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Should handwriting still be taught?

Cursive writing was a challenge, but it focused my attention, and built my self-confidence

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

A pangram is a sentence containing all letters of the alphabet.

Students have copied this one from blackboards since 1921, when the MacLean’s Handwriting Method was implemented in Canadian schools.

Local school trustee Sara Nelson figures that’s long enough. LOL. Don’t u know?

Students print. They text, or tweet. Handwriting has outlived its usefulness, says Nelson. Teachers should let kids explore their individual learning passions instead (the “inquiry model”).

The Education Ministry isn’t sure. It might remove cursive writing from curriculum, but it wants our thoughts.

Here’s mine. I wasn’t good at cursive writing until Mr. Addy, my Grade 6 teacher announced prizes for the best handwriting in class. I struggled to emulate the smooth arc that begins letters like ‘a,’  ‘c,’ and ‘g’ and avoided reversing ‘b,’ ‘d,’ ‘p’ and ‘q.’

Cursive writing was a challenge, but it focused my attention, and built my self-confidence.

In June, Mr. Addy shook my hand and presented me with “The most improved handwriting award.” It felt like being the best.

As a new teacher, I instructed my students to sit erect, assume the prescribed angle for wrist and forearm, and copy letters and words from the blackboard.

“There’ll be prizes at the end of the year,” I announced, “for best writer, highly improved, and most improved. Everyone who completes the program gets a certificate.”

Practice makes perfect. We copied letters, words, phrases, clauses, and finally, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

That became, “Early one morning, the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog that lived under the wooden porch at Bob’s house.”

Handwriting helped develop eye-hand coordination, visual attention, spelling, punctuation, and grammar – something a habit of cryptic texting may erase from memory. Fox is the subject; jumps is the verb of a sentence. Using adjectives, adverbs, clauses and phrases strengthens a student’s composition skill, too.

Handwriting was fun. My students invented versions of “The quick brown fox,” like this one: “The fat and sassy red fox, who ate the farmer’s chickens, belched when he jumped over the dopey dog.”

Cursive writing will always be useful.

Some teachers will introduce it at the end of Grade 2 because most kids are keen to learn a grown-up skill. I knew it might one day help them read original drafts of documents, such as the Magna Carta (1215), Shakespeare’s plays, or the American Declaration of Independence, handwritten by Thomas Jefferson.

Some handwriting, like my wife’s, is an art form. In its newsletter, the Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild in Calgary writes: “Imagine what it was like to be responsible for lettering dozens of pages with quills on vellum.”

Members had been pouring over The Letters of the Saint John’s Bible, “a 1,150-page masterpiece they termed ‘fascinating,’ ‘humbling’ and ‘exhilarating.’”

Students learn to print before they write for developmental reasons. For some, the gap between sounds (h-a-t) frustrates the reading process. When phonemes blend or close together in writing, it’s easier to hear words.

Skills considered obsolete before have been abandoned early. In the 1990s, the new rage in language arts was the Whole Language Approach. Primary consultants demeaned tried-and-true basics like phonics, spelling, and grammar. They wanted kids to write freely from personal experience, instead. Experienced teachers resisted, as some now resist parts of the Inquiry Method that Nelson refers to.

But new ones didn’t. Written composition skills plummeted.

When calculators became the rage, some folks decided memorizing addition facts to 18 (9+9=18) or the times tables wasn’t needed. Counting up to make change became a lost art. If the power goes out at your store, you could wait until the computer boots up again.

I love my iPhone, K? I push a microphone icon, and Siri, a friendly female asks how she can help. I don’t type a single letter. Siri does the texting or flashes my location on a map and leads me home. LOL.

Shouldn’t we dump map reading in social studies?


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.


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