Friday, June 06, 2014

Re: Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing

RE: Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing

The article lists 5 reasons why the author thinks kids should still learn cursive writing.  Here are my thoughts about those reasons.

It isn't happening. With all the pressure to cut out everything that isn't tested, cursive writing has already fallen by the wayside. 

1) Signatures are required.

Yes, sometimes signatures are required, but given the vast differences in penmanship, even before cursive writing instruction fell into less favor, I am not sure just how a signature is defined.  Most people can fake it, anyway.  Turn your first capital letter into a squiggle and then just keep on going. Close enough. 

2) Good for mind - It is good for fine motor skills and you learn things better when you write them out physically.  

There are MANY wonderful activities that will help with fine motor skills - art class, constructions in math class, origami, to name a few.  Personally, I agree that writing things out physically (i.e., not on the computer) helps with retention, but I use printing for my notes. I am not sure that there is a significant difference between the two in this respect.  I would be interested in more data about this.

3) Children won't be able to read original historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence. 

I can read cursive; I have never read the original documents. We don't worry about being able to read original books in Latin or Aztec or Egyptian.  I think it is great that people who are interested in this can learn it.  I am not sure it is a necessary skill for everyone.

4) Some people need it.

Yes, some people can only read and/or write cursive.  I would venture to guess that this number is VERY, vanishingly small.  Some people need glasses. Create a font that looks like cursive - have person change all other typefaces to this font. 

5) People like the way it looks. 

Yes, cursive can be beautiful.  It is an art form.  Teach it in art class and let those who love it explore further.  People also like the way flowers look. Flower arranging isn't required.

I like cursive, but I am not sure that it is essential, with all of the other calls on children's time.  I am especially wary of the way it is currently taught.  As a sub, I see SO MANY students with horribly uncomfortable ways of holding their pencils/pens.  If teachers aren't teaching students how to grip their pencils properly when they are teaching them to print, how can we hope to teach proper penmanship.  I do occasionally have classes that are given penmanship lessons, but I see a lot of improper penmanship nonetheless.  In addition to the bad pencil grip, the most common problem is forming the letters in the wrong way - starting in the wrong place, mostly. 

My younger daughter had a terrible pencil grip when she first started writing.  She would grip the pencil overhand, with the thumb bracing one side of the pencil and the fingers cascading up the other side.  Her handwriting was laborious, but legible.  Her teacher was reluctant to break her of the habit, fearing that she would begin to dislike writing, but I was afraid that if she let it continue, she would never switch to a more comfortable grip.  We did make her switch to a more standard grip, which she got used to after a short time.  

If teachers are going to teach handwriting, they have to be able to monitor the students, for both pencil grip and proper letter formation.  If they aren't willing/able to do this (and from what I can see they don't have time for this - big classes, too many other demands), then cursive writing is just a time-wasting activity. 


  1. The closest that the NY TIMES article approached to giving an actual reason for cursive was noting that some stroke survivors retain the ability to read cursive but lose the ability to read typefonts. Never mentioned: just as often, the ability to read cursive is lost, but the reading of type and/or print-writing is preserved.
    The writer, Maria Konnikova, also ignored research that discomfits the cheerleaders for cursive. It turns out (sources on request ) that:
    • legible cursive writing averages no faster than print-writing of equal or greater legibility, [1]
    • cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or other language use of students who have dyslexia and/or dysgraphia, [2]
    • the fastest, clearest handwriters are neither the print-writers nor the cursive writers. Highest speed and legibility are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them—making the simplest joins, omitting the rest, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. [3, 4]
    Why — in the NY TIMES,, as elsewhere throughout the media’s and legislatures’ discussions of handwriting — do studies which are headlined as supporting cursive actually say something different when one finds and reads the originals? Why does Ms. Konnikova, science writer, one-sidedly ignore whatever research on handwriting is not so easily obscured?

