By JOHN KLINE
As digital smart boards replace chalk boards and wireless tablets replace textbooks in many classrooms across Indiana, is teaching cursive writing still relevant in today’s increasingly technology-centered schools?
As far as the Indiana Department of Education is concerned, the answer appears to be no, as the IDOE dropped its cursive writing requirement in 2011 after the State Board of Education voted to adopt Common Core State Standards, a system that favors student proficiency in typing over cursive writing as more and more instruction and testing is done via computer.
In light of this recent change, many schools across the state have reduced or completely abandoned cursive writing programs in order to allow teachers more time for instruction in core subjects such as reading and math.
Despite the IDOE’s endorsement of the change, not everyone is happy with cursive’s recent decline. For those concerned with the move away from cursive, much of that concern lies in the fear that a loss of the skill will lead to a generation of handwriting illiterates who are unable to read important historical documents or even sign their own names.
Supporters of the change aren’t concerned, however, noting that many of today’s textbooks and other reading materials, both old and new, are readily available in electronic form, or soon will be. As for the signature argument, many supporters predict some form of retina or fingerprint scan will likely be the preferred signature of the future, rendering the hand-written scrawl obsolete.
According to Tamra Ummel, director of curriculum and instruction for Goshen Community Schools, cursive writing instruction within her corporation has fallen off dramatically since the state stopped requiring school’s to teach it.
“Right now I would say it is being taught, but it is not one of our higher priorities given all of the other expectations and given the movement to Common Core,” Ummel said. “What we see in Common Core is a real shift from producing work in hand-written form to being able to produce it using technology. We want our students to be able to recognize writing in cursive and be able to produce cursive writing, but to say that we spend a lot of time on that would not be accurate.”
Joy Goshert, director of curriculum and instruction for Wawasee Community Schools, had a similar take on cursive writing instruction within her corporation.
“We do not mandate it right now,” Goshert said. “We used to have workbooks for cursive writing, and we haven’t ordered those. We’ve looked at some iPad and Android apps for it, but to be quite honest, because it’s not mandated by Indiana, the question really becomes, ‘What would you ask teachers to take off the plate from the things that are mandated, and how would you work that in?’”
Like Ummel and Goshert, administrators at Fairfield, Wa-Nee and Middlebury community schools have all recently reported similar declines in cursive writing instruction in their districts due primarily to the more technology-centered needs of the Common Core.
At Fairfield, for example, cursive writing instruction has been limited to focus more on giving students a basic understanding of the structure of the writing, rather than full mastery.
“We teach it in limited ways, mainly so that students can read it and maybe sign their name or know the basics,” said Fairfield Superintendent Steven Thalheimer, “but we don’t teach it with the intensity that we used to.”
The same holds true for both Middlebury and Wa-Nee, where teachers are given the option to teach cursive writing, though only in a limited capacity and not at the expense of other core subject.