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Should schools teach cursive writing?

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By Leslie Moore

 

The reader can often observe a writer's emotions through the series of loops and long strokes that have been used for centuries to write everything from the Declaration of Independence to love letters. But in recent years, the use of cursive writing has declined and schools across the nation have removed it from the classroom.

The Common Core curriculum, academic standards adopted by Kentucky and the majority of the United States, doesn't require cursive to be taught in the classroom.

Tonya Rogers, fourth-grade teacher at Taylor County Elementary School, said adhering to the rigorous standards of the Common Core means there simply isn't time to teach cursive.

"Every moment of every day is spent on gaining academic knowledge, so the art of handwriting is dying," Rogers said. "They won't need it on the state testing and other than signing their name on a check, it's not a necessary life skill now with the technology." 

Fourth-grade teacher Mandy Cox said she believes cursive is a valuable skill for students to learn but that taking instruction time away from reading and math - areas in which students are heavily tested - is not feasible.

"If it's not assessed, we're not supposed to be spending class time doing it," Cox said.

The structure of the school day at TCES has also moved away from the traditional isolated classroom where students were with the same teacher all day. Now, students change classrooms a few times every day, meaning teachers have less flexibility to use their time with students.

Although teachers said once upon a time students who were ahead might be instructed to use their extra time practicing cursive, the performance-based education model that TCES follows allows those students who are progressing ahead of schedule to move on to the next grade.

Still, some TCES teachers try to plug in a few minutes of cursive instruction here and there, such as third-grade teacher Susan Williams. Using workbooks from Writing Without Tears program, she has students practice their cursive as a "bellringer" activity. But she said students don't always have time to finish and she doesn't grade the assignment.

Across town at Campbellsville Elementary School, Principal Ricky Hunt said although Common Core doesn't require instruction in cursive writing, he believes including it in the curriculum is important because students are in a period between the traditional writing of the past and the electronic print that is prevalent today.

They see the cursive writing from those who have been out of school for several years as well as electronic print through computers and texting.

"Of course, we express to the students that a signature is a unique brand for themselves," Hunt said. "This is important when signing checks, legal documents and other such items."

Hunt said teachers allot 30 minutes of their daily schedule for oral language and handwriting instruction. During this time, teachers and students work with several different skills, including cursive writing.

"The large majority of our cursive writing is taught at the third-grade level," Hunt said. "When students in the lower grades have mastered manuscript, we begin working with those students on cursive writing."

Administrator Lori Eubank said that at Kentucky Christian Academy, they believe handwriting is a crucial part of understanding history because the founding documents are all written in cursive.

"If you read many children's history textbooks, they have revised the Mayflower Compact," Eubank said. "It doesn't include any references to God and why they came here, so if children cannot read the original documents in our age of technology, they don't know that they're not getting the richness of their history."

Eubank said teachers teach pre-handwriting skills in the 3-year-old program to prepare them for printing. Students learn the fundamentals of cursive in second grade and in third grade, they master it. She said fourth- and fifth-graders are expected to use cursive for their writing assignments.

Eubank said KCA follows a traditional curriculum with researched-based strategies, but that they also realize the importance of teaching students office skills such as how to make a PowerPoint presentation and learning to type.

"We're old school, but we have modern methods of doing it," Eubank said.