As an educational consultant I get all types of questions from teachers. Many questions are reflections as they ponder the ever changing field of education. Recently a teacher asked if other teachers were still teaching cursive handwriting. As we talked about the pros and cons of the topic it was clear she was rethinking her day-to-day schedule.
Education is notorious for “adding” things to teachers’ plates, but not so good at “subtracting.” She had just heard about a variety of intervention ideas to assist students and was trying to figure out how she’d fit an intervention time into her already busy day. Then it dawned on her – what about the time she typically teaches cursive writing.
As we talked she mentioned how excited her students were to start to learn cursive handwriting in 3rd grade. A right of passage! But that excitement dwindled as the study continued. She mention that often students’ small hands are incapable of the dexterity needed to write in cursive successfully. She also noticed that when students later moved to upper elementary, middles school and beyond cursive wasn’t a requirement, as it was in the past. She questioned if teaching cursive in 3rd grade was the best use of her time if other teachers didn’t seem to require it.
We then started to talk about the reasons why students needed to learn cursive. We both noted that we rarely write in cursive ourselves – basically down to scribbling our name on an electronic screen when we charged something on our credit cards, writing a few checks or signing our name to legal documents. We both use to entice students that they’d need cursive to write checks. That was usually a big hit. Since students today don’t see their parents writing checks like our former students – cursive may seem like a thing of the past. I write about 5 to 10 checks a year. Do students really need to spend 20-30 minutes a day to learn cursive and then hardly be expected to use it later in life?
I asked her if there were reasons she felt students needed to learn cursive handwriting. She mentioned it was helpful to know the cursive alphabet in order to read it. Standardized tests usually seem to add text written in a script type font. That got us thinking. Is learning how to write in cursive the only way to learn how to read it? One idea that emerged from our conversations – rather than learning to write in cursive, what if students were encouraged from time to time to type their own writing in different types of fonts. If students typed their own writing with a script type font, would that help them be able to read that same type of font?
I recalled that when I taught, students loved experimenting with fonts. I accepted their playfulness and inquisitive nature. I would get whole stories written in odd fonts. Some were even hard for me to decipher, but I let them experiment. We would then talk about whether the font helped them, the author, portray their message. Students usually realized that that their choice of font was difficult to for others to read. With a few clicks, the font was changed and their message was clear.
The topic of the necessity of cursive handwriting can be a touchy debate. Some hold on to it as an art form. Others keep it in their curriculum as that is how it has always been. Others are willing to let it go or find other ways to incorporate it. And still others may leave cursive handwriting into their school day because no one has said they could drop it from their curriculum.