January 27, 2011

Does Writing Cursive Make Better Readers?

Cursive isn't taught in many of our schools today. You would be hard-pressed to find good examples of cursive in everyday writing. We can text, email, and Facebook our little hearts away and never even touch paper and pen. So, how important is penmanship in the ability to learn and read anyway?

Neurologists are just beginning to use brain-imaging studies to find out what happens in a child’s brain during the process of becoming literate. It turns out that the quality of the brain’s white matter — the tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter — improves substantially when children learn to read — a process that typically occurs side by side with learning to write. [See, for example, First evidence of brain rewiring in children: reading remediation positively alters brain tissue] Science Daily, Dec. 10, 2009.

When children learn to write in cursive, other things happen in the brain. The translation of the sequences of symbols (letters) into lines on paper affects the cognitive ability of the brain — it presents the brain with a challenge because each letter connects slightly different to every other letter each time that it is written. Neuroscientists say that as children learn to write cursive, they become better speakers and readers.

Learning to write cursive is an important component that we may have overlooked in the race to get technology in the classroom. Proponents of keeping cursive in the class say that it’s a necessary tool for students that can help them learn how to read and communicate more quickly and efficiently.

Learn how Reading Horizons elementary reading curriculum teaches students spelling and writing. 


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Dr. J said

This is very interesting data. We are constantly debating the importance of cursive in the 21st Century classroom. Do you know where (specifically) this research has come from?

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Kate Gladstone said

The numerous studies I have seen (by neuroscientists evaluating the impact of handwriting on our brains) find that the gains you describe occur from handwriting in _any_ form: there is nothing special about cursive. (In other words, unless you are quoting some study that has escaped my attention during years of literature searches on this matter, you are not quoting the studies accurately. Further, there is research (citation on request) showing that the fastest and most legible writers avoid cursive. The highest-speed, highest-legibility handwriters join only some letters, not all of them — making the easiest joins and skipping the rest — and tend to use print-like letter-shapes for those letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree. Kate Gladstone Handwriting Instruction and Improvement Consultant Director, the World Handwriting Contest Founder and CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

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Christibow said

Thank you for your comments! The source I used for this blog post is the December 10, 2009 issue of Science Daily. Clearly I need further research into this topic - I was lightly touching upon the aspect that this type of exercise for the brain may improve a student's ability to read. I do know that, for me, cursive writing appeals to my sense of touch, sight, and smell - it is a joy when I take the time to do it. Also, I wonder if it even matters if cursive writing becomes a lost art? I love to look at samples of Spencerian script (1850-1925)and wonder at the patience it must have taken to write that beautifully.

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