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Ever since writing my earlier blog post about whether we really need to teach cursive handwriting, Do Children Still Need to Learn Cursive?, I have been thinking more about it. Many parents are concerned that their children are not being taught cursive writing any more, and they wonder whether it is going to be a problem.
Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of special education and reading and the area coordinator of the graduate program in learning disabilities at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, addresses this topic in a great article at LDOnline.org called “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting.”
She brings up some points I never thought about before. For example, when children are learning to form the letters on the page, they are also practicing the sound the letter makes. Most likely this is occurring silently, although some teachers may have the children say and sound out the letter as they write. This sound-symbol relationship is required before children can become fluent readers. Therefore you might say that learning to write helps develop other language skills.
Another point Spear-Swerling makes is that children need to learn to write in manuscript—printing instead of cursive writing—since that is the form they will most often read. One problem with manuscript, however, in terms of helping a child in school, is that many children make several strokes with their pencil when printing each letter. This takes more time than using a single stroke, which is more often done in cursive. Legibility and speed are important for school success since students often need to take notes, respond to questions on tests, or write down their assignments rather quickly; and, they need to be able to read what they wrote.
In my post, I never really said what I thought. I believe we need to teach our students how to write legibly and quickly. We should teach manuscript first since they are learning to read manuscript letters first. Then we should teach cursive to see if the fluency of cursive writing can help them write faster. If they later migrate to manuscript (or some combination of manuscript and cursive), we should allow it as long as they can write legibly.
Legible handwriting needs to be automatic as well, so that it does not occupy thinking space while working on higher level writing tasks. Read my earlier post about Helping Kids by Reducing Demands on Working Memory, to understand the importance of this.
Someday, there may not be a need for everyone to be able to write by hand. However, until we no longer need it, we have to teach it. We also need to teach our students how to use the keyboard efficiently. My earlier blog on selecting typing software is about how to learn to type. I also wrote a longer article, Learning the Keyboard, about the importance of students’ learning keyboarding.