Over the summer, I communicated numerous times with a small group of educators on Twitter about cursive writing. I actually jokingly summed up my summer as the #summerofcursive. 🙂 The conversation began after an article in The Toronto Star about cursive writing, prompted this blog post of mine on We Inspire Futures. If you really want to get educators going, just mention “cursive writing,” and then sit back and watch the debate.
While this topic has come up a few times since then, I was finally feeling as though the #summerofcursive was over, and that’s when the argument resurfaced with another article in The Toronto Star. As I engaged in some great professional dialogue online over these past couple of days, I can’t help but reconsider my initial thoughts on cursive writing and share my updated beliefs.
I still have a problem with “enforcing” students to write. I spent a lot of time this morning reading through the Language curriculum document, and yes, under the “Publishing” expectation for Grades 3 and above, cursive writing is mentioned. It’s one way that students can publish their work. It’s just an example though. As students move up into the older grades and eventually into various jobs, they’re most likely to publish their work with the use of a word processor. They’re not going to create presentations and displays using printing or cursive writing — unless it’s done online. So when it comes to “publishing” work, I have no problem with giving students the option to do so using cursive writing, but also printing, using a device, and/or using any number of assistive technology options.
That being said, if we’re making “cursive writing” a real option, then we need to model the use of it. I’ll admit that this is not something that I did before this year. I always told students that they could use cursive writing, but I always printed or used the computer. Why would anyone choose cursive writing if he/she hasn’t seen it used in the classroom? So even though I struggle with cursive writing — it takes me a long time to write as I really have to control the tremor in my hand to do so — I have been writing more this year. In fact, all of the Success Criteria in the classroom is done in cursive writing. I try to use cursive writing in some way at least once a day. Now students are seeing cursive in the classroom, and while I only have four or five students that regularly choose to write using it, that’s four or five students more than I’ve ever had before! Modelling matters.
Even if students choose not to write in cursive, they should be able to read cursive writing. This was a discussion that I had online last night with Brian Aspinall: a wonderful teacher from Chatham. Both in the classroom and outside of it, students are going to be exposed to many different typefaces, printed words, and written words, and they should be able to read all of them. If we don’t expose them to these variations, how will they be able to read what they see?
And if we really want to make cursive writing meaningful, maybe it’s time to look down in the grades. During these cursive writing conversations yesterday, Valerie Bennett — a terrific resource teacher in our Board — chimed in with a link to an article that includes her views on cursive writing.
Reading Valerie’s thoughts, prompted me to read through The Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program Document. The truth is that there’s no mention in this document on printing versus writing. Since the Language curriculum document only mentions cursive writing for Grades 3 and up, I think that the assumption is that Kindergarteners would be printing, but do they need to be? As Kindergarten students are being introduced to the different letters of the alphabet, couldn’t this be done in both printing and writing? Imagine if Kindergarteners experimented with both printing and cursive writing in these younger years, and then applied their new learning in the older grades. I can’t help but think of the cursive writing inquiry activity that’s discussed in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action. This was a great student-led inquiry, where students did not just learn about cursive writing, but gained a better understanding of language in general. In this example, the student learning becomes more than blindly copying lines of the same letter or the same word to aim for perfection of a skill, but with no thinking involved.
And this is what’s most important to me: please make cursive writing more than just a copying task! When I think about cursive writing in school, I think about the writing notebooks, the pages of copied letters and words, and the sticker or words of encouragement to celebrate mastery. None of the curriculum expectations that mention “cursive writing” though, mention successful copying of letters or words. The expectation is under “Publishing,” and that implies that students are sharing their new learning with others: one of the ways in which is cursive writing. Can they develop their writing skills well enough to do so though without explicitly learning the skill first? I’m not sure. This is another reason that I go back to my Kindergarten suggestion and Valerie’s article. By Grade 3, students already know the letters of the alphabet, so why spend so much time looking at them again with cursive writing? A meaningful inquiry activity, like the one in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action might work, but there has to be more to cursive writing than just rote learning.
Where do you stand on the cursive writing debate? Why do you feel the way that you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Let the #summerofcursive become the #yearofcursivereflection!