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The write stuff: Cursive writing remains an important part of curriculum

July 24, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Emma K. Doub Elementary School student Fletcher Lewis practices his cursive handwriting.
By Yvette May / Staff Photographer

What do the U.S. Constitution, doctors’ prescriptions and many teachers’ instructions written on classroom boards have in common?

Cursive writing.

While today’s children live in a world of texting and touch screens, cursive writing — and reading cursive — are still important skills to learn, local educators say.

The new Common Core State Standards for curriculum, adopted by 45 states and Washington, D.C., don’t include cursive writing, but the Maryland Common Core Curriculum Frameworks do, said Beth Downin, an English supervisor with  Washington County Public Schools.

Local schools have been teaching cursive, starting in the second semester of second grade, but those lessons will now start in third grade for most students because the new curriculum — overall — is more rigorous, Downin said.

That more rigorous curriculum also calls for students to use more primary sources as they study different subjects.

That’s just one area in which being able to read cursive is important.

“Anything before 1900 is written, so they have to be able to read handwritten or cursive materials,” Washington County historian John Frye said.

Before typewriters were commonly used, people not only wrote in cursive, but their handwriting styles differed so the same letters might be written in a variety of ways, Frye said.

Board of Education member Karen Harshman, who chairs the board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee, recalled her reaction when as a high school English teacher she wrote on the classroom board in cursive.

“I was really amazed when I was writing my objectives on the board and one of the kids said, ‘I can’t read cursive,’” said Harshman, who retired from teaching in 2010. Harshman told the student she thought her handwriting was pretty good, but it turned out the student couldn’t read any cursive, she said.

“I know (cursive) probably seems less important than it used to be,” Harshman said.

But, she said, there’s a need to at least be able to identify and read cursive.

Downin said some researchers say being able to write in cursive is linked to better reading and writing fluency, and some say it frees up memory to focus on higher-order tasks, such as developing an argument, because letter formation is easier with cursive.

With cursive lessons being moved to the third grade in the coming school year, teachers will be trained and given instructional materials so they can educate students in cursive writing with the option of using materials from the Fundations program, provided by the private company Wilson Language Training, Downin said.

The Fundations writing paper still has lines at different levels, but labels the lines with icons to help students learn reference points for where to put their pencil as they learn to write cursive or print, she said.

From bottom to top, the lines are the worm line, the grass line, the plane line, and the sky line, Downin said.

Teachers will sound out the letters as they instruct students how to hand write them, so the lesson will involve phonics and decoding the pronunciation of a word by looking at the letters, she said.

Because not all children learn the same way, some teachers might employ shaving cream, sand or flour to help students learn cursive technique. A student could write the letter in the cream or sand, creating a tactile experience or memory, Downin said. The same techniques can be used to teach younger students print or manuscript letters.

In the last school year, Megan Nicholson, a second-grade magnet teacher at Emma K. Doub Elementary School in Hagerstown, used iPads and computer apps to reinforce lessons in cursive.

Students used their fingers to write cursive letters on the screen, she said.

“It’s an interesting way to practice,” said Nicholson, who noted that cursive needs to be taught and reinforced.

“If you’re looking at a historical document, it’s written not even in cursive, but in old-time cursive,” she said. “If you don’t have an understanding of what cursive looks like and how to read it, reading those primary documents will be even more challenging.”

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