Oct 312012


By Katherine Ayers

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pitt County Schools no longer is “officially” teaching cursive handwriting, due to the advent of the Common Core State Standards.

The schools had been teaching cursive writing in third grade, according to Cheryl Olmstead, assistant superintendent of educational programs and services. Because of new emphasis on 21st century skills, there is not a block of instruction reserved for handwriting in the curriculum. Instead, students learn to print and then transition to keyboarding skills in the third grade.

Olmstead said a team of teachers and instructional coaches are figuring out where cursive writing might fit into the new standards.

“The main thing is to have a recognizable signature,” she said. “Everybody is learning the standards this year, then we’ll know where it will fit (next year).”

Kate Dando, communications director with the Council of Chief State School Officers, said that while the standards dictate what skills students need to learn to be successful in college and careers, there is no guidance on how teachers teach those skills.

“The Common Core State Standards allow communities and teachers to make decisions at the local level about how to teach reading and writing (and mathematics), so they can teach cursive if they think it’s what their students need,” she said. “The standards define the learning targets that need to be met. … Teachers will determine how best to help students achieve those targets.”

One of the barriers to teaching handwriting in schools today may be that many teachers never learned how to teach it themselves. Denise Donica, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at East Carolina University, said a 2010 study she conducted reveled that only about 35 percent of teachers she polled said they received “some type of information” in college about how to teach handwriting.

Studies show that neurological connections are not as mature for students who learn letter recognition by looking at a keyboard rather than physically writing them, according to Donica.

“Plus the keyboard doesn’t have lowercase letters,” she said.

Many students still take notes by hand, and using a “blended style” — a combination of print and connected cursive letters — is the fastest way to write, Donica said. Handwriting also is easier than print for some children.

“Cursive provides a fresh start and another option,” she said.

Pitt County school board member Marc Whichard said the county needs to find the time to teach students cursive writing.

“It’s disappointing that when students have to sign their name, it’s a printed signature more often than not,” he said. “It’s unacceptable for students to not be able to sign their name.”

Whichard, also a principal at SouthWest Edgecombe High School, said America asks its students to be globally competitive, but then doesn’t allow time for students to learn fundamental skills.

“People need to understand the basic composition of a letter; it’s important for people to maintain strong writing skills,” he said.

Donica said she does not envision there being a time in which handwriting will not be a necessary skill.

“People will always write to communicate, whether it’s a phone number or a note to self,” she said. “I also think that in developmental maturity and academic skill building, handwriting is a culmination of so many different skills, the piece needs to be there.”

Beginning in the 19th century, cursive writing was taught in schools. Before then, many people were either illiterate or could read but not write, according to Tamara Thornton, a history professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and author of “Handwriting in America: a Cultural History.” Printing was added in the 1920s and 30s, eventually becoming the method now employed — printing, then a gradual transition to cursive between the second and third grades.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567.

via The Daily Reflector.


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