In 2014, elementary students in 45 states must know how to type on a computer when the new Common Core State Standards are implemented, but some states are holding on to an old, basic skill—the art of cursive handwriting.
The movement to keep this form of writing alive in 21st-century classrooms is growing. Over a year ago, education leaders and researchers met at The Handwriting in the 21st Century? (HW 21) An Educational Summit to discuss the role of handwriting instruction and the benefits of handwriting instruction, which include improved literacy and overall academic achievement. The HW 21 community created a set of standards for K8 that could be helpful for decision makers looking to supplement Common Core.
Since the summit, Idaho is the most recent state of many to officially require or recommend cursive handwriting in the curriculum. “Cursive isn’t always spelled out clearly enough in individual states’ common core standards,” says Kathleen Wright, national handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser, a HW 21 sponsor in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators. “That often makes it optional, and teachers and districts aren’t finding time to teach it. Studies have shown cursive brings thought to another level; there’s something about a pen and paper that makes learning better.”
The Indiana Senate voted in late February to advance a “cursive bill” requiring elementary schools to teach cursive writing. Legislators in North Carolina are considering a “Back to Basics” bill that would teach it in elementary schools. Last year, Georgia incorporated handwriting standards into its elementary school curricula that require students’ proficiency in cursive handwriting and the Kansas State Board of Education agreed to adopt a policy encouraging, but not requiring, public schools to teach it.
For Nicole Chaffier, a seventh grade language arts teacher at the Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville, N.C., it’s an art worth saving. She says she became frustrated when her students over the last few years could not read her cursive handwriting on their papers. With support from her colleagues, Chaffier started an after-school Cursive Club, where an average of 10 students from different grades (most have never learned cursive) come to learn the handwriting style. “The students come to the club because they want to be there and they really try hard,” Chaffier says. “It’s been a joy to teach these kids because they take it seriously.”
Chaffier says not teaching cursive is a “disservice” to students, as it helps them learn proper note taking, speed writing, and has artistic value that has students using both parts of the brain. “Despite the growth in technology,” she says, “we are always going to need to know how to write by hand.”