MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 6, 2013

Handwriting on the wall? Schools here reduce focus on penmanship

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Mandy Bryant’s third-graders at Hilldale know how to read cursive well by spring, she said.

They have to, Bryant said, because she writes all of their homework instructions, spelling words and everything else in cursive on her whiteboard.

Bryant said learning to write cursive in third-grade is something the kids look forward to, also.

“They feel special and proud when they learn to write and read it,” Bryant said.

Hilldale’s third-graders will continue to be taught cursive, and so will Muskogee’s and Fort Gibson’s.

But the emphasis won’t be on perfect penmanship, and the time spent learning will be reduced, officials said.

Hilldale schools will continue treating cursive writing as an important skill, said Faye Garrison, assistant superintendent.

Bryant said she and the other third-grade teachers introduce cursive at the beginning of the school year, and by the second nine weeks the students only spend 10 minutes a day in practice.

“We just feel it’s very important,” Garrison said. “We know we are getting away from it in our society but for now we are still teaching it.”

Garrison said students are beginning to learn keyboarding skills in elementary school in preparation for testing that soon becomes completely digital for the state’s new curriculum standards. The Common Core Curriculum will require every district’s fourth-graders to write an essay on the computer as part of that testing.

Fort Gibson Intermediate Elementary Principal Sherry Rybolt said the debate about cursive handwriting has been going on for some years.

Fort Gibson third-graders will continue learning cursive, she said, but like the other districts, won’t be spending as much time on it.

Rybolt’s main concern is that leaving the handwriting requirement out of the Common Core standards leaves each district able to decide whether to teach cursive.

“We’ve already seen problems with students that transfer here from a district that doesn’t teach handwriting anymore,” she said. “And they can’t read what the teacher is writing on the board.”

Rybolt said the big question is what skills the education world decides to hang onto as electronic communication becomes the norm.

“Only being able to do their signature? It’s been debated for the last 10 years and no one has a good answer yet,” Rybolt  said.

Fort Gibson elementary students are working on keyboarding skills at least once a week in computer lab, she said.

Muskogee Public Schools also are prepping their students on keyboarding skills.

But Muskogee schools have turned their focus from perfect penmanship, said Peggy Jones, executive director for curriculum and instruction.

“Certainly, we wouldn’t stop teaching our students how to write and read cursive writing. We just wouldn’t put the emphasis on a penmanship grade,” Jones said. “The standards do require that our students be able to read and communicate, so as long as that is there, we’ll have to teach our children to communicate in manuscript and cursive as well.”

Jones said the idea that handwriting should be “pretty” and graded is not as important as getting ideas down on paper and it being legible.

MPS has already begun moving younger students toward the keyboarding skills required by the Common Core standards, she said. Second-graders are using a program that teaches typing, word processing skills and digital citizenship (how to use the Internet safely), she said.

“Eventually, they will all take the test online in front of the computer,” Jones said. “The idea is that our kids will have to have some keyboarding to write constructive responses as early as third grade.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

Learn more

Common Core State Standards Initiative website: www.corestandards.org.