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Why Johnny Can’t Write, And Why Does It Matter?

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by Aviva Dunsiger

Why Johnny Can't Write, Any Why Does It Matter?This morning, I got involved in a very passionate discussion on Twitter about cursive writing. There was an article in the newspaper yesterday about a dad that finds out his son is unable to sign his name when they go to apply for a passport. The article then speaks about the importance of cursive writing, and why it should be reinforced at school, even if there are only limited references to it in the curriculum. I happen to disagree.

I have no problem with students using cursive writing in the classroom. In fact, I suggest it as one of my writing choices – along with printing and word processing. Yes, students should learn how to sign their name, but this learning doesn’t just have to happen at school. They can also learn this skill at home. Having students sign their work or sign a list for try-outs would be a great way to reinforce this skill at school.

My problem with the cursive writing debate is when I hear the argument that all students should be “enforced” to write. Why? I hardly ever use cursive writing. In fact, I have a familial tremor, and my hands always shake. Cursive writing is a struggle for me because of the fluid motion required. So instead, I print or type. I went all the way through grade school and university doing so, and I’ve taught various grades for the past 12 years, all with using limited cursive writing.

If we’re going to enforce that students do something, I think we need to consider why we’re enforcing this skill. Students have been cursive writing for years, but in the real world, this skill is used in limited circumstances. Is it worth continuing to enforce at school? When should we move beyond doing what we’ve always done?

 

What are your thoughts on teaching and enforcing cursive writing at school? What other skills might we want to re-examine teaching in the classroom? Why?

 

Aviva

 Aviva Dunsiger taught Junior Kindergarten to Grade 2 for 11 years before moving to Grade 6 this year. She’s passionate about using technology in the classroom to support student learning, and she’s presented on this topic numerous times both online and offline.

She enjoys maintaining her blog, Living Avivaloca: My Many Musings on Life and Learning. Aviva’s reflective writing about her professional practice inspires communication between educators, administrators and parents.  

 

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  • Maximus

    I suppose we could start applying this argument to other subjects:

    Math
    Why learn math, if you could just bust out a calculator or ask Siri? We hardly use linear equations in real life anyway and calculus almost never.

    History:
    Who needs it, if there is always Wikipedia?

    Arts:
    Why learn how to create something or to appreciate beauty if there is TV? Besides, that skill could be learned at home if needed. In fact, I was born and raised in a barn, so looking at cattle is all the beauty that I get by with it.

    • demelzabunny

      Exactly!! And the classroom is the best place for students to learn cursive writing. If one can’t because of physical issues, that’s one thing, but everyone should learn cursive writing, if only to be able to a) sign one’s name and b) write quickly. That’s the whole point.

  • David Resijan

    Hi Aviva,
    You made some good points about teaching cursive writing. I don’t think cursive writing should be forced on students. If students get extra help at home or writing camps that would be bonus opportunities. I do believe that there are many advantages to teaching cursive writing because there is evidence-based research that proves there are brain based benefits for the students. I have the research article to share.

  • Jennifer

    I believe cursive should be taught at school. Studies have shown it helps with cognitive development and function. Kids (and us adults) have to slow down to think and process information while they are writing in cursive. In our data-filled instant gratification world where kid after kid is being diagnosed with ADHD, doing exercises like cursive writing is a GOOD THING.

    Kids do need to learn to sign their name and read historical documents.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with reinforcing it at home also.

    • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

      Thanks for adding to the discussion, Jennifer! I read some interesting articles lately about cursive writing and cognitive development, and they definitely make a good argument for teaching cursive writing at school. What if all students aren’t successful though? Where do we draw the line between teaching and enforcement? While students may all learn how to write, is it crucial that they are forced to write all of their work after that? There’s benefits to practising a skill and improving a skill, but is cursive writing good for all?

      Aviva

  • Aviva

    Eric, thank you for chiming in on this conversation and sharing “why” you choose to continue to enforce cursive writing. I understand your thinking. What about the students that struggle with cursive writing though? What about ones with fine motor difficulties that find pencil/paper tasks to limit their output in general? Do they also need to do it? While I understand the need to “push” some students, I’m really wondering if this is for everyone. I always wonder about those students with special needs, and how they’ll feel if they’re pushed and struggle without success.

