Category Archives: cursive handwriting

Learning cursive—what’s the point?

I learned to print in first grade and to write in cursive in third grade.  I used cursive for all my written school work—spelling tests, homework, and exams—everything.  But  eventually, I used a combination of styles for hand writing—printing for capital and some lower case letters, and cursive for the rest.

Most of my incoming Christmas mail is addressed using printed labels.  But those friends who handwrite my address fit into three categories:

  • They print everything, sometimes in all caps.
  • They use a version of my hybrid style.
  • They write in cursive. (But that method is rare since the advent of  computerized mail sorting machines.  My neighbor, who handwrites in gorgeous cursive, had her outgoing Christmas mail returned as “unreadable” two years ago.  So now she prints on her envelopes.  I guess the Post Office’s machines don’t read cursive.)

Cursive has been eliminated from the curriculum in many elementary schools.  The common core curriculum instead focuses on learning the keypad—fingering optional.   This decision is controversial.

Arguments abound for learning cursive:

  • People need to be able to read old family letters and historical documents.
  • “I learned it, Sonny, and by golly, you will too.”
  • Cursive is an art form used by previous generations, and we should appreciate it.
  • People can handwrite using cursive faster than they can print.

Likewise, arguments abound for abandoning cursive:

  • People today rarely need to read cursive. Printed versions of old documents are online.
  • There isn’t time to learn everything, so less important skills must be abandoned.
  • The curriculum must stress what is important for students’ futures, namely, keyboarding and using computer software like Google docs and Zoom.

Another argument favoring cursive is that serious writers write better when writing in longhand.  (Four times using the word “write” in that sentence—hmm.)  Some excellent writers today write first drafts in longhand, revise in longhand, rewrite in longhand, and only then put their work into a typewriter or computer.  But I suspect many others—a majority—compose on their iPads or laptops without a loss in creativity.

More disturbing to me than the loss of cursive skills is the incursion of text messaging forms into non-text writing.  I teach a high school student who does not use capitals and who abbreviates every other phrase.  I suspect this way of writing will become the norm in years ahead.  And just like resurrecting cursive, there’s little we can do about it.  “What works” will win.  Methods of writing evolve.

What states require cursive to be taught in schools?

In 2010 the Common Core State Standards dropped cursive handwriting as a subject to be taught in US schools.  Despite that, several states have either passed laws requiring cursive instruction, or have included cursive instruction and mastery in state standards.  Those states* are

Alabama—Lexi’s Law requires students to be able to write legibly in cursive by the end of third grade.

Arizona—Students begin to learn cursive in kindergarten and are expected to be proficient by the end of sixth grade.

Arkansas—Cursive must be taught in public schools by the end of third grade.

California—Cursive is taught in third grade.

Florida—Cursive is taught in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Georgia—Cursive is taught in third and fourth grade.

Louisiana—Public and charter schools must begin teaching cursive by third grade and must incorporate it in the curriculum through 12th grade.  The law was introduced when a surveyor told a Republican state legislator that he could not find young people who could read notes on old land documents.

Maryland—Cursive is taught in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Mississippi—cursive is taught in third through eighth grades.

Ohio—Kindergarteners must begin to write in cursive and be able to write legibly by the end of fifth grade.

North Carolina—Students must be able to write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.

Oklahoma—Cursive is taught in third and fourth grades.

South Carolina—State law requires students write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.

Tennessee—By state law, students are required to be able to write legibly in cursive.  The State Department of Education decides when students are instructed in cursive.

Texas—Second graders will learn how to write cursive letters; third graders will learn to write cursive words; and fourth graders will complete their assignments in cursive, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

Virginia—Cursive is taught in third, fourth and fifth grades.

West Virginia—Cursive is taught in second, third and fourth grades.

*according to the Southern Regional Education Board, October 2016, and other sources

To hand write notes or to use technology?

As you or your kids prepare to return to school (here in Georgia some schools open the first week of August) , you might be considering the purchase of technology for note taking.  Should you?

Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, there were two kinds of technology to choose from:  a pen and reporter’s notebook or a tape recorder.  No laptops, tablets and smart phones then.  I opted for the old fashioned pen and paper for several reasons.

  • It was more reliable.  No machinery to malfunction, no tapes that could run out, no batteries that could die.  And my newspaper provided pens and reporters’ notebooks.
  • I thought more during interviews. With no tape recorder, I couldn’t tune out and let the machine do the work.  I needed to pay attention, to understand what the speaker was saying and to prepare follow-up questions.
  • Since I couldn’t write down everything, I needed to prioritize what was important either by summarizing or by quoting well-said ideas—of which there usually weren’t many. I became more of a paraphraser than a direct-quoter.
  • I could locate an idea from an interview quickly by paging through my notes. No need to hunt through long sections of tape for just one idea.
  • I wrote my final copy quickly. I could turn in a story and move on to the next one, while someone else was still transcribing from a machine, making me a valuable employee.

