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Cursive Writing: More than Pretty

Learning cursive handwriting has positive effects on much more than simple penmanship.

A comment on my last blog provided some food for thought regarding the merits of teaching penmanship, specifically script or cursive. When I was a middle school principal, I was part of a curriculum committee that spent considerable time and energy evaluating the continuation of the cursive writing program at the elementary level. Unfortunately, that program ultimately succumbed to budget cuts. Many years later, I find that some of my students from a number of different school districts can neither read nor write cursive. This is a loss of more than simple penmanship skills, for some brain researchers are finding a link between cursive writing and brain development.

While competency in keyboarding skills enhances computer skills, some educators bemoan the loss of penmanship practice. In a Wall Street Journal article from 2010 Gwendolyn Bounds reported the following with regard to printing: “Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.”

Moreover, some cognitive scientists believe that simply being able to print is not enough.  An article by Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies reports that cursive stimulates language development and fluency and enhances neural connections in the brain. “Further, Shadmehr and Holcomb of Johns Hopkins University, published a study in Science Magazine showing that their subjects’ brains actually changed in reaction to physical instruction such as cursive handwriting lessons. The researchers provided PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans as evidence of these changes in brain structure. In addition, they also demonstrated that these changes resulted in an 'almost immediate improvement in fluency.'”

If your children’s schools have discontinued cursive instruction, do not despair.  You can purchase a cursive handbook and practice at home. You may very well see some significant improvement in more than penmanship.

Handle Associates, located in Guilford, has been helping students achieve success for more than 17 years. We individualize learning to meet the needs of each student.  Instructional programs include: Test Preparation, Essential Skills for math & reading, and Writing/Language Arts. We welcome learners of all abilities age 4 through high school.  Enrichment or remedial assistance is available.  From ABC's to SAT's, we can HANDLE your child's learning needs. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kate Gladstone October 03, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I've looked at the JHU (Johns Hopkins University) study, and in fact I talked with one of the authors (Dr. Shadmehr) on a previous occasion when he and I had both noted that his research had been misquoted in the same was as it is now being misquoted in the current GUILFORD PATCH.com article. (The previous misquotation — one of several that various newspapers have allowed themselves to make — was in a newspaper in Fresno, California: let me know if you need details.) Over the years, various researchers and I have frequently seen the research misquoted to please those with a cursive "ax to grind." Specifically: research on handwriting vs. keyboarding is often misrepresented in the media as research on cursive vs. other handwriting styles — even (or especially) when the actual research didn't mention cursive. (One of the studies most frequently misquoted as a study on cursive is in fact a study on printing vs. keyboarding among preschoolers.) Sind GUILFORD PATCH.com is justifiably interested in education, I suggest that it look into the history and rationale behind such misquotations — and, of course, that it also stop uncritically repeating them.
Laura I. Maniglia October 03, 2012 at 04:13 PM
No axe to grind here, but this is certainly a hot-button topic. Would you agree that fine motor coordination is enhanced with more fluid writing?
Nicole Ball October 04, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Via Facebook (www.facebook.com/branfordpatch) Jackie Pickering Weston: "So disgusted that non of my three children were taught cursive writing in the Branford School System. I had to basically show them the basics so they can at least sign their own names."
Kate Gladstone October 09, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Fluid writing always *demands* some fine-motor co-ordination, but doesn't always enhance or increase it. (To demand something is not to create it.) In any case, not all fluid writing is in the "cursive" style — much of the most fluid, most fluent handwriting is semi-joined with an abundance of print-like forms.
Elisabeth Nelson-Smith October 10, 2012 at 07:16 PM
I greatly appreciate Laura Maniglia's support of handwriting study for young people! Note that David Kysilko has also summarized research findings on handwriting education's benefits in "Policy Update: The Handwriting Debate," (September, 2012) published by the National Association of State Boards of Education, and available at: http://nasbe.org/latest-news/handwriting-debate/. The same paper lists a recent set of handwriting and keyboarding educational standards. These are intended to bring the current handwriting debate to a hopeful end. Published in July 2012, by Handwriting 21 Summit, the "Written Language Production Standards: Grades K-8" serve to supplement the Common Core State Standards. The document is available for approval by the 50 states, and is located at: http://www.hw21summit.com/. A caveat: Current wording in the proposed handwriting standards document may prevent states, districts, and public schools from choosing diverse curriculum methods to suit diverse children's needs. It appears that only "manuscript print" and traditional looped "cursive" would meet the standards up to 6th grade. However, individual states are of course free to modify the standards when adopting them, and the standards authors state that the document is subject to revision.

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