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Essay: Handwriting and cursive instruction should remain in the curriculum

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  • Published: 14 October 2015*
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Imagine a student studying for hours, taking an exam and failing, but not because he forgot the information. Each year hundreds, if not thousands, of students prepare for and take the SATs and, according to the College Board, many fail the writing section due to illegible handwriting (Bounds). Ever since computers have entered homes and schools, the emphasis has shifted from handwriting to typing. In fact, the 2010 Common Core standards only require kindergarten and first graders to learn handwriting, while older students focus on typing (Wenner Moyer 12). The importance of handwriting in the curriculums was noted by Steve Graham, Professor of Education at Vanderbilt University who found that when people had neat handwriting, their test grades were higher, even if they did not know more information. As he indicated ‘People judge the quality of your work based on your handwriting’ (Bounds).
In France, students practice their handwriting for a minimum of a half-hour each day. While in the United States often it is the girls who have neater handwriting, French boys and girls have quite similar penmanship due to the extra practice (Vochan). Furthermore, in 2002, the French Ministry of Education required six year olds to rewrite cursive letters and simple sentences in print (Chartrel, Vinter 476-486). The extra practice helps students write longhand neatly even when they are writing quickly (Jean 167). Additionally, when children practice their handwriting skills, it helps them improve in reading, writing, language use, critical thinking, and spelling (hwwtears.com; Wenner Moyer 12; Sassoon 7). Interestingly, Andre Dawson, a retired baseball player, use to hate when his aunt had him practice his penmanship after school each day. When he got older he realized his aunt was not punishing him, as he would get complimented on his neat handwriting (Kepner, A1) Also, adults who dedicate time to practice their handwriting will write better while learning new skills (Wenner Moyer 12).
In fact, while improving their writing skills, children are also improving their occupational skills. Children will further remember the information they are learning, as there is a special connection between the hand and the brain. Furthermore, by removing handwriting, cursive, a classic, is also being lost. By removing handwriting from curriculums, students are being deprived of fundamental learning skills. Handwriting should be part of school curriculums due the benefits it has on memory retention, occupational skills, and cursive handwriting.
Stansilas Dehaene, a psychologist at the College de France, said that ‘when we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is core recognition of the gesture of the written word, a sort of recognition by mental stimulation in your brain’ (Konnikova D1). This stimulation is known as motor memory, a specific type of memory that is formed when one does an activity by hand. Due to motor memory, a person will remember subjects more when he writes the notes rather than type them, even though both are being accomplished through the hand. This is because when one writes, he is causing the brain to work harder than it does when reading or memorizing (Dingfelder 19). In fact, Virginia Berninger, psychologist at University of Washington, showed that after a child wrote something by hand, he processed more then he would have if he would have typed his work instead (Konnikova D1).
Beginning in the late 1900’s, researchers started studying children’s memories and discovered that when a child traced a shape twice he remembered it better than those who only looked at it. Those conducting the study noted that children who retrace or write something have an easier time remembering it. Anne Managen, University of Norway, and Jean-Luc Valey, a French neurosurgeon, revealed that when one learns something unfamiliar and write the notes rather than type them, he will create longer lasting memories (Patiry).
Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of University of California conducted a study involving twenty-seven students; some wrote their notes and others typed. The students were then given an exam on that information. The results were as follows. When it came to learning and understanding new information, those who wrote their notes scored higher. Both the students who wrote and those who typed were able to retrieve the information equally; however, when comparing the final grades, those conducting the study observed that the students who wrote their notes did significantly better. Mueller and Oppenheimer realized that the writers did better because, when taking notes, they only wrote down the important information, while the students who typed simply typed everything. Therefore, when they had to study, the students who wrote their notes had the important information to study, while those who typed had everything. Mueller and Oppenheimer confirmed that ‘the hand has a unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas’.
In 2012, Karin James, psychologist at Indian university, conducted a study on motor memory. She and her team observed that when children were shown letters that they had already learned and practiced by hand they were able to identify them. She speculates that writing is a major factor for memory retention, as when children write their letters rather than type them, they will remember the characteristics of individual letters and, therefore, will recognize letters that follow those characteristics. Those who type have a harder time recognizing letters as they do not know each letter’s characteristics as well (Wenner Moyer 12).
In another study conducted by Karin James, younger children were taught the alphabet. While learning, some children wrote the letters down, while the others simply looked at them. The children who wrote the letters had neural activity appropriate for an adult in an important area of the brain, a sign that learning took place. The students who only looked at the letters had average brain activity (Bounds).
Another benefit of writing was identified by Ronald Kellog PhD., who realized that when one writes they are strengthening their working memory. Sometimes known as short term memory, working memory is where information is stored for a short amount of time so we can carry out a specific action using it. Working memory is a key component to the development of literacy skills (dyslexiahelp.umich.edu). Interestingly, when one is writing a sentence by hand using proper grammar, they are using working memory (Dingfelder 19). However, children need the proper fine motor skills in order to write by hand.
‘Handwriting movement is a habit that is very strong and individual; it is a mixture of what you are taught and your personality’ (Sassoon 2). Today, many students prefer typing to writing for many reasons. Some say it hurts to write for so long, some say they have such messy handwriting no one can read it, while others are just plain lazy. However, most of these reasons are due to poor occupational skills. When kids write rather than type, they are honing their fine motor and creative writing skills (hwwtears.com). However, children need to practice their handwriting in order it gain the motor skills that are needed to properly form and write letters and numbers (Zaner-Bloser). Interestingly, in France, they do not have as many children who cannot write, because they prep the students for three years on how to hold a pencil and then the students learn to write (Vochan). To add, studies have shown that children who have great reading and math skills in second grade, had great fine motor skills in Preschool (Zaner-Bloser).
