The fading art of writing cursive

2011-10-16T08:00:00Z The fading art of writing cursiveBy RAJU WOODWARD, Corvallis Gazette-Times Albany Democrat Herald

Fewer students are writing in the style these days

It was a recent Thursday afternoon in Kristin Silbernagel's fifth-grade class at Corvallis' Jefferson Elementary School, and the students' pencils were flowing in the rhythms of cursive handwriting.

The students were learning how to write letters with similar patterns in cursive. The letters included "A," "C" and "D." Using the examples provided by Silbernagel, they were covering their worksheets with their own conjoined loops.

All of the students appeared to be enjoying the opportunity to work on a style of handwriting that is increasingly becoming less common in schools.

"Learning cursive is fun for me because I prefer it to printing," said fifth-grader Max Yelsa. "It's easier and faster for me because it just flows. I don't have to pick up my pencil as much."

But Max's time studying cursive may be coming to an end: Due to an increased emphasis on technology and new education standards, fewer students nationwide and locally are learning how to write in cursive.

Changing focus

Crystal Greene, public affairs manager for the Oregon Department of Education, said students aren't required to learn cursive.

"It's not something that's assessed," Greene said. "So it's up to individual districts and schools if and how they want to teach cursive."

And, Greene said, she wouldn't be surprised if more schools throughout the state drop cursive from their curriculums because Oregon is one of 44 states implementing common core standards.

Those new standards, which dictate the skills students should learn at each grade level, do not include cursive. But they do include using keyboard and tablet devices.

Silbernagel said that another reason teachers aren't spending as much time teaching cursive is because they are busy preparing their students to meet increasingly stringent federal and state academic benchmarks.

"Our goal is to make sure that every student reaches those targets," Silbernagel said. "That is what is on the forefront of our minds. Unfortunately, cursive is not one of those things."

When Silbernagel is able to find an opening during the school day for her students to work on their cursive writing skills, "cursive time" usually lasts just 15 to 20 minutes.

Benefits of cursive

Most Corvallis School District students are taught cursive in third, fourth and fifth grades. The amount of instruction they receive varies by teacher.

Hoover Elementary School teacher Emily Carver introduced cursive writing to her third-grade students last year. She said she was surprised by how excited her students were to learn the style.

"The big, fun activity we started out with was cursive," Carver said. "It engaged students with handwriting in a new, fun way. Many of my students loved writing their final drafts in cursive."

Carver, who is teaching fifth grade this year, has noticed several benefits to students learning cursive. She said it can help them improve their fine motor skills as well as their penmanship and encourages them to write letters.

Dani LeClaire, who is in Silbernagel's class, said she enjoys learning cursive even though it's more difficult for her than printing.

"It's such a different style," Dani said. "But it's fun to be learning a different style of writing. I hope I can get better at it."

One of the main reasons Silbernagel wants her students to use cursive is because she views it as just another way for them to communicate.

"I want them to be able to read letters from their grandparents," Silbernagel said. "Or if they have a teacher later that writes in cursive, they'll be able to read it."

She said that most of her students have a harder time reading cursive than they do writing it. So Silbernagel is always looking for ways for her students to practice their cursive, including asking for specific assignments to be completed using cursive writing only.

For example, her students recently turned in their final drafts of descriptive paragraphs they wrote in that style of penmanship.

A lost art?

Despite the efforts of teachers such as Silbernagel and Carver, by the time students reach high school, cursive is an afterthought for many of them.

That's because students are rarely asked to use cursive in middle school and high school.

"I see far less students writing in cursive," said Corvallis High School social studies teacher Colleen Works. "I think it's a trend that goes back more than five or 10 years. It's more like 30 years."

When Works does come across an assignment that has been completed in cursive, she said it's usually combined with printing. CHS senior Claire Lindsay said her writing style resembles an "italic-like slant."

"I usually write in a way that may appear like cursive, but it isn't," Lindsay said. "Most of my words are connected. However, none of my letters is in cursive."

Lindsay said high school students aren't asked to write in cursive, except for their signatures. In fact, she said that if high school students had to write in cursive, many of them wouldn't remember how - at a minimum, it would take them a lot longer than printing.

Works understands the shift from handwriting to keyboarding - students need to be able to use technology to succeed in a global economy. As a result, she said she's not saddened that fewer students are using cursive.

"Cursive has become, in a true sense, what it is: an art form," Works said. "What I do worry about is students won't be able to read important things such as letters from their ancestors."

Fewer students may be writing in cursive, but that doesn't mean there aren't students who want to learn the fading form.

Both Silbernagel and Carver said they are surprised how many of their students look forward to practicing their loops.

And some students, such as Max, hope to eventually switch from printing to cursive.

"I want to keep learning how to write in cursive," he said. "In fact, I'd like it to become my usual writing style. It's easier for me."

Raju Woodward can be contacted at 758-9526 or raju.woodward@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 Albany Democrat Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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