Debunking Pro-Cursive Arguments

On the web-site for Falconhouse Grammar School in Karachi, Pakistan I noted every frequently claimed benefit of conventional cursive.
“The Mental Benefits of Cursive”

These are the benefits listed: “Ideation, Grammar, Text production, Self-monitoring, Punctuation, Orthographic-motor integration, Planning, Evaluation Spelling.” All are accomplished with any writing by hand.

If by “cursive” the reference is to the currently recognized method of forming letters that employ various strokes to connect all lowercase letters within words, “The Mental Benefits of Cursive” have yet to be proved by research. There are other methods that cursively form letters going back in history to the Romans who gave us the western alphabet.

“Five Reasons Cursive Writing Should be Taught in School”

Reasons listed: “Cursive develops motor skills, Cursive reinforces learning, Cursive helps students with disabilities, Cursive is an art form, Cursive connects students to the past.”

Again, these reasons apply to any method of forming letters. The cursive method remains unproved in actual research, and may or may not ever be proved. I’ll comment on two of the reasons:

Development of motor skills. There is almost no attention given to motor skills in handwriting instruction, at least in the United States. I have been fortunate to be associated with a school that employs many pre-writing activities. It is critical that children’s hands and fingers develop the ability to hold a writing tool in a relaxed manner for ease of writing and legibility at age-appropriate speed.

Handwritten connection to the past takes scholars far back in history, and beyond the cursive commonly known today.

“Research Shows the Value of learning Cursive”

Studies and articles are not true research. Only the last statement has been proved, and here there is no specific reference to cursive: “The regions of the brain are…activated during handwriting but not during typing.”

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, Older Students & Adults, Pen/Pencil Hold, Physical comfort, Posture, research | Leave a comment |
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Something to Look for in Cursive

No, not cursive italic! I refer to the cursive that is in danger of disuse.

Recently I saw an image online of conventional cursive that was intended to demonstrate its value. A flaw came to my attention that said problem! All the letters within words were properly joined, but they did not consistently rest on the baseline. The sample was legible, but running off the baseline is one negative factor in the best legibility. As one follows the rule to join all letters within words it is common for hands to drag on the writing surface, pulling letters off the baseline and distorting shapes, size and slant.

In the old days students were taught to write with whole arm motion. Only the ring and little finger rode along the writing surface. That is not a common posture now, and more of the writing movement is in the hand.

Italic does not really lift the hand between letters. Rather it drifts on and off the page, with letters that conform best to natural movements of the hand and fingers. The movements are rhythmic to keep writing on the baseline even when the paper is unlined.

All this should be considered when a school or parent selects a handwriting program.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, Older Students & Adults, Posture, Rhythmic Movement | Leave a comment |
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Joyful Learning

This comes from NPR today: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain

Apparently there will be more on the subject this week—from 8/6/2014

As stated herein before, we should leave forming letters and numerals until kids are ready. Their hands and fingers need to develop so they can hold a pencil in a relaxed manner when it’s time to write. That comes from play. Scribble, yes. And provide any other stuff that leads to picking it up, holding, moving, pushing or squeezing it with thumb and index finger.

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Pre-Writing Activities

Recently I observed a half hour Kindergarten handwriting class. It was exceptional! It was all about hand and finger strengthening and finger positioning as it applies to holding a writing tool. No letters. No numbers.

1) Lacing: Thread colored yarn through plastic shapes with holes in them, a triangle, circle, heart, etc.

2) Floam: a playdoh-like material. The children were asked to make a platypus, but could make something else if they wished.

3) Cutting: Small rectangles of paper had lines on them. The object was to cut on the lines, stopping where the lines stopped.

4) Tweezers: Plastic tweezers held with thumb and index finger were used to pick up tiny plastic carrots and put them on a rabbit’s mouth, bananas for a monkey and fish for a lake.

5) Rubbing: Paper was placed on textured plastic squares and children used a short crayon to make rubbings.

6) Hole punch: Holes were punched into paper.

7: Template: A template (butterfly) was placed on top of paper for the child to color.

Each child had a pre-writing project. Some squeezed a hole punch, making a lovely mess on the floor. Some used tweezers to pick up tiny fish to put in a lake (the lake was a little landscape drawing.) There were seven different activities, so the children could do one and then move on to another. Every child was having a great time.

Afterwards one of the teachers emailed me. Her comment, “It was a joy to see the children so engaged and appropriately challenged.”

