Saturday, January 9, 2010

The hardest part of the ACT was writing in cursive

by Tara Seale

That is what my son told me after he took the ACT in December. He said that he couldn't remember how to write in cursive, so he just printed and made a few loops here and there. When the proctor collected the tests, she paused, looked over his statement, and he worried that she would announce that he did not write in cursive. As my son and other students filed out of the room, they asked one another, "Do you know how to make a capital S in cursive?" and "Do you think it matters if I messed up the statement by not writing in cursive?"
When he arrived home, he had a discussion with his sister, a freshman in college, about writing in cursive. They both asked me why teachers waste so much time teaching students to write in cursive in elementary school when they never use it again.

I have been thinking about this discussion and their question. I am not sure I know the answer. When I decided to write this post, I Googled writing the ACT statement in cursive to see if anyone else had posted about students finding this difficult. Ironically, I found a student who started a Facebook group called The Hardest Part of the ACT test was copying the statement in cursive. I also found a post describing a situation similar to my son's titled Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting.

I decided to continue my quest to answer these questions: Should students write in cursive? Does it matter? Should we quit teaching cursive writing? Have we quit teaching it?
Time Magazine published an article in August 2009 titled Mourning the Death of Handwriting, and I found an interesting blog post response to the article at the Freestyle Pen titled Is handwriting really dead? A Washington Post article titled The Handwriting is on the Wall provided some interesting statistics, such as, in 2006 only 15 percent of the students taking the SAT wrote their essay in cursive, the rest printed in block letters.

I am not providing the answers to my questions in this post, but I am seeking answers. In my school district, students are required to learn cursive writing in 3rd grade, but that is the last time it is required. Students take keyboarding in 7th grade, but maybe it would be more beneficial to no longer teach cursive writing in 3rd grade and move keyboarding to 3rd grade instead. What would happen if we abandoned cursive altogether and totally embraced digital writing? I believe we are doing it slowly anyway, but I am not positive, so if you are a teacher, please complete the survey I created in Google Forms to gather information about how often teachers present handwritten material to students and how often teachers require handwritten material from students. You should be able to see the results at the end.

Survey Link

Link to the Results for people not taking the survey.


Mary said...

I definitely learned how to write clearly, neatly and in cursive. I learned how to form my letters so that everyone - that is everyone who could read cursive - could understand. Hurrah!
All those years of being taught the correct way to hold a pen - gone.
The era of available time is upon us. I keep a journal; I write every day both for personal use and for my classes. You'd think I would have kept up all those years of mastering spacing and clarity. But, we live in an age of speed and "let's move on to something else" mode. I write quickly, use cursive and print and just scribbles, to record elusive thoughts.
I desperately try to read my students' handwritten work as I must know who can spell - the computer or the child.
I often search for that terrific pen that will magically allow me to write "comfortably". Sometimes I actually like the shape of the letters and the general appearance of what I wrote. However, much like the messy desk, my thoughts ramble quicker than my pen. As long as I can read the scratches on paper and can transcribe to that wonderful tool - the computer, what's the problem?
I can just say I know how but choose not to...

Tara said...

Thank you for your comment Mary. I also have created my own form of cursive, a mixture of print and cursive, which I use to comment on student papers. Actually, I usually use comments in Google Docs for students' papers, but I also have my students hand write their papers occasionally so they do not lose that skill; the one I am unsure is even needed in today's world.
According to your comment, you are from the generation that spent a lot of time forming cursive letters, which would be my generation, but you abandoned that knowledge to come up with a faster version. I also spent hours forming letters, and now I have trouble forcing myself not to abbreviate in text and twitter lingo when I know it is probably not appropriate. I do still hand write in a composition notebook, but I do it quickly, and later I add it to my more permanent and easily searchable solution: Google Docs. So, like you, I hand write quickly with plans to transcribe later.

Andress Whaley said...

I also learned to write neatly and in cursive. I think there is a magic process that occurs when the words flow from your mind, down your arm, through your ink, and onto the page. That connection is smooth, unlike the chopped movement of typing. Another teacher and I had this conversation just this morning, when I lamented over writing my lesson plans longhand, and then having to transfer them to a googledoc. I just want to write them once. My friend says I should just TYPE them once. I think it would be more difficult for me to organize my thoughts and my plans that way. The day we give up writing by hand is the day another art will die.

KateGladstone said...

Tara will rejoice to know this: research shows that the fastest, most legible writers do indeed hybridize the best elements of printing and cursive: see .

Gregor Renk said...

Really? For me it will just be writing. I have just joined the Best LSAT Prep Course and all I am doing now days is to practice the questions. We even have a writing section where we are supposed to write essays and for me writing essays are a bit difficult, because it has been a very long time since I wrote one.