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With Common Core, is Cursive Still Relevant?

By Brian Smith on March 30, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Popular or not, the large majority of teachers in the United States are teaching the Common Core State Standards. I highly doubt that everyone will ever agree on the CCSS, and that’s all right with me because respectful debating and synergizing is what makes us all better. What isn’t up for debate is that cursive writing is not a part of the curriculum for the 44 states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity) that have adopted the CCSS. So my question becomes, is cursive still relevant?

I remember being an end-of-the-year second grader and getting a glimpse of how to write cursive. We were told that Mr. Page (the only third grade teacher at my school) would teach us how to write like an adult. It was a huge milestone and was still a milestone for third graders when I started teaching (which was also a long time ago).

The argument against teaching cursive very often involves how all the advancements in technology are making using a pencil and paper obsolete. This is a very valid argument but my question becomes, is cursive worth losing?

John Hancock's SignatureIs there nothing to be said for signatures?

Do I really want to stand in line for a celebrity’s autograph so they can print their name in block letters?

Is there no enjoyment in being able to read documents that our country was founded on?

Do we no longer need the phrase, “Put your John Hancock here"?

My wife and I occasionally serve as administrators for a very popular standardized test that is given to high school students. There is a section on the exam that requires these sophomores, juniors, and seniors to copy a statement in cursive. At every administration we work, I see so many kids overcome with a very panic-stricken look across their faces. Their eyes beg for help so loud that I can almost hear the shouts. Is being able to communicate through cursive no longer an important skill?

Let’s take a quick look at what the CCSS tells us about what students should know and be able to do writing-wise, by the end of third grade:

Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

Andrew practicing cursiveAs you can see, the standards mention using technology in one writing standard, while the others never mention print or cursive. The standards tell us what students need to write but not how to write.

I only mentioned third grade because that’s when Mr. Page taught me how to write cursive. But maybe we need to teach this skill in second grade or even kindergarten. In Asheville, North Carolina, the Carolina Day School teaches students how to write in cursive at the start of their kindergarten year.

When asked why Carolina Day School begins teaching cursive in kindergarten and what benefits they have seen from it, kindergarten teacher Carol Lareau responded:

“Carolina Day started teaching cursive to our kindergartners about 14 years ago. There was not a great deal of research out there for such young children to guide us, but we knew it needed to be a part of our multisensory approach to teaching. When forming the printed letters, we found that there were so many stops and starts, along with directional confusion for children. Both of these problems are eliminated with the cursive. All of the lowercase cursive letters begin on the line. We teach only the lowercase letters in kindergarten, and we group them in families according to the way they are formed. We have appropriate kindergarten names for the families — rocket, stand tall, two o'clock, mountain, and waitress hand letters. The children begin the year tracing the letters in glitter and on paper. At this point in the year, the majority of the children can write their first names (independently) in cursive and are joining letters to form words. We will be modeling sentences in the coming weeks so that the children can add a text to their journal entries. Our lower school students are strong, descriptive writers, and it is in large part due to their ability to record their thoughts with the fluidity that cursive allows its writers.”

Fellow Carolina Day School kindergarten teacher Betsey Gaddy said, “I will also add cursive helps tremendously with correcting the 'b' and 'd' reversals from print writing. Cursive has a calming effect on many children. I have watched the 'busiest' students in kindergarten, slow down and relax during their cursive writing instruction.”

Now, you may already be asking some very obvious questions of me.

Don’t you teach kindergarten?  Yes, I do.

Do you teach cursive writing? No, I do not teach cursive but I am not opposed to it because I know that it’s good for kids.

Do you know how much I already have to cover during the day? Yes, I get it. I really do. Teachers have too much to do and not nearly enough time or support to do it. I am right there on the front lines in the classroom with a roomful of very active 5- and 6-year-olds. I appreciate everything that teachers do for their students because it can be a thankless job a lot of days. I know that we have to create engaging lesson plans and then differentiate those plans one way for our students who are achieving above grade level and then differentiate those plans another way for our struggling students. Did you know, however, that students who are struggling with handwriting and spelling very often do better once they learn cursive and begin using it in day-to-day writing?

I love how the British Dyslexia Association sums up the research that has occurred when looking at students with dyslexia and why cursive is important:

Dallas writing in cursive“The most widely recommended handwriting style is called continuous cursive. Its most important feature is that each letter is formed without taking the pencil off the paper — and consequently, each word is formed in one flowing movement.

