “There was a kind of intended magic about that, an embodiment of me on the page that I was sending off to people.” Such a lovely sentiment that doesn’t accompany typed notes!

Teaching Cursive Tips:

  1. Don’t spend more than 10 minutes a day. Teaching cursive requires direct instruction, not just worksheets. Make it fun!!!!!!
  2. Make sure that your students are sitting up with their feet on the floor and that the paper is angled in the correct direction for left and right handed students.
  3. Find some kind of cursive writing grid so you can refer students to the correct place to start. For instance, Wilson Language Systems’ Cursive Writing Kit has laminated pages with their particular grid and the lines are named: Sky Line, Plane Line, Grass Line and Worm Line. This kit provides teachers with cues to give to students so they know where to put their pencils. Example: “Point to the grass line, glide up to the plane line and loop back down to the grass line.” This direct instruction is very helpful for the students, and they also enjoy it because they feel successful. Provide students with examples that they can trace over at first, then move to having them write the letters independently. There are many different cursive writing programs. Handwriting Without Tears is another very popular program developed by an occupational therapist.
  4. Most programs teach letter strokes and or group the letters into groups that are made with similar strokes. Don’t introduce too many letters at a time. You might want to introduce 3 to 4 and then spend a couple of days practicing those.
  5. Once the students can form all of the lower-case letters you would introduce connecting the letters to one another. Again, you would want to have sheets that they could trace on and then move to independent production. You might start with having them write their names in cursive!

Resources:

Introduction to Cursive Writing Video

How to Write in Cursive/Free Worksheets

Browse Cursive Practice Education Resources

https://www.education.com/resources/cursive-handwriting-practice/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwkqSlBhDaARIsAFJANkim_xSgw4Ru2sF7mS8uxSDVvSVQvfwFwPsD1kz-0KHNBpr3rGx0lM8aAoMxEALw_wcB

Cursive Writing Curricula:

Handwriting without Tears

Wilson Cursive Writing Kit

For questions, please contact:

Chris Fox – cfox@ces.org, Jessica Powell – jpowell@ces.org 

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