Search this blog

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Can Cursive Writing Make you a Better Thinker?

The Great Handwriting Debate popped up again recently in the paper and I wondered what kids thought about it.  Then, I thought, what a great way to get kids thinking and writing.  Let them develop their own arguments for or against cursive writing.   How do they feel about writing?  Would they rather hold a pencil or tap a keyboard.  Do they need to learn cursive?  Do they use it? While the physical act of writing may or may not make you a better thinker, debating about it can.

A small survey sample
I had the opportunity to discuss this with a couple of students and found their perspectives to be very interesting and age dependent.  The two 7th graders that I talked to said that they NEVER (and yes they were shouting) use cursive.  In the beginning of their writing careers they were asked to hand in final copies in cursive, but now it is done on the computer.  Since they never use cursive, they never practice it and they don’t like their own handwriting.  On the other hand, I talked with a precocious 2nd grader who is right now being taught to write a different letter in cursive every day…..she was thrilled and uses cursive for everything!  I guess once you make it through the “write of passage” of learning script if no one values it, it becomes a useless skill.  (I so wanted my son to have better handwriting, after all it was bringing down his 2nd grade GPA, but alas, I am glad he did not waste his time! J)  Actually, I can remember when I started my handwriting was not great, but my friend Cynthia developed beautiful words with circles over her I’s and it was so cool I practiced so I could do the same.  Sure enough, I developed  nice handwriting…but fast forward to old age….I still have good handwriting…but I don’t have the stamina to write a full page and don’t often use it!  But I digress.

The writing is on the wall
So, do we need to take the time to teach kids how to write in cursive or could that time be better spent on other things?  Now that the common core does not address it…do we need to?  Will students be able to complete high stakes tests without cursive?   Is reading and writing in cursive an important skill that develops better literacy in students?  Do we need cursive to be able to read historical documents to understand our past?  Do second graders need the visible milestone?

Why not ask the kids? (to answer in writing)
Once again, Room for Debate, a NYT’s editorial page has asked four experts whether they think schools should require children to learn cursive.  Have your students visit the site for some interesting perspectives.
Hanover Research has also published a report “ The Importance of Teaching Handwriting in the 21st Century”  which give some research based facts.  (Note:  Published by Zane-Bloser – a company that publishes handwriting materials-do your students think that could influence the research?  Could this be a lesson in media literacy?)
 You can have your student’s read these resources to:

1. Determine what is opinion and what is fact

2.  Examine and appreciate the issues that are nvolved from different perspectives

3. Research and develop their own arguments for or against being taught cursive writing

Integrate some technology
Want them to develop their arguments in an online discussion that has them write arguments for one of four perspectives?  Check out the SCAN lesson “Should students still be taught cursive?”

Current and timely topic, relevant, and great exercise for critical thinking!  


  1. we should be teaching cursive! Yes they probably won't use it in 7th grade but as they get older and need to sign things it will become important. Print is not acceptable on legal documents so why not teach them young.

  2. Thanks for leaving your comments. I like the idea of teaching cursive too. I heard that a signature did not have to be in cursive and did a little research. This is what I came up with: US law states "A signature may be written by hand, printed, stamped, typewritten, engraved, photographed, or cut from one instrument and attached to another, and a signature lithographed on an instrument by a party is sufficient for the purpose of signing it, it being immaterial with what kind of instrument a signature is made. ... whatever mark, symbol, or device one may choose to employ as a representative of himself is sufficient ... The name or mark of a person, written by that person at his or her direction. In commercial law, any name, word, or mark used with the intention to authenticate a writing constitutes a signature. UCC 1-201(39), 3-401(2). A signature is made by use of any name, including any trade or assumed name, upon an instrument, or by any word or mark used in lieu of a written signature. Interesting right? I do think most documents do have one space for printing and one for your signature which indicates that they want it in cursive in my mind. Thanks for getting me to think some more!

    1. I am a teacher in tradionally African-American communities, and black people have a negative hisotry with illiteracy. After slavery, black people were often encouraged to "leave their mark" on documents for loaons or rental agreements of they could not write their names. These "marks" were often nondescript scratches that could be easily copied. Therefore, the black people often got taken advantage of by white farmers who could convince their tenants that they had signed for something that they had not. Every time I think about these sharecroppers and their marks, I am reminded of my high-school aged students who cannot write (or read) cursive, and I am afraid for them

  3. Apparently for some a signature is an indecipherable scribble. My principal told me he had to practice ten different signatures and keep one as OFFICIAL so that no kid could copy his signature. His signature is never the same way twice on anything I've seen. Is that why doctors do it?

  4. I agree that no one really seems to care if your "signature" is legible! But think of the glory that John Hancock has enjoyed simply because his signature was so distinctive!

  5. Hanover Research, by the way, is a marketing company. Their research on schoolchildren and teachers is marketing research, not educational research.

    1. Another great point to help students learn about perspective and media literacy! Thanks!

  6. I'm glad that this point (on marketing) is having an impact! By the way ... As you probably recall, I'm one of the four people interviewed by the NEW YORK TIMES in the column you mentioned. Would your classes be interested in some inside information on how "media games" are played (by legislators who promote cursive handwriting curriculum mandate bills) in order to get those bills passed into law? The "games" that are played (by legislators who introduce such bills, testify for them — under oath — and vote for them) include public misrepresentations of the research on handwriting, when the legislators or other prominent supporters of cursive are talking to their fellow legislators and the media.
    For instance: the research study that is most often used as "proof of cursive" (in media/legislative/school board discussions of the subject) is an Indiana University study that was not even about cursive — it looked at print-writing versus keyboarding among kindergarteners — so, this gets misrepresented by changing the word "keyboarding" to the word "cursive" and concealing the mentions of kindergarten.


    An Indiana state Senator (Jean Leising) who has been promoting a cursive bill since 2012 was caught out misrepresenting the Indiana U. research, the first year she introduced her bill — caught out by me, who notified the lead researcher on the paper and "cc"ed the correspondence to the rest of her state's legislators. In 2013 and 2014, she tried the same tactic — with different research to misquote — and was similarly caught out. However, she states each time that she is not ashamed of what she does, and that she plans to continue this as long as she is alive and in office.
    Indiana's cursive bill has thus been three times defeated — each year, though it gets 90+% approval in the state Senate, the state House will not even admit it to be read in the House, so it fails. However, in some other states where similar games are played, and the same strategy is pulled, the bills pass despite investigative reporting that shows just what tricks were played and how they were played. Here, for example, are some links on investigative reporting about a cursive bill in North Carolina in 2013, which passed despite the damning facts revealed by the reporter who used video evidence and other material (sent to her by me) to show where, and how, and why, some "media games" were being played:,,

    Yours for better letters —
    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works •

    1. Kate-thank you for taking the time to share your perspective and all of the links. It is fascinating to me and hopefully will be engaging and thought provoking for students.

  7. Interesting write-up! Writing is an art form that reaches a multitude of people from all walks of life, different cultures, and age group. As a writer, it is not about what you want.slang idioms