    As for your spelling point, that’s a whole other debate. I addressed this on my professional blog here: http://adunsiger.com/2012/10/18/is-spelling-a-dying-skill/

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say about cursive writing! This post got lots of people talking at my school today — some for and some against — and I loved the discussion!

    Aviva

  • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    Thanks for chiming in on this discussion, Robyn! I agree with you. At school today, I was talking to a Grade 3 teacher about cursive writing, and she said that students need to learn it because they need to learn how to read it. My question was, do they really? Other than in school, are there really many times that we read cursive writing? Also, can’t students learn to read the writing without writing it?

    If students like cursive writing, that’s fine, and if they choose to write this way, I have no problem with it at all. Like you, I just don’t know why there’s all this fuss about what seems to me to be a “dying skill.”

    Aviva

  • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    Eric, thank you for chiming in on this conversation and sharing “why” you choose to continue to enforce cursive writing. I understand your thinking. What about the students that struggle with cursive writing though? What about ones with fine motor difficulties that find pencil/paper tasks to limit their output in general? Do they also need to do it? While I understand the need to “push” some students, I’m really wondering if this is for everyone. I always wonder about those students with special needs, and how they’ll feel if they’re pushed and struggle without success.

    As for your spelling point, that’s a whole other debate. I addressed this on my professional blog here: http://adunsiger.com/2012/10/18/is-spelling-a-dying-skill/

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say about cursive writing! This post got lots of people talking at my school today — some for and some against — and I loved the discussion!

    Aviva

  • Cyndie Jacobs

    I can understand both sides of the cursive debate. When I see the ‘cursive’ writing of my own kids and their friends and compare it with that of my step-children (half a generation older than my kids) and kids in school now, it all looks very similar. I think that is the way it has been taught for the last 30 years or more.

    Perhaps cursive writing is an art, and as long as some people want to be artists and express themselves through their writing, that’s great. For others, as long as they can print – so that they can effectively sign their own passport – then that’s good enough.

    • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

      Thanks for chiming in on this discussion, Cyndie! I particularly like your second paragraph. Maybe cursive writing is an art, and should we stop students or adults that want to express themselves in this way? Your option indicates “choice,” and I think this is what’s most important. Is this choice always given in the classroom though? Why? Now this is a discussion I’d love to have! :)

      Aviva

  • http://www.yourkidsteacher.com/ Eric Johnson

    Great thought provoking post Aviva. I think it’s tremendously important to question the “whys” of what we do in our classroom. I was often asked ‘why are you teaching keyboarding skills to 1st graders’ when I was in that grade. Very few statements perk my ears up more, than “we’ve always done it that way.” The ‘why’ for continuing to ask students to use cursive writing is, I believe, because it still has value. No it’s is not for everyone, me included, but students in my school are instructed in cursive through 5th grade. In 6th they are asked to use that skill in practical applications. For my class, they are asked to use cursive for their responses to reading, both individual and group texts. The typically slower writing process for cursive, allows the students to think more about what they’ve read and create more in-depth responses. The longer passages also help them start to develop a style of writing as they go. By the 3rd quarter of the year, it is clear to most of them whether or not they will continue to use the form. Most don’t, but some enjoy it and prefer. I’m okay with either choice. If I never pushed (gently) the kids to use what they have learned, some might have never discovered something that works for them. I don’t want to be the teacher that ever limits what they can do solely based on my preferences.

    If that were the case, I’d never teach spelling. A skill some argue that we don’t need due to technology. Thanks for keeping the conversation going, I think it’s a worthwhile one. Eric Johnson @yourkidsteacher

  • Robyn

    I don’t get all this fuss about cursive. I was taught cursive writing in school in New Zealand. When I started teaching in 1972 we had already done away with cursive in our schools. In fact kids here now can’t actually read cursive writing. Funny that we all know how to sign our names and when we need to, most people can make a pretty good job of writing legibly. The cursive debate seems meaningless to me. I stopped writing with cursive myself many many years ago and people always tell me I have beautiful handwriting (including friends in America!)