Cursive – cursed again?

On the same day last week, two very different points of view on cursive writing appeared in my Twitter timeline. The first, yet another news article suggesting the demise of hand written cursive in schools, and in contrast, a Kickstarter project purporting to have developed a new and more efficient means of teaching the very cursive supposedly on the way out.

You can probably guess on which side of the fence my allegiance was on, however after calming down and scrapping my original plans for a “that’s ridiculous” post here, I came to realise the views were not necessarily diametrically opposed.

The downstroke

The first, and of course, most striking piece to me, was an Australian ABC News story titled Finland scraps cursive writing lessons, sparking discussion over future of handwriting in classrooms. The discussion in question, was of the Australian curriculum, and the future of hand writing which may, or ultimately may not, be taught in Australian classrooms.

For someone who loves pens, and fountain pens in particular, I have mixed feelings about an article such as this. Australia’s board of education was noted to have said:

…learning to type was “more relevant to everyday life”, a skill that Australian experts agreed was a better use of school time.

Before you begin quoting the numerous studies showing the benefits of handwritten note taking in learning, many of the education experts quoted made the distinction between teaching children to write, and teaching children the style of cursive handwriting.

Senior lecturer in English and Literacy Education at the University of Queensland, Dr Eileen Honan agreed that while the Australian curriculum put emphasis on both handwriting and keyboard skills, cursive writing was irrelevant.

Being able to write in beautiful script has got nothing to do with the ability to read and write productively, creatively and intelligently

Thankfully, the conclusion made was for further discussion on the matter in relation to the Australian curriculum, as here in Australia, we were unlikely to “follow Finland’s lead” — well not yet anyway.

The upstroke

The next, and infinitely more positive piece in my timeline was first shared by two pen and stationery bloggers I follow (Doug at Modern Stationer, and Ray at Fountain Pen Quest) — the CursiveLogic Kickstarter project.

Of course after looking at the Kickstarter project page myself, I also instantly shared the link, and began planning my rant post, thinking ”I’ll show you — just try to get rid of cursive”.

As I sat and thought a little more, I realised something like the CursiveLogic programme goes a long way towards solving one of the main issues many of the experts raised as a problem in continuing to teach cursive writing — that of the time spent with students practising the correct formation of letters. Senior lecturer in Language Literacy at the University of Canberra, Dr Misty Adonious:

I just don’t think it’s worthwhile spending school time teaching kids … cursive writing.

In the CursiveLogic programme, we have the makings of a solution. A way of learning cursive writing more efficiently, and therefore much faster than standard methods of instruction, through two key features — letters grouped by shape:

By teaching all of the similar letters together, CursiveLogic captures the natural synergy of the alphabet itself, allowing each letter in the series to reinforce the proper formation of all the others.

and letter strings:

CursiveLogic’s letter strings teach students to connect letters from the first lesson, allowing students to internalize the flow of cursive handwriting even before they have learned all 26 letters.

Both the project page and the CursiveLogic website have further information and the scientific basis behind the programme. I’d also encourage you to watch the inspirational video of Josh, a 23-year-old student with learning disabilities who wanted to learn cursive to be able to sign his name.

My thoughts

If the argument against maintaining cursive in the school curriculum is as much a time based one as it is a relevance one — then let’s teach it faster.

To me, a system or programme such as the one proposed by CursiveLogic which aims to teach cursive in a more efficient way, seems like the perfect starting point for keeping alive such an important aspect of educational development in the classroom.

The assumption here is that the methods and outcomes of the CursiveLogic system are as reported on the project page and website, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. Of course I acknowledge I have not had any experience with the methods of CursiveLogic, nor seen it used first hand.

One other aspect I find interesting in all of this, is that although most agree cursive writing is outdated, children will still be taught to write. If this is the case, and the writing is not cursive — then what will it be? Surely it must be based on some form of script to maintain a standardised curriculum does it not? To date I have found the mention of any alternative to cursive completely absent from the discussion.

I see it like any skill — learn the foundations and deviate with your own style from there. My own handwriting has drifted far from its humble beginnings in primary school, however when attempting to produce some better quality handwriting (say for an invitation or card), the slope, letter formation and overall style certainly reverts closer to the cursive I learnt as a youngster.

I’m hoping that if the handwriting component of the curriculum does change, we do not simply see a generation of children who can perfectly reproduce by hand the stock standard upper case letters we see on a keyboard.

Finally

While this post is clearly too late for Finland – Australia, not so. Although the CursiveLogic project is based in the US, and may not necessarily directly influence any discussion locally, the project creators aims of raising public awareness about a more time efficient means of developing the skill of cursive writing is surely worth supporting.

Head over to the Kickstarter page and consider backing the CursiveLogic project. It is time to reinforce that stake in the ground and ensure the passage of certain skills through the generations continues.

A final point from the ABC News:

We actually don’t use fountain pens and ink anymore, so maybe we should think differently about where we put our attention now.

Says who?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Cursive – cursed again?

  1. 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.)

    Contrary to the blogster’s claim, there are numerous programs presenting a superior (more legible and fluent) alternative to conventional cursive handwriting. Here are links to several: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com,
    http://www.handwritingsuccess.com,
    http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/09/08/opinion/OPED-WRITING.1.pdf,
    http://www.briem.net,
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com,
    http://www.italic-handwriting.org,
    http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html,
    http://www.freehandwriting.net/educational.html

    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.”)
    
    — 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.

    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. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)

    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 UK and Europe, 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: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )

    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,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrased by the person citing it
    
    or

    /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

    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:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

    Like

    1. Hi Kate,

      Many thanks for the extensive reply and references, your experience in this is clearly quite extensive, and I am sure my readers will welcome the broader context and information you have provided on this subject.

      Just one point:

      “Contrary to the blogster’s claim, there are numerous programs presenting a superior (more legible and fluent) alternative to conventional cursive handwriting.”

      My point here, which was stated in the post, was simply that much of the discussion around the relevance of cursive writing (in this country at least) does not generally suggest alternatives – not that none exist.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

      Pete

      Like

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful response! I regret having misunderstood part of your own post, but am just happy to see anyone consider alternatives. Too often — in the USA, at least — the educational exaltation of cursive is defended on the (wrong) premise that the only other extant or conceivable form of handwriting would be ineptly executed plain block capitals with an illiterate’s “X” for the signature.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s