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Why Cursive?

Mar 25, 2019

by Jackie Thomas

At Horizon Academy, we teach our students cursive. They learn it in the classroom, during Orton-Gillingham lessons, handwriting groups and during direct Occupational Therapy services. They practice until proficient enough to use cursive exclusively in the classroom. There is always a debate among professionals as to whether students should be writing in print, cursive or exclusively keyboarding.  

Cursive has an interesting history. The first form of cursive began in the 8th century, evolved into italic calligraphy and then slowly changed into the modern cursive we know now. Cursive was utilized when writing with a quill and ink, since people did not lift their hands off the paper. Cursive’s use began to fade with the invention of the ballpoint pen and printing press. The ballpoint pen allowed the writer to lift their hand more often and with the printing press, it was much harder to divide cursive words than print. Print was not taught in schools until the 1940’s. Just think of the difference between our handwriting and our grandparents beautiful script.

Most people think that cursive is more difficult to learn than print, but this is not true.  

  • Cursive requires less fine motor skill.
  • All lowercase letters begin in the same place.
  • Spacing within and between words is standard.
  • Cursive is faster than print since you do not have to lift your pencil off the paper as often.

Cursive also gives students a clearer understanding of how letters are formed, which will in turn improve their print writing as well. For example, in cursive the lowercase letters “b” and “d” look nothing alike, yet they are commonly confused in print. This exemplifies why cursive is very beneficial for students with dyslexia or dysgraphia. Studies have also shown that students who use cursive rather than print score better on reading and spelling test because the connected letters of cursive force them to think of words as wholes instead of as parts. The continuous flow also helps students develop muscle memory for the letters, leading to improved writing speed and spelling. A faster writing speed has also been shown to increase attention span during writing.

With technology becoming more prominent in our everyday world, many think that teaching keyboarding skills should be a primary focus. Horizon Academy does teach keyboarding to all elementary and middle school students, and some high school students. It is an important skill for life, but is it more beneficial for learning? Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, found that when students composed text by hand they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but they expressed more ideas. “Pictures of brain activity have illustrated that sequential finger movements used in handwriting activated massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory. Handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential finger strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding only involves touching a key.” Research shows that students in a classroom learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Writing by hand allows the student to process the content and reframe it, which is a process of reflection and editing that can lead to better understanding and memory of the content taught.  

William R. Klemm, a professor in neuroscience wrote in 2013 Psychology Today that learning cursive builds self-confidence, self-discipline and attention and memory skills.  An extra bonus is that it will give a student an attractive, legible signature that they can use for the rest of their lives.

Many of my students ask “Why do we have to write in cursive and not print?” It is because, at Horizon Academy, we want our students to have the tools necessary to succeed in education and in life and this includes writing in cursive.