2013-04-19 / Front Page

Goodbye, cursive?

Could technology hit delete on cursive writing?
By Dawn Witlin

Jamie Alvarez introduces her La Mariposa Elementary School third-graders to cursive writing by reading them Beverly Cleary’s “Muggie Maggie,” a story about an 8- year-old girl who ovecomes her struggle to learn good penmanship.

It’s a story that resonates with many of Alvarez’s 8- and 9-year-old students, who also have a hard time learning how to write words in which the letters are connected.

“My students always get excited when we read ‘Muggie Maggie,’ but some students don’t want to learn (cursive) because they find it difficult with the dexterity involved,” said Alvarez, a teacher on special assignment for Pleasant Valley School District.

With the current emphasis on technology in schools, kids may no longer be challenged by the dexterity skills that Maggie masters. Learning cursive may soon be a history lesson rather than a language course.

Forty-five states have adopted Common Core curriculum standards, which aim to bring technology to the forefront of the classroom and prepare students for careers in the digital age.

The standards, which will be part of the curriculum in the next school year, are devoid of cursive or handwriting requirements.

The absence of cursive standards within the Common Core curriculum has proved to be controversial, said Steve Berlin, spokesperson for the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Berlin said a nationwide debate has “taken off” in the last nine months over whether students would benefit from learning cursive in a technology-based classroom.

“The debate is focused on people who say, ‘Why should children learn to write in cursive when everything they’ll do the rest of their lives is going to be on keyboard?” he said.

“There’s a lot of reaction to that because cursive writing improves hand, eye and muscle coordination, as far as students being able to manipulate things with their hands, as well as the practical debate saying people have to be able to sign their names.”

Berlin said cursive writing is also important in social studies classes to aid in understanding historical documents, most of which are written in cursive.

In adopting the curriculum, state boards of education have the option of accepting 100 percent of the standards or adopting a partial 85 percent in favor of adding their own personalized courses.

The “15 percent rule,” allows wiggle room for cursive to be taught if an education board deems it necessary.

The states of California, Alabama, Georgia and Utah included a cursive writing requirement for schools when adopting the Common Core standards.

Kris DeVillers, director of curriculum for Pleasant Valley School District, said cursive and handwriting classes are taught in the third and fourth grades because the majority of students still use pen and paper to take notes.

“I think if everyone in the classroom had access to a computer, it would not be impossible that (cursive writing) would become not as important to learn,” DeVillers said. “A lot less pen and paper writing will occur in the future, but as of right now it’s definitely a plus to learn (cursive).”

Alvarez said that, like the main character in “Muggie Maggie,” students should be taught cursive for practical reading.

“Cursive is just one way we can communicate with others in the world,” Alvarez said. “I feel like we learned cursive as children, and I feel children need to be able to read it and have the option to write it as well.”

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