Is Cursive Obsolete?

In the news this week, Indiana’s Department of Education announced that schools would no longer need to teach cursive penmanship in schools. They would, however, let schools decide for themselves. It’s part of the common-core curriculum to phase out cursive in favor of digital skills. I disagree.

According to the WSJ, which has a good piece on writing in cursive, it’s still an important and relevant skill. It’s even good for aging adults and helps with learning, memory, and ideation. Ironically, the article cites a study in favor of cursive writing from Indiana University.

There are several debates going on.

One is that teachers who do believe in cursive, have certain preferences as to what ‘style’ of cursive is being taught. Now that, to me, is simply a debate about aesthetic preferences. We do no write in the same script Thomas Jefferson did when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The second debate is whether or not cursive writing itself is irrelevant. Some educators believe it should go the way of the dodo bird. Others, like me, believe it should be taught. I have no problems with children reverting back to printing later on.

For struggling writers, cursive allows them to be more fluent and thus lets their ideas flow on the page more readily. If you integrate penmanship with other literacy activities, the formation of letters really does make a difference in the way kids retain information. Even in a one-to-one laptop school, teachers ask children to write a lot by hand (journals, responses to prompts, note taking, etc.). My school is not a one-to-one school, and I don’t think it needs to be. Pre-K students do not need their own devices. The ‘worry’ about kids not being able to type is a silly one. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in college (yes, I know I didn’t need it in the era I grew up), but with a simple software tool, I taught myself and was typing about 90 words a minute in two weeks.

Sure, I barely use cursive now. Emails, these blog posts, report cards, texting, etc. are all part of today’s reality. And it depends on the situation. On my laptop, I’ll type. But even on my Ipad, I prefer using a stylus and taking notes by hand, even though my cursive (once beautiful) is barely legible.

Kids will drop cursive writing if they see its need go away , but that’s not the point. It’s what they’re learning simultaneously when engaged in learning cursive. Purposeful formation of letters has to have some intrinsic value, let alone stimulate all kinds of connections in the brain. When, for example, do we stop teaching kids how to tell time on an analog clock? Even though I haven’t worn a watch in the past 6 to 7 years, I hope the answer is never. If nothing else, reading dials is an important skill.

Will a simple handwritten note look like hieroglyphics to the next generation?

Will I Pay for the Gray Lady?

This past week, the New York Times revealed its plan to charge consumers for its content. It’s continues to be an interesting time for newspaper organizations who cannot survive on advertising revenue alone. The quality of the content is what separates whether something is worth paying for or not – regardless what niche that is, be it news, education, or something else.

I  continue to have many thoughts about blogging. These thoughts or dilemas were summed up nicely in an article by Jonathan Martin, a head of school in AZ. Titled, “Dilemas and Tensions of Blogging: Learning From Montaigne“. He identifies the following as two dilemas that stand out:

  • “the tension of publishing “polished,” pretty, and beautifully composed pieces meant for wide public consumption vs. writing off the top of my head, providing transparent “think-out-loud” pieces sharing what is very much a thinking work in progress.
  • the competing values of modesty and humility in expression vs. the desire to take strong and vigorous positions on issues of educational best practice.”

I don’t get paid for blogging. I do it for many of the reasons Martin lists in his article: “Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 Reasons“. I don’t have editors, and sometimes when I go and re-read an older post I wrote, I wish  I did. If you want quality journalism, the reporters and writers who do it for a living, need to be paid. The reason why Wikipedia works, is because it is simply a collection (for the most part) of facts. It lacks analysis, evaluation, and quality writing – something I’d be willing to pay for.

The NYTimes metered pay-wall model is an interesting one, though. Can a digital subscription be shared in a household like a physical paper? Is the app version of the content going to be so superior to the website, that it’s worth $240 more a year to read it on my phone and tablet via an app? Then there’s the dilema of subscribing to the paper edition, which for new subscribers, is offered at 50% off the newsstand price for the first 12 weeks. The paper subscription will give you full access to any form of the digital content including the app versions. If you only subscribe to the M-F edition, it actually works out to just about $15 a month, same as the basic digital plan. You end up with the app versions for less, but you also end up with a lot of paper to recycle each week (at least for the first 12 weeks). I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m interested in how this will play out.

For those who read my blog, thanks for putting up with the flaws in my writing and opinions. I’m just happy you visited.

Still Learning How to Make Every Word Count

Most innovations come about as a solution to fulfilling a need or solving a problem, usually making something more efficient and simple. I have yet to find a tweak to simplifying the process of writing narrative report cards. Capturing a child’s progress is not a simple task.

This time of year, most teachers have plenty of observational notes, anecdotes, assessment data, and student work which they refer in order to 1) communicate a child’s progress to a parent, and 2) have a written record of it. Because each child is unique, each narrative also has to be. Taking all that information, synthesizing and organizing is not an easy task (at least not for me).

In addition, I also find writing mid-year reports more difficult because you’re referring to a child’s past and present performance, and also suggesting what you and the child’s family can do to help their child grow in the near future. Trying to keep all those tenses and modes in check is not one of my strengths. I also struggle with using the active voice consistently. It feels too direct sometimes. Finally, there’s the use of commas, hyphens, and other punctuation dilemmas. Do you hyphenate the term high-frequency words? I’ve seen it both ways in published books. I think it’s a compound adjective, and turning to Strunk and White, they say that a hyphen is “usually required.” They don’t give an example of when it’s not.

Nonetheless, narratives are important ways to communicate progress, and I haven’t figured out how to make it simpler. A checklist, boiler plate paragraph, letter grade, or numerical score is simpler, but doesn’t capture the child in the same way.

This article in yesterday’s New York Times talks about innovation coming from do-it-yourselfers eager to share their tweaks freely online. This being a change from innovations usually coming from large consumer companies. Unfortunately, none of the innovations referred to in the article were related to writing progress reports. It does link to an interesting innovation: how you can make your own $10,000 book scanner for $300. In a way, the internet can be a source for collaborative design thinking.

Narrative reports are a lot of work, but I’m glad I’m not at a school that simply hands out letter grades based on test scores simply because it’s an expedient way to sort kids. Still, if there are any innovations out there on this process, I’m all ears.