Many of us remember in our early school years the grueling time spent on the formation of letters and words in cursive handwriting. We would spend twenty to thirty minutes, several times a week in school and at home working on penmanship wondering just why do we have to learn this skill when we could just print! Unbeknownst to many, and taken for granted by many more are the importance and fundamental key concepts that were learned by participating in the motions of these lessons. Handwriting and Penmanship should be reintroduced into the curriculum and reinforced at home as it fosters creative expression, critical thinking, literacy, and helping students with learning disabilities to overcome and succeed.
Cursive writing has been around for centuries, the early Romans were some of the first that used a written script for correspondence. By the 5th century A.D., the script included lowercase letters and at times flowed like modern cursive does today. Penmanship became a specialized discipline that helped produced Christian and classical texts in Europe. (Cohen, 2012) The origins of cursive are also associated with the practical advantages of writing speed and infrequent pen-lifting to accommodate the limitations of the quill. Another factor was the signature on a document. The importance of the individuality of the signer, opposed to typed fonts, added to the authenticity of a document or contract.
Dr. Vi Supon, Professor, Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA. mentions in an article in the Journal of Instructional Psychology, that previous generations used and considered cursive writing as a marker for an educated individual and a form of communication. Supon also states “that according to Marge Rea, “In 1904, handwriting was considered the most important thing. Before typewriters, everything was handwritten: land deeds, legal paperwork, orders and business records” (as cited in Yackley, 2008, p. 1). “ (Supon, 2009)
In as recent as the 1970s, the curriculum in schools here in America have been undergoing a change. Subjects such as math, history, and science have been given more time allotments and less on penmanship. In recent years, the introduction of Common Core has almost eliminated penmanship and lessons containing handwriting entirely and replaced it with keyboarding. For many students, including those with learning disabilities, the loss of these skills is creating barriers and generating unforeseen challenges to learning. Penmanship was intertwined with Spelling and Grammar. Starting in as early as the 1st grade, students would practice their letters and learn the shape and flow by the Christmas break. Continuing throughout the rest of the 1st-grade and on through the 2nd and 3rd grades in some schools, words and sentence structure would be learned. These penmanship standards have been part of the curriculum in schools for many decades.
Some have argued that cursive is no longer relevant in the curriculum because it isn’t included in the Common Core State Standards. These standards only include those skills that are testable and measurable in the classroom; they don’t address basic foundation skills, like handwriting or even spelling. It is said that we should be more focused on teaching more relevant means of communication such as keyboarding and speech-to-text in place of the dated methods of handwriting. The Common Core curriculum emphasizes the importance of expository writing to demonstrate an understanding of key concepts. Fast, legible handwriting is the technology universally available to students to facilitate content development. Cursive, therefore, is vital to helping students master the standards of written expression and critical thinking, life skills that go well beyond the classroom.
In an article written in The Economist in September 2016, there were two points that have drawn the teaching of penmanship back into mention. One is the reaction to the Common Core curriculum requiring legible handwriting to be taught only in kindergarten and first-grade. In the proceeding grades and on, the adoption and emphasis are on teaching keyboarding skills only. The other is that Employers are looking to hire new staff that has the ability to write quickly and legibly in cursive, employing the use of software for handwriting recognition. This software allows for the gathering and distribution of information much quicker, seemingly rendering screen-based virtual keyboards ineffective. In addition, many workers are more mobile than office-based and are using technologies such as smartphones and tablets, replacing laptops and typewriters. As mentioned in the same article, a number of school boards have started a move towards a returning to the basics including time spent learning longhand. More than half a dozen states including California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina have made teaching cursive handwriting mandatory in their public schools. More states are currently discussing similar measures. (The Economist, 2016)
Cursive handwriting has many benefits to students. Handwriting helps with coordination and fine motor skills. William R. Klemm states in an article in Psychology Today, “Most parents observe this when teaching a child to throw and catch a ball. Think about what is going on in the brain as such learning progresses. The brain is creating new circuitry to evaluate what is seen, the speed of what is seen, the movements required, and the speed and timing of movements. This circuitry becomes a lasting part of the brain.” (William R. Klemm, 2013)
This is also true with handwriting. The hand-eye coordination is different for every letter and the movements are variable when writing. Handwriting is more challenging, as the student is making continuous strokes opposed to the single strokes of printing. Students may learn to read more easily as letters in cursive are more distinct than printed.
