To cursive or not to cursive in Northfield? - Northfield MN: News

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To cursive or not to cursive in Northfield?

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 1:08 pm | Updated: 11:19 pm, Tue Feb 19, 2013.

It’s 2 p.m. on Tuesday in Jackie Harding’s fifth grade classroom Greenvale Elementary School, and students are about to brainstorm ideas for haikus.

“Are we printing right now?” Harding asks her students.

“No,” they respond.

“How are we writing?”

“Cursive,” they answer.

In recent years the question has been raised if that response is the correct one, or if students are spending time learning an outdated form of communication. This year Minnesota fell in line with 45 other states in using the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) — Minnesota did not adopt the math standards, just the English — for at least a base of their own standards.

Among that standards shift is the issue of whether students should continue to learn the older form of communication in cursive, or dedicate that time to newer, technology-based forms. CCSS does not require students to learn cursive.

“That issue was just discussed … because K-12’s [curriculum] is under review,” Northfield Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Hanson said. “We are leaving the handwriting statement in there.”

Currently that statement requires 30 minutes per week of instruction for Kindergarten through second grade, 40 minutes for third grade, 30 minutes for fourth grade, and just practice in fifth grade. While that time goes well beyond the CCSS requirements, there’s an element of the unknown to cursive’s future role in English curriculum throughout Northfield.

Shifting educational landscape

Underlying the shift toward the CCSS across the country is the desire for the United States to update its educational model. The CCSS website states, “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson said that the combination of Minnesota’s new math standards, — put in place in 2007 and not up for review until 2015 — and a belief the CCSS standards weren’t as rigorous, led the state to decline implementing the math standards. While that leaves Minnesota as just one of five states not part of the CCSS, according to its website, the English CCSS have been put in place here throughout this current school year.

“Any time you add new requirements to what has been in place, there’s a transition period where people need to work through that,” Richardson said. “Especially because those requirements reach out to other teachers beyond the English and language arts ... it’s going to take a little longer to get everyone up to speed.”

Greenvale Principal David Craft said the new standards “are not dramatically different than the ones we’ve had in the past,” and that “they’re starting to move in the right direction. They’re making sure the standards are matching up. In Northfield we’ve been a little more progressive.”

Case in point for that will be the appearance of iPads in district classroms next year, and in some classrooms — see Greenvale’s two fully-equipped computer labs — there is already advanced technology in place for educating even Northfield’s youngest children. With so much emphasis on those kinds of tools, there remains the issue of whether there is too much sacrificing time with past communication forms.

Pros and cons of changing communication

In determining a stance on cursive’s current and potential future place in the elementary school curriculum, Craft cited the thoughts of renowned educator John Dewey on the central purpose of public education.

“To provide the education students need to be productive citizens,” Craft said is the main goal. “As long as people need to write with a pen and paper…we need it to be a part of our curriculum. It’s still with us.”

How long it will be is a question that remains to be seen. Envisioning a future with completely digital communication — both in education and throughout life — may seem far out to many, but steps have been made toward it for decades.

“Still, I don’t know that technology is completely pervasive yet,” Craft said.

With CCSS’s new role in Northfield’s curriculum there is an added element to the local discussion of cursive’s place in the classroom. Commenters on the Northfield News’ Facebook site voiced contrasting opinions when asked about the priority of cursive or digital skills.

“Digital skills,” David Bryan Greer says. “Cursive is nearly obsolete.”

“Cursive should still be taught,” Rachel Brownlee says. “Kids still need to be able to sign their names and read other people’s signatures.”

“Why does it have to be a choice, they should teach both,” Hayes Scriven says. “Teach the tech skill earlier and keep the cursive.”

A 2010 Wall Street Journal article cited studies that described the benefits of cursive writing beyond simply communicating: “The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.”

Craft said with no such evidence being presented that shows why cursive shouldn’t still be taught, it will be difficult to justify phasing it out completely even though the CCSS already has.

“No one has given us compelling evidence that cursive isn’t still beneficial,” he said.

That bodes well for those who look fondly on their years of learning cursive handwriting. Interestingly enough, Hanson said part of cursive’s future may come from the very technology that seemingly threatens it.

“There are some great iPad apps when it comes to handwriting,” she said.

Reach Sports Editor Jordan Osterman at 645-1111, or follow him on @NFNJordan.

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  • Discuss

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1 comment:

  • KateGladstone posted at 6:19 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    KateGladstone Posts: 2

    Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?
    Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)

    Cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)

    When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

    (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
    1998: on-line at


    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
    1998: on-line at

    (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.
    Shouldn't there be more of them?)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest


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