Saturday, November 8, 2014


How often do you write by hand these days, apart from quickly scribbled notes? When did you last write a real letter by hand, a structured letter in paragraphs with a clear theme? I must admit that, even if I write more than ever before, it is almost completely digital and my handwritten efforts are limited to short reminder notes or when my laptop runs out of battery power at a conference. I generally print rather than the cursive style I learnt in school. There's also the problem that many young people won't be able to read my cursive handwriting. As schools become increasingly digital the amount of handwriting decreases and when it does occur it is in the form of printed text. In China, India and the Islamic world handwriting is an art form and ornamental writing is an integral part of buildings and monuments. Are we in the west losing this art form as we abandon cursive handwriting for the keyboard and touchscreen? Should schools continue to teach handwriting, in particular cursive, and what are the benefits?

This is discussed in an article on Mind/Shift, Cursive, Print, or Type? The Point is To Keep Writing. It seems there is no conclusive evidence that cursive has any advantages over print in terms of children's learning development and that the arguments in favour of teaching cursive revolve mostly around heritage and the ability to read old documents.

All of the researchers NPR spoke with agree that cursive is good, but none would argue that it is better or more important than printing. The evidence just isn’t there. As long as children are writing in school, it doesn’t really matter if the letters curl and connect. So, problem solved. Or is it?

I believe that handwriting should be taught in school, at least as backup when your digital device won't work, but the form is less important than the process of writing. Maybe cursive will disappear completely from the school curriculum but it would be tragic to lose the skill completely. Maybe we should move it into the art classroom as calligraphy. Being able to create a beautifully formed text in ink is as rewarding as making a sketch or a painting. Cursive may no longer be a standard for written communication but it is still unquestionably the most expressive form of writing. So much of the writer's state of mind and personality is displayed in their cursive handwriting (you're welcome to analyse my writing in the photo above) and it would be sad to lose such insights. Ironic therefore that this form of self-expression is dying in an age that otherwise is characterised by self-expression.

One curious paradox of digitalisation is that at a time when we all use keyboards every day almost no-one learns to type properly. Why don't kids learn to touchtype? When I see older colleagues with typing skills write a text at lightening speed I realize how inefficient my own halting style is. However the main conclusion from all this is well summed up in the article. The most important thing is that children write as often as possible, though the form of that writing may not be so important.

“If we expect kids to develop mastery in anything and develop fluency in anything, they have to be doing it on a regular basis,” says Scott Beers, who teaches education at Seattle Pacific University.
That’s true not just in kindergarten or first grade, but in grade after grade. Focus on handwriting early and often, experts say, print or cursive or both. Then, as kids’ brains develop, gently lay the groundwork for typing.

No comments:

Post a Comment