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NU #030 - Misunderstood: The Debate About Cursive Writing.

Cursive writing is making a splashy comeback into mandatory classroom instruction here in Ontario. Grade 3 students will experience this for the first time this coming September.

Back in 2006 this curriculum expectation was removed from compulsory instruction in our schools.

Low and behold, it’s now back on the table and the great debate continues about its use & relevance.

Cursive writing has been taught and valued (or not…) for various reasons throughout the past decades, although its importance has evolved over time and can vary widely based on your past experiences, your personal values & where you come from.

The current challenge ( the way I see it ) is that we have a few versions (& points of view) inside this conversation and none of them match up. We have the parent version, the government’s version, the educator’s version & the researchers’ version. We’re about to get a front row seat to what the kids

think! Stay tuned! With each of these perspectives brings a different understanding of why this is or is not relevant.

Here’s what some of the research says. Most notably, cursive writing has been associated with several potential positive effects on brain development and cognitive functions. Here is what it can do:

1. Enhanced Neural Pathways: Learning and practicing cursive writing involves complex fine motor skills and coordination between different brain regions. This can lead to the development of new neural pathways and connections, potentially enhancing overall brain connectivity.

2. Improved Hand-Eye Coordination: Writing in cursive requires more continuous and fluid movements compared to printing. This can help improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, as individuals must control the pen's movement while maintaining a consistent flow of writing.

3. Engagement of Multiple Brain Areas: When writing in cursive, various brain areas are engaged, including those responsible for motor planning, visual processing, and memory. This multisensory engagement can contribute to improved cognitive functioning.

4. Reading Comprehension: Learning cursive can have positive effects on reading comprehension. Research suggests that individuals who are proficient in cursive may find it easier to read cursive texts, historical documents, and manuscripts, potentially leading to improved comprehension of complex written materials.

5. Neurological Stimulation:The intricate and continuous movements involved in cursive writing may stimulate the brain's motor cortex and sensory processing areas, fostering neural plasticity and adaptation.

6. Attention and Focus: Learning cursive requires sustained attention and concentration. Practicing cursive writing can help individuals improve their ability to focus on tasks and sustain their attention over longer periods of time.

7. Expressive Writing:Cursive writing allows for a more personalized and expressive style of writing. This can encourage creativity and self-expression, which may have positive psychological effects and contribute to emotional well-being.

8. Spatial Skills:Cursive writing involves understanding and manipulating the spatial relationships between letters and words on the page. This can help develop spatial awareness and visualization skills.

9. . Personal Style and Expression:Cursive writing allows for individuality in handwriting. It offers a way for individuals to develop their unique writing style, adding a personal touch to their communication.

10. Speed and Efficiency: Cursive writing can often be faster and more efficient than printing. The flowing nature of cursive allows for smoother writing and reduced lifting of the pen, which can be advantageous in situations where quick note-taking is necessary.

11. Signature and Formal Documents:Many people use cursive for their signatures, making it an essential skill for signing legal documents, contracts, banking documents, and other formal paperwork.

My Prediction for Fall 2023 and Beyond:

We’re going to see kids struggle like mad with this initiative - especially in the beginning. We’re going to see kids who find this expectation to be incredibly boring, mundane & “stupid” - especially our boys. We’re going to hear a lot of “Why do I have to do this? I'm never going to use it”?!

We should expect this and be ready for it.

We have many, many students who do not possess the fine motor skills to:

  1. Properly sit with good posture for sufficient periods of time to write. They have zero core strength without needing to lounge on their desk or hold up their head.

  2. Properly hold a pencil with the correct grip, etc…

As well, I expect other challenges to surface:

  1. Kids lack grit & stamina to stick with this task - because it’s going to be very labor-intensive & taxing for some students.

  2. Kids are not going to find this stimulating enough. They will see very little value or immediate gratification.

  3. We’ll see educators struggle to properly teach this - they may not have the right tools/ materials yet and they may not understand the proper sequencing.

  4. It could become another “time filler” with very little explicit instruction & practice. This will cause its relevance to be lost. It could also be rushed because educators have so much material to cover, in addition to this new writing revamp.

  5. Our second language learners are going to find this to be really tough.

How Could We Proceed?

The way around all of this is to be very transparent with the kids. We need to be explicit in teaching them “the why” this could be useful, helpful and relevant. The kids themselves need to know why it could matter for them. And, for many of them, it won’t be for the reasons they think. I suspect for most kids this will be new information worth discussing.

*** Here's another way to look at it: Most pro hockey players use tennis balls to work on their reaction speed, hand-eye coordination & left/right imbalances. These players are never going to be "professional tennis ball catchers". It's the same thing here with learning cursive writing. It's about how we position it to the kids. This is a booster exercise / activity which makes the end goal (of improving areas of cognitive function around literacy) more attainable. Therefore, making all of this easier (efficient & automatic) for the student.

Wrapping Up:

No matter what side of the conversation you fall, it will be interesting to see where we land with cursive writing in the next few years. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but it’s sure interesting to think about.

Digital communication & keyboarding skills are not going to be overcome anytime soon - that’s safe to say. I think that’s a different conversation altogether. After all… the message is the medium!

Here’s a tweet that I wrote back in April of 2023… I especially love the last line: “Brains fire differently on analog”. I think this is such an interesting perspective to explore if you’ve never thought about this.

I hope people will continue to see that cursive writing is not only meant to be a more expedient or efficient form of note-taking. There's potentially much more to it. It’s meant to be another modality for learning & forming brain pathways that enhance learning. I think we can all agree that we’ve lost a lot of this in recent years where we’ve traded speed & efficiency by sacrificing depth, retention, understanding & comprehension. It won’t be for everyone, but I think for some kids it could become really helpful.

If you’re curious about learning more about the changes for this year’s Language Curriculum and you live in Ontario, Canada… Here’s a link to a summary which defines the key changes for Fall 2023.

That’s all I have for now.

Thanks for reading.



PS - If you know of someone who might find this version of my newsletter interesting or helpful, I’d love it if you shared it with them - a parent, friend, colleagues & team members. Thanks again for spending a few minutes here with me.

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