Fifth-grader Colter Friess doesn’t think cursive is outdated or a waste of time. Instead, he thinks quality penmanship begets quality work.

“It’s like wearing formal clothes to a nice occasion,” Colter said. “It’s setting a high standard. If you’re writing something good it should be written in something just as good.”

Cursive goes back to ancient times. In medieval Latin it means “written with a running hand” and was the penmanship for official documents. But is it relevant to teach and write today?

Common Core State Standards don’t require teachers to teach students cursive. Some states, like Tennessee and California — but not Wyoming — have added cursive back into their requirements. Through legislation the state of Louisiana mandated that students in grades three through 12 get cursive instruction every year.

In Jackson public school students begin cursive in third grade and practice it throughout fourth and fifth grades. But at the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, Headmaster Polly Friess — who is Colter’s mother — believes in starting cursive lessons as close to Day 1 as possible.

“We find that’s a little late,” Friess said. “They’re ready for it earlier.”

Teachers begin teaching cursive in kindergarten. And from second grade through eighth grade graduation students are required to write all assignments in cursive. Students at the Classical Academy also learn typing skills.

Though typing tends to displace printing in educational and professional settings, a recent New York Times article says psychologists and neuroscientists find handwriting to be crucial for development.

When children learn to write by hand, studies show, they learn to read faster, generate ideas better and retain more information. Keep in mind: That doesn’t mean just cursive, but simply putting pencil to paper.

Other studies show that a unique brain pattern is activated by printing, writing in cursive and typing, and that each method results in a different end product. Yet another set of studies suggests students learn a lecture’s contents better by handwriting their notes.

Majola Koci, the Classical Academy’s dean of faculty and a teacher of music and medieval history, said she found learning cursive to be key even in college.

“I grew up with cursive, and I never thought twice about it,” she said. “It’s part of my brain; it’s who I am.”

In Heather Moulder’s third-grade classroom, students learn the story of “Androcles and the Lion,” a 1912 play written by George Bernard Shaw. They dutifully listen while Moulder reads a passage, and then write a summary of the story — in cursive, of course.

“It makes me feel good writing it because it’s fancy and I like the flow of it,” said Avery Ward, 9.

New to the Classical Academy, Avery had to catch up to her classmates who already had three years of cursive under their belts. She said she practiced the alphabet before writing smaller, then bigger words, then graduating to sentences.

“I like the process,” she said.

For new students like Avery who need some time to catch up to Classical Academy requirements, the school offers after-school study hall from 3:20 to 3:50 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Friess said 85 percent of students stay to work on homework. The themes vary by day. Some focus on math and grammar, others hone students’ penmanship.

Kindergarten through third-grade students take 20 minutes a day to copy one thing they know using their best cursive.

“It’s been amazing to see what they are capable of,” Friess said. “They rise to the occasion.”

Avery’s classmate Dune Mecartney, 9, finds cursive to be speedy.

“It’s quick and easy to write,” he said. “I like learning new ways to write letters, and it’s faster to write in cursive.”

Friess and some of her teachers find that cursive can help dyslexic students, who are prone to mixing up their Bs and Ds. But even cursive isn’t a guarantee.

“I thought the Bs and Ds would be easier,” Kimberly Morton, a first-grade teacher, said. “But still, some are reversed.”

Even so, Morton said that as her students’ handwriting has progressed, so has their spelling.

“It’s the best it’s been all year,” she said.

That kind of growth continues for older students. Sixth-grader Harry Marvin joined the Classical Academy this school year. He learned cursive letters in third grade in public school, but didn’t always connect them into sentences, paragraphs or papers. He’s working to get up to speed through “a lot of repetition.”

Something to be proud of

Across the hall Theodore Sawyer teaches his fifth-grade students Latin. Paschall McDaniel, 11, neatly copies her notes in cursive.

“I’ve always wanted to learn cursive,” she said. “When I was little I begged my mom to teach me cursive.”

Paschall likes the attention to detail that cursive forces upon the writer.

“I also like how pretty it turns out,” she said. “It’s something beautiful to be proud of.”

If she can’t read her own cursive, she deems it not good enough and crosses it out.

Colter is the same way. He didn’t learn to print until he was in fourth grade and now has two styles of cursive he switches between — formal cursive and a slanted, quicker form he uses when he needs to quickly take notes.

“A first impression is important,” he said. “If your handwriting is good, people will focus on the content of your writing, not the quality. I don’t think you should write something that is important to you and not be writing your best.”

Some students will write print notes if they are writing quickly, but never when writing assignments.

Although most teachers, including Sawyer — who has a background in Greek, Old English, Spanish, Latin, music and journalism — come to the school classically trained, not all have penmanship as flawless as their students when they begin.

“We help get them up to speed in the beginning of the year,” Friess said with a laugh.

Ben Walter, an eighth-grade literature and Latin teacher, had the opposite problem. He never prints — but would switch between European cursive and Italic cursive, a less embellished form.

“I’m glad we’re teaching them systematic cursive,” Walter said. “It’s really good.”

In addition to teaching third grade Moulder is responsible for implementing Spalding phonics — an educational philosophy and program designed to teach literacy — at the Classical Academy. That means teaching teachers and students the method and how it integrates with cursive.

“They should always be writing in cursive on the board,” she explained. “It always has to be neat and a model for students to form good habits and turn in their best work. If you can’t read your own chicken scratch, it shouldn’t be turned in.”

She hopes cursive will be her students’ “go-to handwriting,” and she writes her lesson plans and teaching notes in cursive.

A lost art

Cursive, along with the other parts of the Classical Academy that make it unique — like chess and reading ancient texts — appeal to many parents in the community.

Friess said the school started with 77 students. Next year, 94 students are registered, and she hopes to break 100 as the school expands into ninth grade.

She said that while it may seem revolutionary, what’s taught at the Classical Academy is nothing new.

“It’s not rocket science,” Friess said. “It’s what I had in public education 48 years ago. All of our Founding Fathers were educated in classical education. It works.”

She, too, writes everything in cursive.

“I write all my thank yous in cursive,” Friess said. “I think it means a lot to me to receive a handwritten note. It’s so much different than an email. It’s a lost art.”

Friess said she often thinks about historical texts, like the Constitution, that children won’t be able to understand if they don’t know cursive.

Koci agreed.

“We all share a common memory,” she said. “Think about your grandparents. They learned cursive.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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(2) comments

Kate Gladstone

The article did readers a service by mentioning italic cursive: "a less embellished form," as the reporter noted. Those who are curious to see italic cursive for themselves can see it at these sites which provide teaching manuals and other resources: handwritingsuccess.com — italic-handwriting.org — BFHhandwriting.com — HandwritingThatWorks.com
Italic is slightly slanted, and quicker and more legible than conventional cursive. Also, it maintains its legibility better at speed than conventional cursive. This is probably because the key features of italic cursive are similar to features that current research has found to be typical of the writing of high-speed/high-legibility handwriters. (See my other comment.)

Kate Gladstone

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 many nations 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 )

In the UK, in those locales where governmental mandates for 100% joined cursive handwriting have been increasingly enforced, there are growing concerns on the increasingly observed harmful educational/literacy effects (including bad effects on handwriting quality) seen when 100% joined cursive requirements are complied with: http://morrellshandwriting.co.uk/blog/

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

Bad effects of cursive mandate legislation in the UK:
http://morrellshandwriting.co.uk/blog/

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/
3 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

arguments and misrepresentations which defend cursive:
http://www.delawareright.com/how-cursive-cant-save-education/



/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

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