I never earned my pen licence.
My cursive script never reached the standard worthy of teacher approval to use permanent ink by the end of primary school.
Despite many well-meaning interventions over the years, my handwriting is still awful. An ugly hybrid of three different scripts with poorly formed letters.Most of the Year 4 children in my class have neater handwriting than me.
But at 16 I finally found something that improved the readability of my writing overnight.
A word processor.
Finally writing wasn’t physically painful and all that cognitive load being used on letter formation and grip could be utilised for something far more important.
Writing went from something I hated and thought I was ‘bad’ at to something I eventually started to enjoy,
I’d like to think we’ve moved on from the days when my Year 11 teacher told me I would likely fail my exams because my handwriting made me look illiterate (result: scraped through with 51%).
Yet how many kids have mixed up penmanship with communicating ideas in written form?
It bothers me that first thing I often I hear when I conference with children early in the year about their writing is an apology for the legibility of their words.
To be clear, I think writing by legibly by hand is a useful skill. I still get kids to draft quick short stories first thing because I don’t want them to waste valuable learning time in the morning finding computers and logging in when they quickly pull out their exercise book and pencil. Moreover kids are going to still need to read cursive to understand historical documents.
But I do think we need to rethink the amount of instructional time spent devoted to cursive writing when printing will suffice. Moreover how much valuable learning time is wasted when teachers insist that teacher kids draft, edit, rewrite and revise their writing by hand before finally they are able to transcribe their final draft onto computer in order to ‘publish’ it.
Would teachers would be so enthusiastic about these practices if they were inflicted on them for the weekly classroom emails?
Even a proponent of handwriting admits that the most substantial written composition she’s written by hand recently was a birthday card. Most people who write for living might plan out ideas on paper, but they’ll be drafting their ideas on a computer.
Our writing instruction in schools is way out of step with the realities of writing in the modern world.
No wonder kids hate writing.
Finland is removing cursive handwriting from their curriculum in favour of typing skills. It makes logical sense, especially as traditional pen and paper exams give way to more modern forms of assessment. Yet when it comes technological changes we often become nostalgic for days gone by.
How often is cursive handwriting is referred to by proponents as a ‘dying art?’
Here’s an idea why don’t we treat cursive handwriting as an art and start teaching it that way? And while we’re at what about more time spent on another dying art, drawing. A hybrid, Sketch-noting could be a way to help kids present their learning in a more conceptual way. In fact there’s a whole raft of activities that children could be doing to develop their dexterity but instead we zero in on cursive handwriting as means to that particular ends.
Yet kids face years of cursive handwriting instruction in school that is skill and drill, worksheet focused. Great for keeping kids quiet during reading rotations but maybe not so fun if you’ve got problems with fine motor skills and the pencils make your hands hurt. If we need books like ‘handwriting without tears,’ there’s clearly a problem in the way we are teaching kids to communicate in written form.
How can we do this better?