Because there are many children who have difficulty writing neatly, individuals have created programs that can be taught in school to help improve legibility.
One program that helps improve handwriting, Write Start, helps children with illegible messy handwriting improve in only twelve weeks (Case-Smith, Weaver, and Holland 690-800). In fact, a study conducted to test the success rate of the program showed that children who followed the Write Start program not only improved their handwriting, but also surpassed their grade mates, who did not participate in the program, on the fluency test. Furthermore, the study showed that the students retained these skills for at least six months after the class ended (Case-Smith, Holland, and Bishop 670-800). By improving legibility, teachers are helping their students not only in the print alphabet, but also in cursive.
Hundreds of years ago, the Greeks created an alphabet, hieratic, because they knew hieroglyphics were too tedious (Jean 42). This alphabet, known to most people as cursive, was adapted by many, and until recently was still quite popular both in the classroom and out. However, with computers accessible everywhere, people are willing to forget about this beautiful alphabet. In fact, almost all students do not want to learn cursive. When Junior Scholastic did a survey, 3000 out of 3900 students said they wanted schools to stop teaching cursive (Bauerlein). However, with the recent increase of research detailing the benefits of cursive, these students will not be deprived of cursive handwriting instruction. Many states have started signing bills stating cursive must remain in curriculums. In fact, Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, signed a bill in 2014 that obligates the Tennessee Board of Education to once again include cursive in 2015 curriculums (Smith).
This change was due to the abundance of research that showed the benefits cursive has on children. Neural development improves in areas of thinking, language and working memory, as an effect of learning cursive (Asherson Baruch). Additionally, teachers found that children pay even closer attention to word choices when they write in cursive. To add, today people emphasize doing things quickly. Children must slow down to learn cursive- just one of the many reasons teachers want it to stay (Johanek A7). However, once one learns cursive, he will find he can write more information in shorter periods of time using cursive rather than print. Interestingly, the College Board stated that students who wrote in cursive did better on the writing section because they were able to write faster and focus on the content of the essay (Asherson Baruch).
Cursive can also help those with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Research has suggested that cursive can help cure dyslexia (Konnikova D1). Interestingly, many people diagnosed with dyslexia find it easier to write words correctly when they write in cursive rather than print (Unknown 18-19). Furthermore, studies have shown that teaching cursive to individuals with developmental dysgraphia, a handwriting disability, helps them write letters that do not look like they are collapsing. Oddly, the cursive of some people who develop dysgraphia remains the same, while some people have a print that remains the same (Konnikova D1).
In Ohio, the schools are not ready to dismiss cursive from the curriculums even though they are no longer obligated to teach it. This may be because, like the state education leaders, they know that teaching cursive helps develop fine motor skills and can also improve literacy skills (Johanek A7). A teacher in South West Middle School said she is teaching cursive to new English speakers because they remember things better when they write in cursive (Bauerlein).
In addition, cursive has a great historical value and it needs to be taught, so, like any other piece of history, it will be preserved (Bryant). The Declaration of Independence and many other fundamental documents that the founding fathers drafted while creating this country, are written in cursive. How is an individual supposed to read them if he does not know cursive? Furthermore, how is an individual supposed to feel proud and passionate about a document that he is unable to read? By teaching cursive to students today, one is ensuring that the pride we have for our historical documents will not be lost.
In fact, Maryland state activist, Edward C. Papefuse, stated that, ‘Cursive writing is a matter of discipline and training in our culture. Is it necessary to the future of sustaining our culture and our past? I believe it is.’ (Bowie).
For these reasons, not only should children learn cursive, but they should also see charts in the classroom showing them how to properly write in cursive (Ediger 103). This will not only help children develop their brains, but will also help students surpass written expression and critical thinking standards (Asherson Baruch; Bauerlein).
However, there are those who will say there is no need for handwriting anymore, as everything is computerized. Most people have access to computers and are capable of typing things in half the time it takes to write them. In fact, many schools, including the Wilson County schools, are using laptops and iPads along with textbooks, because teachers feel their students need to know these skills in this century (Smith). Furthermore, those opposed to teaching handwriting argue that it is not even necessary for a signature, as most things are electronic these days and signature are not required as often. For example, by 2016, almost half of home loans will be closed without signatures because they will be completed electronically (Bauerlein). Additionally, even though students many not be able to write a paper in cursive, most students can sign their names (Johanek A7).
These critics are incorrect. Not everything is computerized yet, and some things may not be for quite some time, if at all, such as checkups at the doctor (Sassoon 1). As for the worry teachers have that this is the age of computers and if the emphasis is on handwriting, children will be lacking skills needed for this century, apps such as penultimate and itrace solve the problem. These apps allow children to combine their penmanship and electronic skills by using a finger or stylus to write on touch screens (Patiry). Although it is better for children to write using a pen or pencil, these apps provide similar stimulation to that received when one writes on paper.
Furthermore, when children are being raised in homes with computers, they will figure out how to use them on their own, as children like to use the trial and error method on new things. Handwriting is unique, because, without proper instructions, it is quite difficult to master.
Over the past century, the world has seen a wave of new inventions; the telephone, telegraph, typewriter, and computer. These have allowed us to live more efficiently. However, there are some things that, no matter how advanced the world becomes, they will remain old-school. Handwriting is one of them. In ten years form know, students may not need to write a thing; however, the benefits a student receives from writing will remain with them.
Handwriting possesses a great educational value, as well as provides children with necessary skills for the rest of their life. Additionally, handwriting lessons help preserve a classic- cursive.
To conclude, it is pivotal that handwriting and cursive instruction remain in curriculums nationwide. The hand and the mind of all human beings are powerful. To trade them for a computer is foolish.

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