I came home today to this tweet from Sheila Stewart:
Without even clicking on the link, I knew that the article had to be about cursive writing: my favourite topic of discussion. I had to find out what it said, so I read the article, and then knew that I needed to blog my “response to Finland.”
Here’s my bottom line: whether we’re teaching printing, typing, or cursive writing, I think it’s how we teach it that matters.
- If we replace the blackline masters of printing sheets with cursive ones, and then typing games, are we really changing our practices?
- Are these practices we need to change? Why?
- How can we make this “writing practice” more meaningful for students? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to doing so?
As I’m thinking through these questions and composing this post, I saw these tweets from Andrew Campbell: a wonderful educator from a neighbouring Board. Thanks to him, my thoughts are now coming together.
I think these points are important ones to remember for everything that students learn. If we’re trying to reach all students, and all students are different, then we can’t reach them all in the same way.
- Maybe some students find that they can “create” and “write” more, using one form of writing versus another one. Cursive writing may work for some students. Printing may work for others. And people like me, may be more comfortable composing on a device.
- Maybe some students learn “writing forms” in different ways than other students: some may be able to learn them through a full class lesson, some may need small group instruction, some may require tracing time and more practice, and some may learn these skills through meaningful writing experiences (e.g., creating signs in the classroom).
So maybe instead of more articles on printing versus cursive writing versus typing, we can have more articles on the pedagogy behind how (and why) we teach these skills.
- How do we reach all students?
- How do we give all students a voice through their writing regardless of how they actually form the letters?
- What impact does correct letter formation actually have on “writing?”
- What’s essential for students to learn? What is not as essential? Why?
What do you think?
I also think that in addition to considering the pedagogy, we consider the physical needs of the students. I had a student that always struggled with written output… He struggled to print. When he was taught cursive outside of school, his output significantly increased. So maybe cursive works better for some of our students… Maybe it helps with fine motor. Also, there is some research that points to the looping method as hitting different parts of the brain and helps development.
I guess what I am saying (and wondering) is that maybe we need to find out what works for our students… Or maybe we need to question why we teach printing over cursive to start with.
I don’t know the answer but I agree with you that the printing vs cursive vs keyboarding debate may not be getting us anywhere.
Thanks for your comment, Chris! You make a very important point here. I guess that for me this kind of aligns with the pedagogy, and thinking about why we do what we do. I have a familial tremor, and for me, cursive writing was incredibly frustrating. It’s hard for me to keep my hand still enough to keep the pencil on the page for that fluid motion. My letters are always a little jagged. I need to steady my hand for printing as well, but removing it from the page regularly, seems to help. Typing saves me, as it allows me to relax a bit while writing, decreasing the shoulder and arm pain I was experiencing due to my need for a really strong grip. Again though, this comes down to knowing your students and their needs. Do all students need to learn to “write” in the same way? I’m not sure.
I think about our province’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program Document, and the push for play-based learning. What if we put out provocations for printing and writing? What would happen? How might students choose to learn, and how could this help guide teacher instruction? I know that our Montessori Programs teach cursive writing first, and with a lot of success. Maybe we need to look at this data as well. In our curriculum documents, it doesn’t mention cursive writing until Grade 3, with this being a possibility for how students can publish their work. Maybe though, there’s value in teaching them to sign their name (in a meaningful way) as they complete art work — just like artists do. By just teaching them this skill, some students may really take to cursive writing, and this could be the indication that this option may be best for some students.
Thank you for giving me more to think about! I do think that this discussion on cursive writing needs to start being about more than just “what to teach, and when to teach it.” A focus on student needs and pedagogy makes a lot of sense to me.
Children need to be literate period! But how each of them gets there is as varied as their own uniqueness, and that can change from day to day based on many factors. I have an administrative journal that I write in! I take notes at conferences via Twitter. When I compose a speech or blog posts, I sometimes use my keyboard and sometimes pull out a pad of paper and write. Why…because each suit me at a particular time. That is what we always need to be reflective of when we are working with our students, teachers and community.
You make a great point here, Chris, and I totally agree with you, but how do we get students started so that they can make these kinds of choices? As a Grade 1 teacher, I’m teaching many of my students to “write.” I’m thinking aloud as I form letters, and I’m encouraging students — in different ways — to form letters correctly. My students print every day in meaningful situations (from creating signs to writing to letters to writing stories). They are typing in a few different situations (e.g., when adding ideas to a Lino Wall or helping compose a tweet), but they haven’t learned cursive writing yet. Should I teach it to them? Usually they’re not taught until Grade 3, but Chris Wejr makes an interesting point about student needs. It makes me think about how we should best figure out these needs, and then how we can respond to all of them. I also know that our school is focusing on developing phonemic awareness skills in Kindergarten-Grade 2. As part of this, students are learning to print letters correctly. Could cursive writing be exchanged for printing? Is there an impact on phonemic awareness skills? I’m not sure, but these questions are definitely giving me more to think about.
Based on developmental research, cursive writing (gross motor skills) should be easier than printing (fine motor skills). However, all of our reading material is always print. There lies the dilemma.
Again I go back to the needs of the child and our continued default to the either/or as opposed to the and/both mentality. Additionally, it will always depend on the capacity of the teacher to offer more personalized instruction. It is not simple and requires complex solutions.
My guess is that as a grade 1 teacher you are constantly adjusting your teaching to meet the needs of your learners. This is just another example of the complexity of teaching and your compassion as a teacher.
Thanks for the additional comments, Chris! This is definitely quite the dilemma. I will say that I tend to deliver most of my instruction in small groups (due to different learning needs), so I think that this would be doable as well. I would be curious to know what the rest of my team thinks about this, and what the Speech Pathologist’s thoughts are as well. How might this connect with the stages of Phonemic Awareness that we’ve been talking about?
I wonder what would happen if I got a cursive alphabet and put it out as a provocation. Would students become interested in forming the letters in this way? Could they learn to sign their name to art work (for example)? We’re actually creating an Art Gallery as part of our current Project Based Learning for Math, and now you’ve given me something new to think about that might align.
Thanks for giving me even more to think about!
I find this article quite amazing.
Finding the HOW and the WHY are just so important, and this made me look deeper into this.
Although I stand at the point of keeping cursive in our curriculum, I wonder why. I also wonder why it has been wiped off our curriculum. What does it teach us? What are the point of views of both sides?
I especially like your point about giving a voice to students, regardless of how we form the letters.
This post is one of your best yet. Even though all your posts are amazing!
P.S. I recently wrote a new blog post called ‘Waking Up Our Nation’. If you get the time, please check it out!
Thanks for your comment, Yusra! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. I think it’s really important to always ask “why.” Technically, cursive writing, like printing and typing, are in the curriculum under publishing option choices (in Language). The thing is that they’re considered choices. As such, sometimes they’re all taught and sometimes they’re not. I do think that some students could benefit more from one option than another one, and it intrigues me to think about giving students choice based on their strengths and needs. I wonder how this would work.
I always appreciate your student perspective!
P.S. I’ll check out your recent post too. Thanks for sharing!