The key advantages to this system are:

  • By making each letter in one movement, children’s hands develop a ‘physical memory’ of it, making it easier to produce the correct shape;

  • Because letters and words flow from left to right, children are less likely to reverse letters which are typically difficult (like b/d or p/q);

  • There is a clearer distinction between capital letters and lower case;

  • The continuous flow of writing ultimately improves speed and spelling."

Cursive truly is one of those things that everyone can learn but it’s critical for some to learn. If we stop teaching it, are we robbing those students of success?

Some people will agree that cursive is a skill that we should still be teaching and others will disagree. I love the fact that we can have debates about educational issues and I hope you feel free to leave a comment below so we can have a respectful debate about the validity of cursive instruction and its relevance in today’s educational system.

Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (28)

I teach a combined third and fourth grade class. Our students begin learning cursive half-way through second grade. We have practice books for third, fourth and fifth grades. Third graders are slow and struggling in the fall, but we work on two pages every day. I tape a small laminated card with cursive letters to each desk for reference. They are required by our school handbook to use cursive in all their work once they learn it - so basically starting with third grade. It is very slow going the first month, but eventually they catch on and are writing faster and more fluently. My fourth graders really encourage them because they remember how hard it was and know how easy it is for them now.

I have worked with students who have dyslexia and have heard and seen how cursive can be a benefit to them. Brain research articles I've read have supported this.

I am intrigued by the idea of learning cursive in kindergarten and have a few questions. I am wondering what alphabet you hang on your bulletin boards in kindergarten? Also, is all reading and writing done in cursive? What progression of letters to you teach? Is there a curriculum or are books available specifically for use with kindergarten? Do you use triangular or extra wide (Laddie) pencils?

Thanks - I'd love to learn more about this!

Thanks so much for this information. I am a kindergarten teacher and love to idea of teaching cursive writing. Most kindergarten teachers at my school are afraid. Learning to write in cursive is a big thrill for kindergarten and they really try hard to produce. Writing in cursive is exciting to 5 and 6 year olds. Our over seers say to spend that time on common core standards and thats what we do. The day will come when cursive writing will no longer be left out of the curriculum.

As a retired third grade teacher, I taught cursive for fifteen years in California. Year after year I saw children struggle with it. My four grandchildren all attended Carolina Day School and learned cursive early. It did not appear to be a struggle for any of them. I also saw how cursive increased their fluency in writing by first grade. They could put their thoughts on paper more quickly, and consequently are very prolific writers today. I wish more schools would introduce cursive at this young age. IT MAKES SENSE!!

Hi, I'm an academic coordinator in a bilingual school in Guadalajara, Mexico, we use cursive from the first grade of preschool to 9th grade, it is a fact that we use the right part of our brain to create, things like drawing which means writing cursive letter and the left side to understand and use the abstract things like knowledge, ideas, thoughts, so when people write using cursive both sides of our brain are in use for one activity, the usage of knowledge or academic content and the creativity to write the cursive letter, so I really appreciate your article of and I not just agree with the use of cursive but encorage it too! Thanks

I teach 5th grade. In our district, cursive is taught in 3rd grade. It used to be supported (with practice books) in 4h, but those are no longer supplied.

Since the NJ ASK does not REQUIRE cursive, I no longer require it on a daily basis. I do, however, require that they write their first and last name in cursive (at this time they still need a signature).

I do require that they use cursive for the final copy of a writing piece.

Yesterday I had a student melt down over cursive. The opinion piece that he handed in was greatly abbreviated from his rough draft. It was also illegible. I sent him home to redo it, in print.

I received no support from the basic skills teacher. She actually questioned me on why I required cursive.

This saddens me.

I also must mention that I have only 1 computer in my classroom and that the school has only 1 cart of iPads. Our technology (that is required by the CCSS is greatly limited)

Thank you, Brian, for your concern over this hot topic.

Thanks for reading and taking the time comment. It is a total shame that you lack technology but it also makes the point that just because the technology is available, not everyone has access to it. It is sad that the 4th grade support books aren't supplied any longer but with educational cuts that isn't a surprise. The sad part is that if the skill of cursive is taught in 3rd grade but never required again then we have wasted the time that it took to teach it. It can be hard for some students and I appreciate that you allow those students to do their work in print but having the rest of the class practice cursive is the only way for it to get better and be a skill that they willingly use when it isn't required.

Great post Brian! Cursive has so many benefits, and I'm definitely planning on incorporating it into some of my pull-out lessons. I'd love to see how this can help some of my kids with their "b" and "d" confusion!

