Typing vs. Cursive in Elementary Schools

by Julie Alice Huson Google

    Cursive writing vs. printing until recently was debated by teachers in elementary schools. Recently, however, with the wide adoption of new educational standards that will measure student achievement by computer testing, experts are making a case for a greater emphasis on keyboard practice, although there are compelling reasons to not discard cursive handwriting instruction completely.

    New Assessments Require Keyboard Skills

    As the new Common Core standards for the early grades are becoming more widespread, the technology-based method for assessing student learning is causing some states to rethink cursive instruction in favor of keyboarding. The Common Core does not explicitly require cursive instruction in schools, though some research shows that improved handwriting skills have benefits for brain development and motor skills, and can also lead to improved writing and reading skills. Some research that makes a case for cursive instruction is being promoted by Zaner-Bloser, a provider of handwriting instructional materials to numerous school districts. The researchers, however, acknowledge that cursive is "not required for academic success," and that "children can get by in the real world without cursive." Additionally, standardized tests, such as the ACT, do not require students to use cursive for written sections.

    The Case For Touch Typing

    Most students can use a keyboard, so does it matter how they type? Yes, reports the "MIT Technology Review." Keyboard skills allow us "to write without thinking about how we are writing," reports Anne Trubeck, author of "A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses." She maintains that competent keyboard practice frees writers to focus on writing and on ideas. "Touch typing is an example of cognitive automaticity, the ability to do things without conscious attention or awareness," she writes. "Automaticity takes a burden off our working memory, allowing us more space for higher-order thinking."

    The Case For Cursive

    A major argument in favor of cursive instruction is made by researchers who present evidence that "to write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers." "Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it. They have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding," writes William Klemm, a professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University. The Virginia Department of Education recommends cursive handwriting for the following reasons: "Students learn cursive in order to be able to read primary source documents; it helps students distinguish letters; and cursive writing facilitates the reading of words and sentences." Many states are studying the issue; several states, including California, Georgia and Massachusetts, have added a cursive requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii, have left it as optional for school districts.

    Cursive Likely to Get Minor Role

    Ultimately, educators and researchers come to no specific conclusion, although school funding and computer assessments seem likely to relegate cursive to a minor role in elementary school instruction. "The medium of writing remains less important than actual analytical process of composing thoughts into words," says Professor Steve Graham of Vanderbilt University. “When you do that writing activity, you’re going to make decisions to organize ideas to put material down on paper,” he says. “Those active ingredients for a writing activity have nothing to do with cursive, writing, manuscript or keyboard.” It appears that the next conversation for the culture will most likely raise disagreement on touch screens vs. touch typing rather than cursive vs. computer keyboard.

    About the Author

    Julie Alice Huson is an educator and curriculum writer. She holds a master's degree in education and a teaching degree. Huson has written for California's Department of Education, Colonial Williamsburg, and her articles have appeared in "Teaching Tolerance" and "Teaching Citizenship." Huson was a Fulbright researcher in 2012 in Sheffield, England where she wrote and distributed curriculum for schools on immigration issues.

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