Importance of Cursive
Some may wonder why students should learn to write in cursive in the age of tablets and iPhones. Won’t everyone just be typing and dictating in the future? While electronic devices have added an element of convenience to the writing process, evidence is mounting that putting pen to paper has benefits that typing cannot replace. Researchers have found ties between writing by hand and everything from language skills to memory to critical thinking.
Handwriting vs. Typing
In a recent study entitled "The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard," researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that students who take notes by hand perform better on conceptual questions than students who take notes on laptops. They concluded that students who type their notes tend to transcribe the lecture and to process the lecture only on a shallow level. Student who take notes by hand actually digest the content and reframe it in their own words---a process that increases both understanding and recall.
The Importance of Handwriting to Writing Quality
By analyzing numerous studies, researchers Steve Graham and Tanya Santangelo found that teaching handwriting is strongly correlated to improvement in the quality of writing (not just the legibility of the handwriting, but the quality of the composition).
The writing process involves a number of "low-level" skills---such as handwriting, spelling, and grammar---along with a number of "high-level" skills---organization, strategy, considering the parameters of the topic and the needs of the reader, etc. When students aren't proficient at the low-level skills and have to work hard just to get words onto the paper, they don't have enough brain power left to execute the high-level skills. But when student have fluent handwriting, they are free to concentrate on the high-level skills we associate with good writing. As Graham and Santangelo point out, even with the presence of computers, much of the writing done in primary school will necessarily be done with pencil and paper, so students who fail to develop fluent handwriting will suffer.
While the benefits of handwriting can be observed in student performance, they can also be observed in the brain itself. A study using fMRI technology showed that writing letters, as opposed to viewing them on a screen, is associated with more advanced brain function. Preliterate children who actually wrote a letter showed brain activation in areas associated with reading and writing in adults, while children who viewed the letter on a screen did not.
Benefits of Cursive
And, according to neurologist William Klemm, the neurological benefits of writing by hand are compounded with cursive writing. “Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation.” Researcher Diane Montgomery posits that the connected letters and fluid motion of cursive handwriting are especially beneficial to students with disorders such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.
Yet many fail to recognize the value of cursive. The authors of the Common Core, regarding old-fashioned writing as antiquated in the modern age, leave little time for handwriting instruction, filling students' and teachers' time with other substantive subjects.
This focus on academic content at the expense of form has the potential to do more harm than good. When students write confidently and legibly, their academics as a whole seem to improve. And cursive is an academic skill at which everyone can succeed. At Blackshear Elementary School, a Texas school that famously revived its failing academic condition by focusing on handwriting, the teachers noted that excellent handwriting was a goal to which all students could aspire. While certain gifted students may rise to the top again and again in the academic subjects, any student can aspire to have excellent handwriting and can achieve the goal with practice.
And, for students who are struggling, success in one area can be the key to unlocking greater academic potential. As Dr. Klemm observed, “As a child learns to master academic challenges, self-confidence emerges and provides a drive to learn more because the child knows that achievement is possible. Learning cursive is an easy way for a child to discover important tactics for learning as well as the emotional benefit of being able to master a task.”
Cursive and Creativity
Cursive has the added benefit of being both artistic and highly personal. Children no less than adults long to express their individuality and creativity. Developing a cursive hand—epitomized in the signature and carried through in a unique form of writing that others can identify and associate with a particular individual—is an important step in developing a personal style and voice. Students are not automatons, and education should include tools that encourage the individual personality.
Flourishes—those extra pen strokes that connect, begin, and end words—differentiate printed words from words written in cursive. By making the ability to write in cursive available to everyone, CursiveLogic empowers every student not merely to learn, but to flourish.
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