If you need help with resources for the pull-out lessons, just let me know! This is a great idea.

Many years ago I taught Kindergarten (Reception) in a London school. Cursive was how they were taught to form letters from day one. Most letters started at the line and ended at the line. Each one was separated. While it was confusing at first and there were some odd looking letters as they learned, by second grade these children wrote good cursive. It also eliminated problems like mixing d and b. Today I find many children come into school only writing capital letters, and forming them incorrectly. I teach lower case first.

Hi Christina
I find that many of my students come to school only writing capital letters and forming them incorrectly also. I have always thought that it was due to lack of true instruction and the student mimicking what they have seen. Through the comments on the post and on Facebook, I have come to believe that teaching cursive to Kindergarten can be difficult but is possible and does have some positive outcomes. One question that I now have (and have seen others post on Facebook) is how did students do with reading print if they were learning to write in cursive?

You've really hit on a hot topic here! I teach 2nd and 3rd graders in Denver and we spend time on both printing instruction for 2nd graders and cursive for 3rd graders. It is a rite of passage and my third graders are getting very excited to try for their 'cursive licenses'. We don't make them go to the DMV, but they do have to take a test showing they know how to form all the letters. Then, they get an actual license with their photo on it and everything. I agree with many other posters that some fluency and reversal issues can be corrected by introducing cursive. Also, I think that since the capital cursive letters look very different than the lower case letters, many of my less careful writers are more apt to write capital letters that actually look like capital letters. I'm not feeling pressure from my district to do away with cursive instruction, but if I did, I think I would still find a way to squeeze it in! Thanks for opening the discussion. It's great to hear support for cursive instruction from so many different teachers.

Hi Diana!
I LOVE the idea of the DMV license and really making it rite of passage. Cursive really was one of the great rites of passage in my education because it was a big change or shift in how we learned and communicated. I'm so glad that some teachers are still teaching it!

I am a third grade teacher and still teach cursive. Like you mentioned in the article, students look forward to this "grown up" way of writing. In response to a question about left handed students, I don't know if cursive is necessarily harder for them but my students who are left handed do have messier handwriting but that goes with manuscript too. When teaching left handed students, they have to hold their paper differently (slant it the opposite way than the right handed students) and they have to be careful of smudging their work when writing with pencil. My students learn the keys of legibility - shape, size, slant, and spacing - and the importance of neat cursive handwriting. I enjoy teaching it and it's a valid skill to learn at some point in school.

Thanks for responding to the left handed question and I'm so glad to hear that kids still love it as much as I did. I love the alliteration of your keys of legibility. Thanks for reading!

This week my child brought home his spelling test with all the words written in print except one word that had two b's in it was written in cursive! A cleaver student who listened to his AWESOME tutor!

I love this story! I feel like this may be the ultimate testimonial for making sure that every student has exposure to cursive and opportunities to practice using it so that they can use it when it's most advantageous for them. Thank you SO much for reading!

Schools where I teach have not focused on penmanship or correct letter formation for many years. We have children entering first grade that write using all capitals because they have had no formal instruction in kindergarten and, most often, it is how their parents write. As a first grade teacher, it is hard to un-teach their bad habits and re-teach correct letter formation. Our grade level decided to teach block printing, but many teachers do not emphasize care, neatness or accuracy when printing. I have also taught D'Nealian to first graders and find that they enjoy it more, put more effort into neat work and have more pride in their work because it is "like the grown ups writing". Yes, Brian, cursive is still relevant and valuable! I agree with the others, to make connections, to better remember ideas, to help them to present their own ideas and to assist in development!

Hi Nancy.
Thanks for reading. I have always loved the idea of teaching D'Nealian but will admit that I've only thought about it in relation to how it should make learning cursive easier in older grades. But, in today's educational environment I'm wondering if there would be a happy compromise where D'Nealian is taught. Do you think it's close enough to cursive so that students could read cursive if they had been taught D'Nealian? Since I've never taught it, I thought I'd ask.

Yes, I do think it could be a compromise. Kids are more interested in reading the writing of others because their writing looks different, thus leading to more reading and possibly more writing! Think I'm going to go back to D'Nealian in the fall and really look at how my students' learning may change as a result of their penmanship.

I would LOVE to hear how that goes and after all these comments and the Facebook conversations I've had and have read I will be looking into how my teaching D'Nealian or cursive in the fall. I will have to see how it aligns with my districts standards.

