Category Archives: cursive handwriting

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?”

EPSON MFP image

  • 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.

 

 

Cursive makes a Southern comeback

As the 2016-17 opens, Alabama joins Florida and North Carolina in mandating by law that students learn cursive writing.Cursive alphabet

Alabama’s teachers must instruct third graders in cursive under a law that goes into effect this school year.  Although Alabama law previously required the teaching of cursive, the new law requires teachers to report students’ proficiency levels to the state at the end of third grade. Formerly, students needed to be proficient by the end of fifth grade.

Implemented in the 2012-13 school year, North Carolina has a law stating that “Public schools [shall] provide instruction in cursive writing, so students create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.”

Florida implemented its own standard, requiring cursive writing to be taught in third grade in public elementary school classes.

Which cursive will these students use?  Over the years, the type of cursive used by American students has become simplified and for some letters, similar to printing.  For example, the capital Q, which in old cursive looked like a loopy numeral 2, has been changed at the request of the US Postal Service.  The new Q looks more like a printed Q and less like the number 2.  The new capital K, P, R, and T look almost identical to the printed forms of those letters.

With fewer loops, the New American Cursive is quick to write, easier to read, and cleaner in look than the older versions of cursive.  An extreme slant of the letters has been replaced with a slight slant to the right, making the new cursive easier for left-handed students.

For more information on the new cursive, go to www.newamericancursive.com.

Did the Common Core eliminate cursive handwriting as something kids need to learn? I can’t believe it!

The Common Core requires legible manuscript (printing) in kindergarten and first grade, but after that there are no standards relating to handwriting.  Learning cursive writing is not required.

In fourth grade, the Common Core requires students to be able to keyboard or type a full page at one sitting.

However, the Common Core developers have encouraged individual states and school districts to modify the standards as is appropriate for their populations.  Some states have included handwriting.  In California, kids need to learn printing in second grade and cursive in third and fourth grade.  Massachusetts requires legible handwriting of any kind in fourth grade.

Does your state require children to practice handwriting?  You can find out by going to your state’s department of education and searching for the state-required curriculum.  You may find that your state has adopted the Common Core as a whole, in which case handwriting will not be taught after first grade.

But that does not mean you can’t augment your child’s learning.  Teacher supply stores sell booklets on how to write in cursive.  Or you can go online to find such materials.

One good reason for children to be able to read and write cursive is to be able to read documents from the past.  The original Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were first written in cursive as were all documents before the 1860’s when the typewriter started being used.

Another reason is that teachers in higher grades and college often write notes, worksheets and sometimes tests in cursive.  A seventh grader told me that when her science teacher wrote some notes on the white board, few students in the class could read them.  The same teacher wrote a thank you note to members of a team she coaches, and the students needed to ask their parents to read the note to them.

Until word processing became popular in the 1980’s, most private correspondence, diaries, journals and manuscripts were written in cursive.  How awful not to be able to read great-grandpa’s post cards home from WWII or great-grandma’s recipes in her hand.

Written responses to test questions can be made faster with cursive than with printing.  This might not seem important when children are little, but writing a complete essay in 25 minutes for the SAT is another matter.  Sometimes students will have electronic notepads to take notes, but when they don’t, they will appreciate the ease of note-taking in cursive.

A few minutes a day practicing one letter at a time is all it takes to learn cursive.  Yet that knowledge opens another world to children, as does reading music, Braille, sign language or numbers.