William R. Klemm Ph.D. also stated that “Handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. Virginia Berninger, a researcher, and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington says that brain scans during handwriting show activation of massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.” (William R. Klemm, 2013) The act of putting pen to paper and utilizing the techniques of cursive handwriting help tie-together what one writes and reads for better comprehension. It also stimulates creative thought and development. Learning to touch type on a keyboard is an important skill that should be learned, but not at the expense of other tactile skills that are just as important.
In speaking with a local school teacher, Noel Clark indicated that due to the additional curriculum requirements of Common Core it was difficult and at times impossible to integrate handwriting and penmanship into lessons. As a result, Clark, like many educators nationwide have started and maintained afterschool clubs and programs to teach cursive handwriting to interested students. Many times, these programs are not funded and the teachers are participating without pay. Mrs. Clark has seen marked improvements in student’s literacy since starting the program and sees a noticeable change in the student’s attitude toward learning as well. (Clark, 2018)
Cursive handwriting has been thought to help ease symptoms of learning disabilities like Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. Dyslexia affects reading, spelling, and writing. It is caused by a functional disconnection in communication between the language and auditory centers of the brain. This is mentioned briefly in an article from the Brain Balance Center, which discusses that learning to write in cursive can improve these communication deficits, creating a stronger association for learning and memory. (Brain Balance Centers, 2014) Dysgraphia is a difficulty with handwriting. In researching Dysgraphia, the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario website gave a good explanation of this condition. Dysgraphia is believed to involve a dysfunction in the interaction between the brain systems that allow the translation of thought into written word. (Ruthmary Deuel, 2015) Dysgraphia interferes with a student’s ability to express ideas. For some, the act of remembering where to put the pencil and how to form letters can derail the thought that the student may want to express. A student with this condition can many times be considered or labeled as non-productive or lazy as assignments are often incomplete.
There are advantages to cursive writing for these students. Eliminating the need to pick up the pencil between letters, assisting with word spacing, and it creates a flow and rhythm that enhances learning. Learning cursive can be the difference between underachievement and a successful academic experience for students that suffer from disabilities of this type.
Reintroduction of cursive handwriting and penmanship into the early studies and curriculum of has been praised and denounced by many. The benefits to students of lessons in school and reinforcement at home helps foster creative expression, critical thinking, literacy, and assists students with learning disabilities overcome challenges to learning and succeed.
- Brain Balance Centers. (2014, September). Brain Benefits of Learning to Write in Cursive. Retrieved from Brain Balance Centers: https://blog.brainbalancecenters.com/2014/09/brain-benefits-write-in-cursive
- Clark, N. (2018, 11 05). Teacher, Evansville Elementary. (J. Dutro, Interviewer)
- Cohen, J. (2012, January 23). A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day. Retrieved from History.com: https://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-penmanship-on-national-handwriting-day
- Ruthmary Deuel, M. B. (2015). Dysgraphia: The Handwriting Learning Disability. Retrieved from Idao Learning Disablilities Association of Ontario: http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/articles/about-lds/dysgraphia-the-handwriting-learning-disability/
- Supon, V. (2009). Cursive writing: are its last days approaching? Journal of Instructional Psychology, vol. 36, no. 4, 2009, p. 357+. .
- The Economist. (2016, September 06). The comeback of cursive. Retrieved from The Economist: https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2016/09/06/the-comeback-of-cursive
- William R. Klemm, P. (2013, August 05). Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/memory-medic/201308/biological-and-psychology-benefits-learning-cursive