Cursive gets a reprieve, but teachers debate usefulness
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.
When the Department of Education asked Floridians to weigh in on the state’s English standards, residents roundly objected to one potential omission: cursive.
The benchmark for forming those loopy letters does not appear in Common Core, the educational standards Florida had planned to fully adopt next school year.
But now that state education officials have decided to amend the Common Core to become the Florida Standards, cursive likely will remain in the plans.
“It is kind of a lost art, I think,” said Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent for curriculum, student services and instructional support for Alachua County Public Schools.
Critics balked at the necessity of students continuing to learn cursive as education moves into the digital world.
On top of the argument that students no longer write essays by hand, lessening the need for good penmanship, standardized tests are being administered on the computer for increasingly younger students, making the cursive benchmark a difficult one to assess.
Clarke said the writing benchmarks at the elementary school level are important because students need to learn how to write legibly.
But now that students take the tests sitting at a computer, “how would you assess cursive writing on the FCAT? That would be hard to do,” she said.
The proposal to include cursive in the Florida Standards mirrors the current Sunshine State Standards for cursive that the state uses today: Students should begin learning cursive in third grade and write legibly and fluently in cursive by fifth grade.
Because students’ penmanship prowess isn’t tested on a statewide exam, however, some teachers have dropped cursive writing from their curriculum altogether.
Diana Davis has taught elementary school for 35 years and says she’ll never drop cursive from her lesson plans.
“Maybe people don’t use it as much, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taught,” she said.
Davis, who currently teaches third grade at Hidden Oak Elementary, said she noticed a shift with the advent of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test more than a decade ago.
Teachers had so much material that students needed to know before taking the test that cursive started to fall by the wayside, she said.
Younger teachers at Hidden Oak laughed at her when they heard she still taught cursive, she said -- some of them hadn’t taught it in 10 years of teaching.
Davis no longer starts her cursive lessons in January, since she too has to get her students prepared for the annual exams, but she said she manages to cram the cursive alphabet into the post-FCAT school year.
She groups a few similar letters together in a 10- or 15-minute lesson about every other day; then students can practice at home, she said. Her third-graders have about six weeks at the end of the year when they write only in cursive.
Davis said she wants to save her students from the same fate as her nephew, who at 19 while at the University of Florida couldn’t sign his name on a document because he never learned cursive.
She later taught him herself.
“I will continue to teach it,” she said.
Like public schools, many private schools are adhering to Common Core -- with guidelines.
Schools under the Diocese of St. Augustine are following the standards and keeping cursive as well, said Megan Kinson, a third-grade teacher at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy.
Kinson has taught cursive as long as she’s been a teacher -- 12 years -- and has seen it vastly improve her students’ fine motor skills, she said.
In addition to helping young children develop that control, she said, cursive letters are more distinct than printed letters, so students are less likely to mix up their d’s and b’s, or their p’s and q’s.
Kinson said she spends about an hour of instructional time per week teaching cursive, and students do most of the practice at home.
They’re always excited about it, she said.
“They get so excited because it’s the ‘fancy’ way of writing, and they feel very grown up in using cursive,” she said.
Once, a few years ago, she said she was in the middle of teaching a lesson when a boy in her class burst into tears.
He was upset because he couldn’t understand the cursive alphabet poster Kinson had tacked up on the wall in her classroom. She stopped the lesson so her class could learn a couple of letters.
“To lose that ability because we can’t find time for it,” she said, “it’s very sad.”
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