Rewriting the script: Portland school brings cursive back into the classroom

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PORTLAND — Even in this digital age, handwriting is still a foundational skill that helps develop proficiency in reading, writing, language and critical thinking.

That’s why the East End Community School has added handwriting, including cursive, back into the curriculum for students in pre-kindergarten through third grade this year.

Karen Fream, the literacy coach at East End, said recent studies show that learning to write by hand is critical for students in younger grades because it “triggers many other learning benefits.”

“Handwriting activates comprehension and connection building in the brain” in ways that typing does not, she said. In fact, Fream said research she relied on shows writing by hand can actually strengthen the learning process.

East End School is now making handwriting a daily focus, Fream said, because “we began noticing there was a lot of inconsistency in teaching handwriting” throughout the building, and “we noticed a lot of student handwriting was illegible.”

The question then became, “how do we solve this issue? We knew we needed to do something, so we did a lot of research and reviewed a number of different programs and handwriting curriculum and then created a plan.”

She said students in pre-K through third grade are now spending about 10 minutes a day concentrating on learning the skill of handwriting and forming letters, which, she said, “provides a foundation for higher-order skills.”

Students in pre-K through second grade are focusing on the mechanics of letter formation, while the third-graders are moving on to beginning cursive, Fream said.

For instance, in kindergarten classrooms, teachers are incorporating some aspect of handwriting into each learning station. She said the first-graders are using the Learning Without Tears curriculum.

The second-graders are using the D’Nealian curriculum, which Fream said allows for a better and easier transition into beginning to learn cursive in third grade.

While teaching keyboarding has often replaced a focus on handwriting in schools across the country, Fream said her research showed that learning “correct letter formation can significantly decrease a student’s difficulty in reading and writing.”

Learning handwriting, she said, also provides students with the “ability to express themselves more readily.” In addition, Fream said studies show students can remember better if they write information down.

Learning to write by hand allows students to “gain fluency and automaticity in this skill that has been shown to bolster reading and writing abilities,” according to the “Handwriting in the 21st Century? Research Shows Why Handwriting Belongs in Today’s Classroom” white paper.

“When students do not adequately develop handwriting skills, the negative implications can be lifelong,” the paper adds. “Without consistent exposure to handwriting, research indicates that students can experience difficulty in certain processes required for success in reading and writing.”

Those deficits include difficulty in retrieving letters from memory, spelling accurately, extracting meaning from a text or lecture and interpreting the overall context of words and phrases.

Other research Fream looked at said “handwriting is a key step in cognitive development” and that even the act of holding a writing utensil and touching it to paper can be a key sensory motor exercise.

Handwriting is simply not the same as scanning a typewritten text, Fream said: “Students still need to learn this skill.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A student at East End Community School in Portland practices correct letter formation during a classroom session on handwriting, which has been brought back into the curriculum this year.

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