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Writing on the wall

Is cursive handwriting on the outs in local schools?

Published: Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 10:57 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 1:17 p.m. CST
Caption
(CNA photo by BAILEY POOLMAN)
Keyana Leith-Peterson writes a paragraph about rocks in Joni Gillam's second-grade class at Creston Elementary School today.

Is it “write” or wrong to teach cursive writing during school hours?

It has become apparent that some schools are phasing out cursive so more technology classes such as keyboarding can be taught.

“I think you’re going to see some focus on that next year in legislature in Iowa,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa. “It’s very concerning.”

Iowa adopted Common Core, a curriculum standards initiative, in July 2010 and blended it with the state’s current education standards to produce Iowa Core. In the standards, handwriting is required to be taught, but cursive writing is never directly mentioned. According to Staci Hupp, Iowa Department of Education communications director, that leaves cursive writing decisions up to local school districts.

Cursive

Scott Driskell, Creston Elementary School principal, said cursive writing is still taught at Creston Schools, but not to the extent it used to be.

“So many people communicate through technology that cursive isn’t as valued as much in the scheme of where we’re at, educationally speaking,” said Driskell.

Diagonal School District is an example of where technology is used daily.

“All of our sixth- through 12th-grade (students) have their own computers,” said Diagonal Superintendent Karleen Stephens, “so all of their assignments are done by computers.

Younger Diagonal students use portable laptops, but Stephens said cursive is still taught at the school district.

“We do both,” Stephens said. “We teach manuscript, which is the traditional printing, and then at the end of second grade, they learn cursive and practice that through the elementary. And then, (they learn) keyboarding.”

Gaps

Because technology is so widely used, cursive writing is taught in less depth and is no longer an expectation, according to Driskell. However, he also said there needs to be a transition period.

“There are gaps. That’s why we’re hesitant to move completely away from cursive writing,” Driskell said. “Generationally speaking, that type of writing is going to be less used.”

Driskell said he knew of several fourth-grade students who text on cellphones and communicate on the Internet using social networks such as Twitter.

“It’s one of those catch 22s. You only have so many hours in the day and you have to make educational decisions,” said Driskell. “And, cursive writing has fallen to the wayside.”

Stephens said even though cursive writing is taught at Diagonal Schools, she is unsure for how much longer.

“Even though we teach it in the elementary, once they get to middle school and high school, they do so much on the computer. And, what they do write by hand, they tend to go back to printing,” said Stephens. “So, we ask ourselves oftentimes, is this the best way to spend our learning time?”

Stephens also said she can empathize with struggling school districts making educational decisions based on time in the classroom, as well as the communities surrounding school districts who remain traditional in their educational views.

“Communities feel bad when tried and true things go away, and I understand that. But, for now, it’s an important skill. ... If nothing else, I think it’s good for fine motor (skills).”

Phonetics

Phonetics, the study of speech sounds, is comparable to cursive writing in that, according to Hupp, Iowa Core requires schools to teach students different phonetic skills, but is not specific on how schools should teach those skills.

“You have to have good understandings as to what methods work and are effective, and we use research based strategies,” Driskell said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to teach a lot of things and you might as well use your time teaching methods you know work.”

Phonetics focuses on younger students who are still learning the basics of general education classes such as language arts.

“Generally, when they get past second or third grade, they don’t need as much phonics,” Hupp said.

Stephens said teachers in Diagonal still use phonetic skills in reading.

“We have never, ever walked away from phonics,” said Stephens. “We think kids have to have a command of phonetic awareness.”

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