Our Views: Schools should keep instruction in cursive writing

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Monday, December 30, 2013

As we close the book on another year, it's good to know that local school districts have not closed the instructional book on cursive handwriting—even in this era of technology and computers.

As Andrea Anderson reported in Sunday's Gazette, the Janesville, Elkhorn and Whitewater districts are among those still teaching this fundamental skill, even though Janesville has reduced the emphasis.

Yes, computers will become more and more prominent in our daily lives, and schools must teach keyboarding proficiency because time is money in the workplace. Typing speed can be crucial to productivity.

Also, students will start taking state tests on computers rather than with paper booklets in 2014-15.

It's understandable that educators must strike a balance between keyboard instruction and handwriting at a time when they also are implementing Common Core State Standards. While the standards don't mandate cursive instruction or any other curriculum, these benchmarks adopted in 2010 indicate what students should know and be able to do. One such skill is using a computer and keyboard with little instructional help.

Fortunately, the state Department of Public Instruction understands the value of the written word.

“Exposure to and instruction in both printing and cursive is relevant and important when it comes to handwriting skills,” Patrick Gasper, DPI communications officer, told Anderson in an email.

Janesville students start learning cursive in third grade. Julie DeCook, language arts coordinator, told Anderson that handwriting is getting less attention as the district focuses more on digital technology, keyboarding and computer skills.

Meanwhile, Elkhorn has been using the same cursive curriculum since 2007. That means students are introduced to cursive in second grade. Whitewater also introduces cursive in second grade with a goal of having students proficient when they enter fourth grade.

“We are not shortchanging the printing or the cursive as we make bigger our instructional support for keyboarding,” Kelly Seichter, Whitewater's director of curriculum and instruction, told Anderson. “We feel that both handwriting, printing and cursive, are important parts of communications that we expect out of our students.”

That's worth applauding. After all, studies suggest handwriting enhances reading fluency and neurological activity. Cursive writing also helps kids develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, self-discipline, self-expression, memory and the confidence that they can communicate effectively.

Despite growing use of computers, it's hard to imagine a time when adults never will have to resort to good old handwriting, even if it's just to jot quick notes for people or to sign their names to checks or letters—even job applications.

Quality cursive writing might be a dying art, but being able to sign your name in cursive with reasonable legibility can serve as a little window to your work habits, attention to details and education.

School districts are wise to retain basic handwriting instruction, even if at reduced levels.

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