Cursive still taught while schools expand technology and implement Common Core standards

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Andrea Anderson
Saturday, December 28, 2013

Isabelle Hennig guided her pencil in her left hand as she spelled "jeweler" in cursive.

As she finished her practice sheet, she wrote her name in cursive at the top, remembering to dot the "i" in "Hennig."

She smiled.

"She loves cursive the most," Lurdes Huerta said about her third-grade student at Jackson Elementary School in Elkhorn.

Isabelle practices cursive at home for about 45 minutes a day.

"I continue to write because sometimes I need to write it, and if I stop, I might forget it," 9-year-old Isabelle said.

As educators work to implement Common Core State Standards, juggling keyboard instruction and cursive proficiency is a balancing act, area school district administrators said.

In Janesville, cursive isn't getting as much attention as it did years ago.

“We are emphasizing it less,” said Julie DeCook, language arts coordinator for the Janesville School District.

“We used to spend more time practicing in each grade. But as we move to more digital technology, keyboarding skills, computing skills, we are emphasizing those more and cursive less, but without completely leaving cursive behind.”

Common Core, a series of benchmarks for what students should know and be able to do, was adopted by Wisconsin in 2010. It dictates that students should be able to navigate a computer and keyboard with little guidance by fourth grade.

With state assessments transferring from paper test booklets to computers for the 2014-15 school year, area school districts have needed to get students learning keyboarding earlier.

Whitewater School District used to teach keyboarding skills in middle school or high school. Now Whitewater schools teach it in third grade.

“We are not short-changing the printing or the cursive as we make bigger our instructional support for keyboarding,” said Kelly Seichter, director of curriculum and instruction for Whitewater.

“We feel that both handwriting, printing and cursive are important part of communications that we expect out of our students.”

The Common Core does not explicitly say cursive should be taught in schools. In fact, the Common Core does not mandate curriculum in any subject on a statewide level because Wisconsin is a local control state. It is up to the individual school districts to decide in what grades students learn cursive and how much time teachers spend on it.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction advocates for balanced instruction of handwriting and keyboarding to prepare students for careers and college. That was the same approach before the Common Core was adopted.

“Exposure to and instruction in both printing and cursive is relevant and important when it comes to handwriting skills,” said Patrick Gasper, Department of Public Instruction communications officer, in an email.

The Elkhorn School District has used the same cursive curriculum since 2007.

Students are introduced to cursive second semester of second grade and spend a minimum of 15 minutes a week working on cursive.

In third grade, students spend 20 to 30 minutes a week fine tuning and practicing the script.

First semester of fourth grade, students spend a minimum of 15 minutes of instruction per week practicing.

“I've never viewed, or would never view, it not being in the Common Core as making an overt statement in regards to cursive,” said Jason Tadlock, Elkhorn superintendent. “There is lots that is not in the Common Core that schools cover and or teach … just because something is not in it doesn't mean that schools don't teach it.”

Whitewater starts teaching cursive second semester of second grade, and the goal is to have students proficient in cursive by the start of fourth grade.

Janesville teachers begin cursive instruction in third grade.

Janesville teachers spend about 10 minutes a day during language arts instructing cursive. In fourth and fifth grade, students do not receive direct instruction on cursive, but it is integrated into classes, and direction and coaching are given as needed, DeCook said.

While the Janesville district reinforces cursive in fourth and fifth grades, Whitewater leaves it up to students to practice cursive on their own.

Learning cursive is a sliver of a child's overall education, and students are required to learn and remember more material, said Eric Runez, Whitewater superintendent.

“It's far more convenient and efficient to word process,” Runez said. “There are still short assignments and short answer questions where they will hand write things, but even then I don't know if we expect it to be written in cursive like we did 20 years ago.” 

If you were to walk through a high school today, you would see the majority of students writing in print or block letters.

“I'd be shocked if we saw more than 25 percent in cursive,” Runez said. “That's my gut telling me that.”

Recent studies show handwriting helps with reading fluency and increases neurological activity.

In a research study conducted by Dr. Karin James, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, college students who transcribed a paragraph in cursive remembered the information better a week later than those who transcribed it using print or the keyboard.

DeCook said she sees the kinesthetic and memory benefits of learning cursive in her students and herself.

“In some cases, (it's) helping them recognize words or remember the spelling of words,” DeCook said. “Just jotting notes to myself in cursive helps me remember I need to do it. I don't necessarily have to look at the note again.”

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