Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Cursive Writing-- Is It Valuable?

Should cursive writing no longer be taught in the schools? I have read with alarm this suggestion. There are so many important uses for cursive writing. There are lists and notes to write. What would constitute a signature if we no longer used cursive?

Handwritten notes and letters have a unique role to play in human communication. A handwritten thank you note is more meaningful than an email or a text. Emails and texts are, by their very nature, abbreviated and to the point. Such messaging is convenient, efficient, and very useful. 

But a letter written in cursive serves a much broader purpose. The handwriting itself is personal. We still recognize the handwriting of those close to us. Because a letter is not intended to communicate quick information, its content is also considerably different from electronic communication. When I write a letter to one of my children, I talk about incidental events of the day: what I've done, what I will be doing, activities of other family members, the weather, random thoughts, etc. It's a kind of snapshot of what is on my mind on that particular day. A letter is very personal, very warm, and very reflective of the writer's thoughts and even of the writer's feelings toward the reader.

Today's Wall Street Journal contains a fascinating piece by Robert Lee Hotz entitled "The Power of Handwriting." The article discusses the results of studies comparing the effectiveness of notes taken by college students using a laptop and notes taken by hand. Those typing their notes record about 33 words per minutes, while those handwriting them only get about 22. But those using the longhand notes remember more of the material, even a week later. Part of the reason may be that those typing tend to record what they are hearing verbatim, while those using longhand do not.

For me, I think typing notes would be difficult and less effective for another reason. My notes always take on a kind of outline form. A main topic starts at the left margin and subtopics are indented. That kind of form is time consuming, if you're typing. You have to use tabs and hyphens and who knows what the laptop might think you're trying to do and thus mess up the format you're trying to use. (I find computers are the most aggravating when they are trying to be "helpful.")

Anyway, so note taking is another useful way to use cursive handwriting that just may be more helpful than tapping those full sentences out on your laptop.

1 comment:

KateGladstone said...

I've looked up, and have read, each of the studies mentioned in the WALL STREET JOURNAL article. Among those students who write their notes by hand rather than typing, the studies found no differences in valuable outcomes between those whose handwriting was cursive and those who wrote in any other form of handwriting. The differences found, in other words, favored handwriting over typing, but did not favor cursive over any of the other forms of handwriting.

Handwriting matters — does cursive? Research shows that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are available on request.)

Further research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. They join only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving others unjoined, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. Teaching material for such practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where this is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive that too many North American educators venerate. (Again, sources are available on request.)

Reading cursive — which still matters — is much easier and quicker to master than writing cursive. Reading cursive can be mastered in just 30 to 60 minutes, even by kids who print.
There's even a free iPad app teaching how: called “Read Cursive." Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach it explicitly and quickly, for free, instead of leaving this vital skill to depend upon learning to write in cursive?

Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by cursive textbook publisher Zaner-Bloser.. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. Most — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

When even most handwriting teachers do not follow cursive, why glorify it?

Cursive's cheerleaders allege that cursive has benefits justifying absolutely anything said or done to promote it. Cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly allege research support — repeatedly citing studies that were misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant or by some other, earlier misrepresenter whom the claimant innocently trusts.

What about cursive and signatures? Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

Questioned document examiners (specialists in the identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) find that the least forgeable signatures are plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if following cursive's rules at all, are fairly complicated: easing forgery.

All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual. That is how any first-grade teacher immediately discerns (from print-writing on unsigned work) which child produced it.

Mandating cursive to save handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to save clothing.

Kate Gladstone
DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works