Young hands need preparation for writing. Learning 62 legible characters is a task for little hands. They try. If young hands are not sufficiently developed to hold a pencil comfortably, children will work on the shapes with tight, tense fists. Among educators and parents demand is high and correct that young children learn their abc’s, but we need to look ahead to the future of these students.

Inefficient death gripes on pencils and pens cannot yield the fluency students need in later academic years and careers. Legible writing will be slow and possibly painful. Not a problem in the age of technology? Yes, it is! It’s proven that notes taken by hand provide the best way to retain information.

Posted in Beginners, Education, Pen/Pencil Hold | 1 Comment |
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Always Something New to Learn!

I relearned something! I say relearned because several years ago Dr. Rosemary Sassoon, a renowned handwriting expert and author of numerous books on the subject, told me, “Don’t trace.” Sounded good, but how to teach children to write without a model? I still use a model, but try to keep tracing to a bare minimum. Now after reading these three paragraphs in the New York Times article, mentioned in my last blog, Take Care with Cursive, I’ll change my ways.

“A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

“The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

“By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.”

I won’t throw the model out all together, but it won’t get introduced until children learn the alphanumeric characters. It should not be hard to show a letter with a little verbal instruction about where to start making it. I don’t want letters to start at the bottom if they should start at the top, and neither should any teacher.

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Take Care with Cursive

Recently there was an excellent article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?hp&_r=1

If you are concerned about handwriting instruction, take care with what they say about cursive. Read, listen and view everything thoughtfully, analytically. The NYT article is frequently misquoted elsewhere, including Time magazine, to indicate support for conventional cursive instruction. So far NO research has been done to prove any method of writing by hand is better than any other.

If you have visited here before you know I believe that the italic method is best, but I can only relate my experience, I cannot prove its superiority.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, cursive, Education, News, Older Students & Adults, research | Leave a comment |
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Kindergarten and Thereafter

Recently I observed a half hour Kindergarten handwriting class. It was exceptional! It was all about hand and finger strengthening and finger positioning as it applies to holding a writing tool. No letters. No numbers.

Each child had a pre-writing project. Some squeezed a hole punch, making a lovely mess on the floor. Some used tweezers to pick up tiny fish to put in a lake (the lake was a little landscape drawing.) There were seven different activities, so the children could do one and then move on to another. Every child was having a great time.

Afterwards one of the teachers emailed me. Her comment, “It was a joy to see the children so engaged and appropriately challenged.”

Young hands need preparation for writing. Learning 62 legible characters is a task for little hands. They try. If young hands are not sufficiently developed to hold a pencil comfortably, children will work on the shapes with tight, tense fists. Among educators and parents demand is high and correct that young children learn their abc’s, but we need to look ahead to the future of these students.

Inefficient death gripes on pencils and pens cannot yield the fluency students need in later academic years and careers. Legible writing will be slow and possibly painful. Not a problem in the age of technology? Yes, it is! It’s proven that notes taken by hand provide the best way to retain information.

Posted in All ages, Beginners, Education, Older Students & Adults, Pen/Pencil Hold, Physical comfort, Posture | Leave a comment |
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The Reason to teach handwriting.

Better, it should be the reason to teach fluent handwriting.
Please see this article in the Washington Post. It’s what has always seemed logical to me, but now there is proof. As you read the article note the word, “longhand,” meaning ordinary handwriting. No specific alphabet is mentioned, but I imagine many who took notes by hand used their own personal interpretation of print-like writing—a hybrid. Print was what they first learned, and we naturally go back to what was first learned, making some changes for better speed.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/04/28/why-students-using-laptops-learn-less-in-class-even-when-they-really-are-taking-notes/

If a writer successfully changes up his print writing by adding a few joins, it often will have a strong resemblance to cursive italic. Why not insure success by starting with italic?

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A Child’s Writing Tool

If you want to write fluently your hand and fingers need to relax. Some have unorthodox pen holds that work, but most are inefficient and too tight to allow easy movement. I just discovered Twist ’n Write, an ergonomic, automatic pencil. It’s small enough for a young child’s hand.

I tried it out with a couple of First Graders who looked at it, thought it was weird, tried it out and then declared it cool. “Where did you get it?” “I want one!” The fingers are guided to a traditional tripod hold. One child discovered that part of the handle is an eraser.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with the company. I just want to share what I think is a great tool.

Posted in Beginners, cursive, Education, Pen/Pencil Hold, Physical comfort | 1 Comment |
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A Versitile App

Eden tells me that she bought the app, Letters Make Words, to help her write when using a stylus on her iPad. I designed the app for young, beginning writers, and never thought that it might help adults as well.AppIcon

 

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