Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 15, 2014

Mercer Board of Education receives report on cursive in classrooms

PRINCETON — In the days before typewriters, word processors and text messaging, cursive writing was one of the primary ways to put words to paper. New technology is making school systems, both locally and across the nation, consider whether teaching this skill is still a priority.

The Mercer County Board of Education recently heard a presentation from the board’s central office personnel about how often and in what manner cursive writing is taught in local schools.

Teachers were asked to participate in a survey about cursive writing lessons, said Stefanie Kopp-Adkins, elementary instruction academic coach. Cursive writing and penmanship are still being taught in Mercer County schools.

In kindergarten to first grade, the curriculum includes teaching students to properly form letters, both upper and lower case, in manuscript (print), Kopp-Adkins said. Students are introduced to cursive writing soon afterwards.

“As a county, it’s pretty common to see cursive writing taught in the second semester of the second grade,” she said.

The survey indicated that most of the teachers who responded felt it is important to teach penmanship, both in manuscript and in cursive, Kopp-Adkins said. Ninety percent agreed it was important and 9 percent disagreed. The computer program used in the survey did not account for the remaining one percent.

When asked if teaching cursive writing is important, 87 percent of the respondents agreed and 12 percent disagreed. Teachers were also asked if being able to read cursive writing is important; many older documents such as county records and the Declaration of Independence are written in cursive. Ninety-two percent agreed it’s important and seven percent disagreed, she said.

“The big question was : Do you integrate penmanship or teach penmanship as a separate subject?” Kopp-Adkins said. Fifty-three percent said they integrated the subject into their other lessons and another 10 percent taught in separately. Another 39 percent said they did a combination of both.

“We put (survey) out for every teacher to have the opportunity,” Kopp-Adkins said. “Any teacher in the county could respond. The majority of the responses were from third grade teachers and 10 percent came from kindergarten teachers. Another 10 percent came from first grade teachers, second grade had 16 percent, and both fourth and fifth grade had 12 percent.”

The presentation ended with a mini-lesson for board of education members, she said.

The board’s members have had different opinions about how much emphasis cursive writing should be given in today’s classrooms.

“I think it’s very important,” said board member Mary Alice Kaufman. “I think that it’s part of the education for the whole child. We have textbooks that are still written, in part, in cursive. If you can’t write in cursive, how can you read the textbook?”

Kaufman said she has read research that shows knowing how to write in cursive improves learning.

“I think research shows once you write it, you learn it much better, and you retain it,” she said.

Students writing in manuscript have to lift their pen or pencil every time they write each letter. If they write in cursive, their writing is much quicker, Kaufman said.

Other research indicates that learning cursive writing increases brain development and fine motor skills, she stated. Research also shows that second grade students who have greater ease with writing have better academic skills in both reading and math.

“I don’t know where we went astray,” Kaufman said about the decreased emphasis put on cursive writing. “Somehow, in this country, we have not emphasized the use of cursive writing in recent years.”

Both federal and state departments of education mandate that so many different requirements be met by teachers, including cursive writing can be difficult, she said.

“The day has become so full, we’ve put it aside. This is very important. To me, this should be a requirement, and I think it will be again.”

Board member Gilbert “Gene” Bailey said his position was that cursive writing is “relatively unimportant today.”

“I am favorable toward handwriting, but it does not have to be cursive writing,” he said.

Bailey stated that some sixth-grade textbooks contain cursive writing. “We constantly have to change what we have to teach,” he said.

Since using word processors and computers has become so essential, keyboarding should be taught to all students, Bailey said, adding that in his experience, people think better when they are using a keyboard rather than writing by hand.

Bailey said he uses a combination of manuscript and cursive when writing. “I have a grandson who uses print, and it’s the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen,” he stated. “And he writes rapidly. Handwriting does not have to be cursive. That’s the main point. I think it doesn’t have to be cursive to be beautiful.”

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