OT Corner: The Debate Over Cursive – Three PediaStaff OT Columnists Weigh In

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Editor’s Note:  Late last week I saw that the New York Times opinion section ran a series of four articles debating the relevancy of cursive in this keyboarding age.   Polled by the NYT to participate were a Professor of Education, a Handwriting Expert, an Archivist and (woo hoo), an Occupational Therapist!

While I wasn’t sure that the PediaStaff editorial staff would have the sway to have our opinions published by the Gray Lady,  I thought it might be fun to see what some of our regular ‘OT Corner’ contributors might like to add to the debate.

Thank you so much to the three of you were able to take time out of their busy schedules to weigh in on this topic.

What are YOUR thoughts?   If any of you would like to add to the discussion, please comment, and/or blog.   I would be thrilled to add more links to additional opinions to this post!


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2 Responses to OT Corner: The Debate Over Cursive – Three PediaStaff OT Columnists Weigh In

  1. In the field for over 30 years, students with graphomotor dysfunction have always been a large part of my caseload. Most are regular education students, some with no other issues other than inefficient and illegible handwriting. As the years of my practice have gone by, the methods of teaching writing have also gone by the wayside. In many schools, it becomes independent seat work. Those children who have perceptual or motor underlying challenges are not able to self teach handwriting. Often poor habits are established in preschool, where the outcome of producing letters is exciting, but the directionality and tool management is undervalued by the teachers. By the time it is realized that there is a true handwriting problem, many students have been practicing their “bad habits” since 4 years old, and are then very hard to correct.

    Teaching these students cursive on a one to one basis often corrects directional confusion, spacing issues and the ability to write with confidence. In the initial learning stages it is slower. Frequently there is an improvement in the manuscript as well, as the errors that are avoided in teaching cursive correctly carryover to improved appearance and clarity of letter formation in printing. Unfortunately, When the school does not reinforce the newly learned cursive as a requirement, often the skill is lost. The use of keyboards is now also essential, now as young as 3rd grade. However, the thinking and editing that occurs on a computer is very different than the writing process with pencil on paper. With a keyboard, we all become lazier with spelling, grammar and learn quickly to cut and paste, but when it comes to constructing a thank you note, in class essay or–to the horror of many students, SAT and ACT written portions, handwritten is not representative of the work they typically produce on computer.

    All this said, if the SAT and ACT did not require a written segment, legibility, speed and endurance in written output would be far less of an issue. The trend going forward will be use of some technology to produce edited, correctly spelled, organized and neat communication.

    And, to add to the confusion of the above transition that is going on in education at this time (writing versus technology to support writing), in order to create a hybrid, fast and efficient manual written product, one needs to know the foundation letters of both printing and cursive. Most adults, even those schooled with red marks on their letters, have figured out a system of writing that works for them–and the end product is rarely calligraphic.

  2. Kate Gladstone says:


    “in order to create a hybrid, fast and efficient manual written product, one needs to know the foundation letters of both printing and cursive”

    Actually, writing styles we would now call a “hybrid” existed for several centuries before either “cursive” or “printed” writing-styles as we now know them. (The first handwriting textbooks ever published in our alphabet, nearly 500 years ago during the Renaissance, taught a semi-joined style with decidedly print-like letters: it was only later on, in the Baroque era, that textbook publishers started to promote what would eventually become a ceaselessly joined style with letter-forms altered to allow creating those ceaseless joins).

    Knowing this fact makes it impossible for me to pretend that Ms. Kalb’s presupposition is accurate. Accepting that presupposition is even harder when one recollects that several handwriting programs today _do_ teach a hybrid style from the get-go: as the program’s “foundation letters” (in Ma. Kalb’s useful phrase). Two USA-published programs of this nature are http://www.BFHhandwriting.com and http://www.handwritingsuccess.com .

    Ms. Kalb is correct on one point: that people’s home-made, jerry-built hybrids are “rarely calligraphic” despite their efficiency. Why not, then, teach an efficient and _attractive_ hybrid from Day One (as in the above-named programs) instead of teaching two opposed styles (print, then cursive) and leaving people to jerry-build some hybrid on their own? When an an untrained hybrid style has its flaws, this suggests the need for a _trained_ hybrid style.