Friday, June 13, 2014

Here We Go Loopty Loo

On April 24, the Tennessee state legislature passed House Bill 1697, which requires public schools in that state to teach cursive. You read that right. At a time when most middle- and high-school students aspire to text faster, Tennessee has revived handwriting, loops and all.

Let’s hear it for the Volunteer State.

I don’t advocate a Stepford-like sameness in penmanship or script that leans exactly 10 degrees to the right. I do, however, believe cursive allows for greater speed of expression, which, in turn, may lead to better flow of thought.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about thedisappearance of cursive. It followed my reading of many student essays, some of which featured manuscript writing (printing) that seemed tortured. That post has had almost 2,000 hits. Clearly I’m not the only one who believes cursive teaches more than how to loop and swirl.

Better eye-hand coordination is one benefit of handwriting instruction. Another is the ability to read the Declaration of Independence as penned, manifests from ships that brought relatives to America, and letters from grandparents.

The most valuable benefit, however, is the link between handwriting and cognitive development.  A recent New York Times article looks at the research:

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Coll├Ęge de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”
Doesn’t the same kind of thing happen when we learn to play chopsticks, ride a bike, and swing a golf club?
An NPR segment on handwriting and brain activity corroborates the link between writing and cognitive ability, but the researchers interviewed found no difference between cursive and manuscript writing.  That segment ended with a call for writing in schools, meaning more crafting of sentences, paragraphs, essays and papers and fewer multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank tests.
Cursive still has detractors. Here’s Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of Education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education: “…teachers would be better off focusing on the skills and knowledge that will impact student success in the future. These include printing and typing, but not cursive. As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall.”
The next generation of Tennesseans will be able to print, type, and sign their names. They’ll learn to link their letters but, as this is the 21t century, they’ll be free to unlink them. They may take to oval o’s or reject them. What they'll do is develop individualistic handwriting that will serve them well.
Where do you stand on the cursive versus manuscript debate?
Do you think we should incorporate more writing into the school curriculum, for example one paragraph answers rather than one word answers on tests?


Liz Flaherty said...

I'm with you and Tennessee on this one. Learning new things shouldn't necessarily require giving up old ones.

Liz Flaherty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
Surely there's room for keyboarding and cursive in school. I'm not asking for long sessions of either.

In the olden days, some kids got their knuckles rapped for not making an effort to ovalize o's and a's. I don't want knuckle-rapping to return, but I want another generation to experience the speed of writing (and thinking) that flows.

Lark Howard said...

I'm a fan of cursive although my own handwriting can vary from lovely to a mess depending on my frame of mind. I hadn't thought too much about how the inability to write cursive might affect the ability to read it. Interesting thoughts. thanks for a great post.

Lark Howard said...

I'm a fan of cursive although my own handwriting can vary from lovely to a mess depending on my frame of mind. I hadn't thought too much about how the inability to write cursive might affect the ability to read it. Interesting thoughts. thanks for a great post.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I think there's value in learning cursive. I remember being taught to form letters in very specific ways, but once it was learned, we were free to write as we wanted, as long as it was legible. IMO schools have gone too far into rote memorization and "teaching to the test" rather than critical thinking and problem solving.

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

That's fantastic, but now we need to require that kids learn to spell and proper grammar as well. I guess baby steps is the place to start.

Texting has taught us a whole new language, one I still do not fully understand but it isn't helping anyone learn to spell. (sigh. Oops I mean LOL, or probably more correctly WTF) What is this world coming to anyway? IYKWIM (See, that's a word now. It's sick and wrong.)

Thanks for the informative post. And here's to Tennessee!

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
My handwriting deteriorates the faster I write, but it's legible, at least to me, and I can edit then type what I've written longhand. There's something about writing longhand that unsticks me.

My superpower is that I can decipher almost all handwriting. I can't break codes or even solve word jumbles, but I can read all kinds of cursive. Would I be able to if I didn't write it myself? I don't see how.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
Absolutely, critical thinking and problem solving are the most important skills we can teach, and we have to do so at home, in school, at work, everywhere. I don't equate cursive with critical thinking, but I do think it solves a problem by giving students a little extra speed.

Yes to students being allowed to write as they want as long as their writing's legible. I'd like them to have a choice between cursive and manuscript.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia,
I had to Google IYKWIM which makes me feel old and out of it, if you know what I mean.

Grammar's important. As I used to tell my students, it makes it easier to communicate, not harder.

Tennessee's tops!

Coleen Patrick said...

My handwriting is an odd mix of print and cursive. I'm not sure when that happened. I don't remember my kids learning cursive intensively. Both of them print when they write. Their signatures could be guess the name games.
This is an interesting post, Pat. I wasn't aware of the debate, but recently I've been fascinated by the art of lettering! Will have to look into this topic for sure. Hope you have a great week!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
Our handwriting is supposed to go its own way. Mine's also a mix of print and cursive. Now I'm curious about the art of lettering. Is this something like calligraphy?