The write stuff: In the age of tablets and smart­phones, should stu­dents learn cur­sive writ­ing?

The Kids Post - - Contents -


For teach­ing cur­sive: Joanne Fos­ter, au­thor, OISE in­struc­tor and gifted

ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist

Good pen­man­ship has fallen by the way­side as kids and adults tap-tap-tap mes­sages on elec­tronic de­vices. Nowa­days, writ­ing has be­come a key­board-gen­er­ated medium. So why should teach­ers spend time and ef­fort teach­ing chil­dren to for­mu­late the curves and lines of letters when they can read­ily print or pound them out? There are many rea­sons!

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is at the core of civ­i­liza­tion, and cur­sive writ­ing rep­re­sents a skill set that en­ables — in­deed en­cour­ages — peo­ple to for­mu­late and con­vey their ideas in an ef­fi­cient, thought­fully gen­er­ated and struc­tured man­ner. Chil­dren ben­e­fit from the dis­ci­pline in­volved and from the fo­cus re­quired. The way a per­son forms and joins letters is an ex­pres­sion of in­di­vid­u­al­ity and unique­ness and is an open por­tal to cre­ativ­ity.

Be­ing able to write leg­i­bly is im­por­tant for ca­reer pursuits, in­clud­ing know­ing how to func­tion on pa­per when the com­puter sys­tem crashes or the power goes out. Us­ing tech-based script and chan­nelling words through fonts is im­per­sonal, whereas care­ful, ef­fort­ful writ­ing en­hances con­nec­tiv­ity among peo­ple. When chil­dren don’t learn how to write prop­erly, their let­ter for­ma­tions are sloppy, of­ten bor­der­ing on il­leg­i­ble, and without struc­ture and re­in­force­ment they’ll re­sist try­ing to im­prove this. Plus, they’ll have dif­fi­culty read­ing hand­writ­ing. More­over, writ­ing in­struc­tion and prac­tice help to build fine mo­tor skills and hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion.

Cur­sive isn’t “old school” or elab­o­rate or su­per­flu­ous. It’s a tried-and-true, dis­ci­plined and cus­tom­ized means of con­nect­ing with oth­ers. Sure, words are in­di­vid­u­al­ized and broadly net­worked when con­veyed via tech­nol­ogy, but when pen meets pa­per and the writ­ing flows, truly any­thing is pos­si­ble.


Against teach­ing cur­sive: Howard Good­man, Toronto Disc­trict

School Board trus­tee

My mother is trou­bled that her grand­sons can’t read or write cur­sive. Many share her con­cern. A half cen­tury ago, a “good hand” was seen as the sign of in­tel­li­gence and “good breed­ing.” Cur­sive was im­por­tant to be­ing treated se­ri­ously and get­ting a good job. Today this is no longer the case, and most ev­ery­one now agrees that it was mis­guided to place so much im­por­tance on a sin­gle me­chan­i­cal skill.

The rise of com­puter-me­di­ated com­mu­ni­ca­tion has dra­mat­i­cally re­duced the value of cur­sive. In re­sponse, schools have shifted ef­forts to other more rel­e­vant ar­eas, such as com­plex pat­tern recog­ni­tion, ap­pre­ci­a­tion of di­verse cul­tures and the abil­ity to re­sist ma­nip­u­la­tion by ad­ver­tis­ers. Sim­ply put, schools need to keep cur­rent with the chang­ing needs of so­ci­ety, changes that are of­ten driven by the tech­nol­ogy that we use.

As a young stu­dent, with the manda­tory ink-well hole in my desk, I re­call the heated de­bate about whether to al­low stu­dents to use ball­point rather than foun­tain pens. Ob­vi­ously, there are no longer ink-well holes in stu­dents’ desks.

Al­though cur­sive it­self has di­min­ished in value, the brain de­vel­op­ment prompted by cur­sive re­mains as im­por­tant as ever. “Brain build­ing” is the busi­ness of ev­ery school. This in­cludes em­pa­thy, courage, in­de­pen­dence and self-reg­u­la­tion as well as lan­guage, crit­i­cal think­ing and math skills. Changes in tech­nol­ogy don’t al­ter these un­der­ly­ing goals. As we shift em­pha­sis away from a tra­di­tional prac­tice or skill, such as cur­sive writ­ing, we find other ways to pro­vide the use­ful brain de­vel­op­ment that it gen­er­ated.

As we drop cur­sive, we need to find pa­per-based and touch-screen-based ways (such as mazes and trac­ing games) to achieve the un­der­ly­ing brain-ben­e­fits that it has de­liv­ered in the past — hope­fully more quickly (and cer­tainly more en­joy­ably) than through cur­sive.

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