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April 11, 2013

BACK TO BASICS

House bill calls for cursive writing in class room

TARBORO — The state House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Thursday, April 4, that would require North Carolina teachers to get “back to basics” by teaching cursive writing and memorization of multiplication tables. House Bill 146 is now headed to the state Senate for approval.
The section on cursive writing states public schools must provide “instruction in cursive writing so that students create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.”

Amanda Evans, third grade teacher at G.W. Bulluck Elementary School, said cursive writing is not taught “with fidelity” in today’s classroom, but with the new bill, “it will have to be implemented with fidelity.”

“It’s a skill that would help you to be a well-rounded person in today’s society,” said Evans, of cursive writing. She said she thinks cursive writing will help students learn how to focus longer because the style of writing requires not lifting one’s pen/ pencil until the word is written. In addition, she believes everyone needs to know how to write their signature.

“With this day of technology, we don’t communicate by written responses as much as we did in the past,” said Evans. “(However), you can’t always depend on technology. When technology’s down, you have to go to plan B.” 
Faye Taylor, member of the Edgecombe County Board of Education (BOE) and former eighth grade teacher/ school administrator, said she is “all in favor” of the cursive writing bill.
“I think cursive writing needs to be taught. I think every single child needs to effectively know cursive writing,” Taylor said. “I just think penmanship is very, very important.”
Taylor equated not teaching cursive writing to limiting the teaching of history to people born after the year 1900.
“It’s just another one of those skills that we don’t need to start eliminating.” Taylor said. “You need to extend education, not narrow it down.”
Olga Dickens, a BOE member and former teacher, disagrees with focusing on the instruction of cursive writing in elementary schools, stating that the focus of education instead needs to be “preparing our kids for the computer age, the technology age, because this is what the industries are looking for…The needs of the employer have changed. The world has changed.”
She said she believes the new curriculum implemented in North Carolina Public Schools this year, the Common Core, prepares students for the future, and she sees no need to “deviate from what has already been deemed necessary (in the current curriculum.)”
“We are growing our economy by preparing our kids for what is going to happen in the future. If our kids are well prepared for the future, then everything else is going to fall into place,” Dickens said.
Additionally, Dickens has concerns about students with disabilities that cause them to have difficulties “holding the pen or the pencil in order to form the letters.” To her, that disability should not be a factor in a student being promoted to the next grade level, and she sees it as a potential problem with the mandated instruction of cursive writing.
On the other hand, BOE Chair Ann Kent, a developmental writing teacher at Edgecombe Community College, said she has read research stating that children with certain (learning) exceptions “do better decoding the written word in cursive because they see it as a combined unit. They could tell where one word ended and another word began.”
Kent said she sees the need to teach cursive writing as long as educators use cursive it as a mode of communication.
”I think that as long as our teachers use cursive, our students should be able to decode it and vice versa,” Kent said. She said a parent of a middle school student in the district called her and told her that her child’s teacher was writing on the board in cursive, but her child had never been taught cursive writing. To Kent, that “disconnect” is a problem.
Although cursive writing is not necessarily an “essential skill” for the 21st century, it is a “communication style,” said Kent, and for some teachers, it’s one that has not yet gone out of style.
“As a teacher, I probably write more in cursive more on the board than I print,” Kent said.
Carolyn Rose, who retired as a middle-school language arts teacher in 1994 and remains an “educational advocate,” recalls a time when cursive handwriting was taught.
”It was right after the EOG’s (End of Grade tests) had been given. In one class an assistant taught cursive writing for several days. The children were very interested. It was something very new to them and I think they took a lot of pride in learning how to write in cursive writing,” Rose said. Evans still sees that eagerness to learn the skill in students today.

“They get excited about learning how to write in cursive,” she said.
While Rose sees the value in teaching children cursive writing, she said she realizes that teachers these days “have so much on their plate that it would be difficult to find a lot of time to spend teaching cursive writing.” Kent also noted that hand writing is “not a tested area” on the EOG’s. While hand writing is not a tested skill, one section on the Common Exams does require students to hand write their responses, said Evans.

 

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