How easy cursive writing for left handed children? How to teach them?

This is a great question! I don't have any experience with this so maybe another reader will be able to shed some light on this. Thanks for asking and I hope we get an answer!

Should students learn to keyboard for their futures even though there are continual improvements in voice recognition? Should they continue to take time out from their regular curriculum to learn cursive in elementary school? Should they practice printing? Should they learn to keyboard on a traditional qwerty keyboard or using thumbs like on a phone? Some of the above? All the above?

My two cents:
CURSIVE: Which profession is known to have the worst handwriting? (doctors, I think) and Which profession do many consider to be the most intelligent ? (again, doctors are among these). Students should at least be able to decipher cursive - an engaging activity might be to decipher cursive love letters or war letters or letters from Grandma. Students who really want to learn cursive to develop their own artistic style could join an after-school Cursive Club. Students who despise cursive writing or for who it hinders expression of ideas should learn to cursive-write their full name but not be forced to write using cursive. For writing in cursive or printing (instead of keyboarding) gives students more chance to think while they are writing because it's slower. While schools are abandoning lessons on handwriting in favor of technology, I still think it still has a place. Handwriting has been shown to improve motor skills and cognitive development, allowing students to slow down and process their thoughts. Writing by hand is a form of art that should not be sacrificed to technology.
Students who prefer cursive writing, including those with dyslexia for whom it may be helpful, could be using a digital tablet with a pen to write in cursive to express their ideas - it is said to give many students more chance to think while they are writing than keyboarding because it's slower.

TEXTING & KEYBOARDING: Learning the thumb method of typing is great when using a phone, but not good for a tablet, laptop or desktop. We don't teach kids how to correctly text but they pick it up quickly because they enjoying communicating with their friends. The students are engaged and texting is relevant to their lives so the skills improve with practice on their own. How many adults have you heard say that they wished they learned to type properly when they were younger. I've heard lots. It's nice to give them the opportunity to learn in school. A friend recently said that it was the ONLY useful skill they learned in high school. I think we need to continue to teach keyboarding skills for now, and continue to re-evaluate.

I wonder how our students will write in their futures... and the question is, how we can best prepare them for how they will communicate in the future?

You make some great points. I love that your bring up the technology that still requires a signature. Speaking to the thumb method, I picked it up really quickly (which kind of shocked me that I was able to do it at all) but I feel like that was because I know the QWERTY keyboard to begin with so I whole heartedly agree about teaching keyboarding skills early is important as well. Thanks for providing such thought provoking comments!

A few years ago, Indiana passed a law that would not require cursive to be taught- but most districts decided to teach it anyway.

For me, I feel that students need to be able to read cursive- written, and in fonts- and that becomes much easier when they learn to write it. Some students can write neater in print and others can write neater in cursive, too, so I like giving them another possible option to write legibly. And perhaps most importantly, cursive has been repeatedly shown to help with brain development. Taking notes in cursive can help the brain draw more connections and better remember ideas, because you tend to think in "words" more than individual letters.

Of course we're running short on time, and technology standards are important for our students, too. But cursive isn't obsolete yet- I find myself reading or writing cursive on a regular basis.

There's some more discussion to this here: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive

Thanks for the comment. I hadn't even thought about the cursive fonts. What a great point. I love that you pointed out that taking notes in cursive can help us draw more connections. Can't wait to check out the link you shared.

Years ago I worked in the offices of A Beka Book publications, the leading Christian school curriculum publisher. I believe it was 1993 or 1994 that they began to offer the pre-K and Kindergarten writing materials in cursive. I still have saved the Blumenfeld education letter and other resources that we had explaining why the switch to cursive. In the early days of our nation's history, there was no such thing as the "ball-and-stick" printing. That's why the founding fathers had such beautiful penmanship. Learning to print first actually is harder because no young child can make perfect circles and straight lines, and as mentioned in the article, the start-stop of printing. Cursive is much easier for their little fingers, and they are not learning bad habits from printing which often makes cursive sloppier when they learn it later on in school. They have used it successfully for the last twenty years or so. I am now a preschool director, and I definitely am in favor of teaching cursive and teaching it early on.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. This is something that I've noticed for the last couple years and then looking into the research, I really was amazed at how beneficial writing in cursive can be for students. I hate to see all tradition go out the window just because it's been around a long time and people think it's time for something new. I do believe there is a value to cursive writing and the research is supporting that.

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