Cursive writing, is it still relevant?

By Holly Warren, Principal, Rivendell School

What was once a required literacy skill is now being cut from school curriculums. This raises the question - is cursive writing still relevant?

Rivendell School Writing
A Rivendell Middle Kid student practices his cursive writing.

During a visit to one of our Middle Kids classrooms this week a second-grader brought work up for me to check. As I looked down at the page, it was her name written three different times in cursive that caught my attention. Seeing this brought back memories of being a student and perfecting my “L” loop and making sure my “g” hung down and didn’t look like a “q.” I’m sure many of you can remember this time in your education and may wonder - are all students still doing this? Will students of the 21st century have similar memories? Is cursive writing still relevant? 

A Closer Look 

Rivendell’s Instructional Leadership Team is constantly evaluating the changing landscape of education and what skills our students will need to be successful in the future, a future we can not even imagine. As an independent school, we have the flexibility to include what we think is important in our curriculum. To ensure we were making the right investment in cursive writing, we rolled up our sleeves and dug into the research about what turned out to be a very relevant subject matter.  

Clear Benefits 

As our research continued it became apparent that cursive writing is not just about letter formation and communication. It also:

  • Develops motor skills
  • Increases memory and comprehension 
  • Leads to cognitive development, self-esteem, and academic success 

With this knowledge, how could we not teach this skill that is quickly becoming a long, lost art? Read on for an explanation of the benefits our team discovered when we took a closer look at cursive writing. 

Motor skill development

  • Cursive writing requires a very different skillset from print writing.  It involves using the hand muscles in a different way and activates a different part of the brain. 
  • Printing and typing do not stimulate the synchronicity between the brain’s right and left hemisphere, but cursive does.
  • It is a good exercise in using kinesthetic skills. 

Benefits

  • Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual, and tactile information and fine motor dexterity.
  • Students with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, can have a very hard time with writing in print, the connected letters and fluid motion of cursive handwriting are especially beneficial to students with disorders such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.  It activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.

--

Memory and comprehension 

  • Researchers found that students who take notes by hand perform better on conceptual questions than students who take notes on laptops. 
  • Students who take notes by hand actually digest the content and reframe it in their own words -- a process that increases both understanding and recall.
  • There is a connection between handwriting and composition quality.  Lacking fluency in handwriting causes difficulty in higher-order thoughts and sequencing.

Benefits

  • Learning cursive develops fine motor skills and writing in longhand generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas.  Studies have shown that kids who learn cursive rather than simply manuscript writing score better on reading and spelling tests, perhaps because the linked-up cursive forces writers to think of words as wholes instead of parts.
  • Writing letters improve letter recognition.
  • Cursive writing acts as a grounding and sensory integration exercise for those with behavioral or sensory processing disorders. It likely even calms neuro-typical adults and children and can train self-control.

--

Cognitive development, self-esteem, academic success 

  • The brain has to develop “functional specialization,” integrating thinking, movement, and sensation.
  • Cursive has the benefit of being both artistic and highly personal. It is an important step in developing a personal style and voice. Students are not automatons, and education should include tools that encourage individual personality. 
  • While certain gifted students may rise to the top again and again in the academic subjects, any student can aspire to have excellent handwriting and can achieve the goal with practice.

Benefits

  • When students write confidently and legibly, their academics as a whole seem to improve. 

Do you have memories of learning cursive? What was the trickiest letter for you to master?