Teachers say cursive helps children connect their thoughts
GREECE -- Celebrities signing autographs do it.
Tattoo artists also do it.
So do doctors signing scripts, reporters taking notes, politicians signing bills, and brides and grooms writing thank-you notes.
Students in Jennifer Sheehan’s third-grade classroom at St. Lawrence in Greece do it too.
They write in cursive.
That’s even though -- according to educators -- cursive is on the way to becoming a lost art, displaced by typing, texting and voice-recognition technologies. In schools, cursive has been de-emphasized as state standards have left precious little time for the refinement required by cursive writing.
Catholic schools still teach cursive, diocesan educators say, because they believe its benefits go beyond formal handwriting.
In Sheehan’s third-grade classroom, cursive letters loop around the top edge of the room. Sheehan said her students enter third grade either loving or hating the script, after first trying their hands at it in second grade. By January of their third-grade year, the students write all their work in cursive.
Sheehan is a fan of the script.
"I think it forces them to slow down and think about what they are writing," Sheehan said.
Students who learn cursive are able to sign their names and handwrite letters in cursive as well as read cursive writing, Sheehan said. Cursive writing on a thank you note, for instance, can be more formal and yet more personal, than typing, she noted.
"My own children were not taught cursive and they can’t read cursive," Sheehan said. "When they were in middle school and high school, the teachers were writing comments on their papers that they can’t read."
Sheehan admitted that it is hard to squeeze cursive lessons into time set aside for English language arts. The class works on the Zaner-Blosser Method of cursive in 10 to 15 minute chunks of time, which is enough time to tire out students’ hands, she said.
"Their writing is definitely neater when they do it in cursive because they are trying so hard, Sheehan said.
There’s science to back up Sheehan’s observations, said Jona Wright, a former public-school educator who is now associate superintendent of schools for the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools.
Wright said the muscle memory needed to achieve cursive writing can help students develop vocabulary and spelling skills, enabling students to master such tricky words as occurred or enough.
"You can’t phonetically spell them, but with one continuous motion they are solidifying how to form the words in a repetitive motion," Wright said.
Cursive writing can be faster than printing, which makes it faster for note taking, she said. Cursive also can be used for occupational or physical therapy.
"Especially with boys, putting a pen in hand and getting them to write in cursive sometimes is easier than printing," Wright said.
Back when Wright worked in the public-school system, many parents had expressed concern about the elimination of cursive, but there was precious little time to fit it into the curriculum due to a shift of focus onto strengthened state standards, she said. Decisions on what to teach are made district by district, but more and more public districts have opted to drop cursive from the curriculum, Wright said.
"It’s a lost art that I know parents are looking for, and we still teach it," she said.
Karen Glazier noted that her daughter, Sarah, a second-grader at St. Rita School in Webster, recently said she wanted to learn to write in cursive.
"I have heard the public schools have eliminated it, but I think kids can benefit from learning it," said Glazier, who said she chose the Webster Catholic school in part because of its emphasis on traditional education and learning.
Kristin Burch, who teaches third grade at St. Michael School in Penn Yan, said although there are some schools that have dropped cursive, teachers at St. Michael see a variety of benefits in teaching it.
"Some of their handwriting is better in cursive than in manuscript," she said. "By the end of the year in June, we have them do everything in cursive."
She said the decline in cursive is part of a trend of technology changing how people live -- a trend that threatens to render books and libraries things of the past.
"Children have to be able to understand how to hold a book and read a book," she said.
Just because tangible books may be things of the past doesn’t mean they don’t have value, said Burch, noting that when she teaches a fourth-grade social studies class, the students rely on old books and documents from the 1800s and 1900s. Without knowing cursive, her students would not be able to read the penmanship of the past, she said.