What has this to do with note taking in school today?  Research shows that college students who take notes by hand, paraphrasing and summarizing, do better understanding a lecture than do students who key in every word.  They do so for the same reason I wrote good interviews.  They listen.  They attempt to put ideas into a useful order and into their own words.  They question concepts as they listen even if they don’t raise their hands.  They focus.

On the other hand, technology has improved since my reporting days.  Today it’s possible to word search faster than I could page through my reporter notes.  If you remember to back up, your notes don’t get lost.  In fact, they exist in a cloud somewhere indefinitely, ready for you to access long after you’ve thrown out your composition notebook.

So should you buy note taking devices?  They rang from $200 to $600.  Many are in their infancy.

Here’s a compromise.  What if you hand write legibly, and when class is done or at the end of the day, take photos of your notes using your cell phone?  You always have your phone with you—right?—and so you’ll always have your notes as nearby as a clock on your phone.  If you have a reliable classmate, you can offer to photograph each other’s notes, and compare what you each thought important.

But can you hand write fast enough to keep up with your teacher?  For students no longer learning cursive, this can be a problem.  Maybe instead of investing hundreds in technology, invest $5 in a cursive handwriting notebook, and practice. Usually some combination of printing and cursive suffices for fast and readable handwriting.

For information about  note taking technology available, see an article by David Pierce in the July 16, 2018, edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Handwriting Finds Ways To Fit Into Digital Life.”

What parents want writing teachers / tutors to teach

When parents ask for writing help for their children, what kind of help do they want?Child writing

  • Grammar?
  • Vocabulary?
  • Sentence structures?
  • Organizing?
  • Transitions?
  • Introductions and hooks?
  • Conclusions?
  • Spelling?
  • Cursive handwriting?
  • Details?
  • Revising?
  • Particular types of writing (paragraphs? essays? book reports? short answer responses? long answer responses? summaries?)
  • Narrative elements (character development? plot? setting? foreshadowing?  point of view? conflict? dialog? voice? suspense?)
  • Verb tenses?
  • Paraphrasing?
  • Clarity?
  • Dialog?
  • Figures of speech?

Most parents have no idea so many elements combine to create good writing.  When they see a list like this, they are taken aback.

That is why it is important for parents and teachers to agree on what students should learn at various ages.  If a parent thinks the student should be perfecting grammar, but the teacher instead focuses on organization of information, the parent will not be happy.  Or if a parent thinks a student should be using a great piece of rhetoric as a model, but the teacher wants the student to develop his own way of expression, again the parent will be dissatisfied.

Only when a parent is aware of all that a student is expected to learn can the parent and teacher have a meaningful conversation about how to improve a student’s writing.

Is it okay to break the rules?

Children ask me this all the time.

  • They read a story in which the writer starts a sentence with “because,” something they have been forbidden to do. “So why can’t I start a sentence that way?”


  • They read a conversation in which someone uses the word “gonna.” “So why can’t I do that?”
  • Their teachers tell them every paragraph needs five sentences and every essay needs five paragraphs. But I show them editorials or columns from newspapers which don’t follow these rules.  “So why can’t I do thatt?”
  • They (used to) learn cursive, but they’d see an adult’s signature composed of part cursive, part printing, and part illegible writing. “So why can’t I do that?”

We adults break the rules of writing all the time.  Using bullets, as I did above, is technically breaking the rules of paragraphing, yet bullets add white space and show a pattern of thought.  Bulleted items are usually short and easy to read.  They invite reading the way denser paragraphs do not.  Why not break the paragraphing rules if more people will read what we write and the writing is clear?

With children I suggest the following line of thinking about “rules” of writing.

  • Will I get in trouble if I break the rule? Usually, this means, Will my teacher lower my grade if I break the rule?  If the answer is yes, then follow the rule unless you have a mighty good reason not to and are willing to accept a lower grade.
  • Is your writing easier to understand if you break the rule? If the answer is yes, then break the rule.  Clarity outranks any stylistic tradition.  But usually rules were invented to add clarity.
  • Are you experimenting? If so, follow rules which make sense and ignore rules which inhibit your imagination.

Some of you might say that my “line of thinking” above is really a set of rules.  Yes, they offer guidance the way rules do.  But no, they are not hard and fast, and they allow the writer to choose his own rules as long as he can live with the consequences, the way adults do.