    [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
    [2] “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:
    [3] 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
    [4] 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

    Yours for better letters, Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest

  2. Thanks. You are much more versed in the actual research than I am. It is good to have those references.

  3. Kudos to your perceptive blog! There is an opportunity in Pre-K schooling for playful pre-writing activities that help children develop the ability to hold a writing tool in a relaxed manner. My worry is that the focus is all on forming nice, neat letters. Parents and educators all want children to learn to write earlier and earlier with no concept of how to go about developing fluency.

    There is a significant problem that has evolved in recent years: cellphones and i-pads. Children can spend hours using their thumbs to play games, and even engage in supposedly educational apps. I am associated with a school, and have seen the pencil hold problems become more and more severe.

  4. A partial solution to the iPad problem may be to direct the kids to the increasing number of iPad games in which one moves by writing/drawing on the screen. A search in the App Store for the phrase "drawing game" should reveal some.

  5. I don't see young children using phones with their thumbs. The iPads seem to be used more by dominant hand, first fingers. Older children are using cell phones as you described, but by then, their pencil grips should be well established. I agree that pencil hold problems are becoming more pervasive, but I would blame it more on the fact that some teachers believe that it isn't important.

    How well do the pencil grip guides work? Could we supply these to learning printers?

  6. I used several different kinds pencil grip guides for my homeschooled dyslexic/dysgraphic boy, and they did help a little. Their use needs to be consistent and the value of having a good grip for accuracy reinforced often. Even then, this lad now aged 10 is just becoming able to print with legibility and (slow) fluency. It takes long term consistency and constant reinforcing for the nerve pathways to "stick". He has developed a good work ethic, and a persistence when trying to learn, which will stand him in good stead in the future.

  7. I'm surprised that TIME stopped at 5 reasons. There are so many more reasons why we should continue to teach cursive handwriting.

    1. Cursive handwriting helps children with spelling and common letter patterns because the letters are connected. It, also, provides improved muscle memory which reinforces correct spelling over printing the words.

    2. Cursive boosts letter recognition by heightening the differences between letters that are more similar in print including “b” and “d” or “p” and “q.” This provides a benefit to early reading skills and helps those with learning disabilities.

    3. Cursive helps prevent reversals and inversions by differentiating letters. Children who learn cursive tend to make fewer reversals and inversions in their writing. Children who rely on printing more commonly make these mistakes and over a longer period of time.

    4. Cursive provides an additional boost to reading – when a child prints, they are thinking about reading one letter at a time. Cursive encourage the brain to think about whole words at a time. Reading with fluency requires children to take in and think about whole words.

    5. Oddly enough, cursive is commonly more legible than print because of the connections between the letters, cursive encourages more spatial planning between letters and words. This focus tends to make a child’s overall writing more legible.

    6. Cursive increases a child's ability to concentrate as cursive writing takes sustained effort and attention, it gives children active practice at staying on task.

    7. Cursive helps build fine motor and visual-motor coordination – the start and stop movements of printing are very different than the flow of cursive writing. Cursive builds muscle endurance and dexterity beyond printing. These are all skills that are beneficial over their lifetime.

    8. Cursive, also, benefits brainstorming and note-taking as cursive is faster and more efficient, it allows more flexibility in brainstorming and more detail in note-taking. Handwriting lecture notes is better than keyboarding in that the physical process itself supports retaining information.

    9. Cursive supports creative writing – fourth grade students who write stories in cursive tend to write longer stories and express more complex ideas than students who keyboard.

    10. And lastly (and probably the most interesting), cursive has been linked to higher SAT scores. It’s reported that students who write the essay portion of the SAT in cursive tend to score higher on that section than students who print. It may be that the writing itself is faster allowing students more time to focus on content.

  8. Do you have research citations to back up these points? A few of them seem to conflict with the citations above your comments.

    In my experience a couple of the claims don't seem to bear out (specifically legibility and length of work produced), but I am going only by my own observations, not actual research.