Teaching Cursive Handwriting- Is It Essential?
Handwriting is a complex task as it requires a number of skills; including cognitive, language, auditory processing, visual processing, fine motor control, vestibular kinaesthetic and proprioceptive development, spatial awareness and gross motor skills. In addition to this knowledge of letter names, letter sounds and letter formations is required.
In the Australian Curriculum the expectation from Foundation to Year 2 is for students to ‘write legibly and with growing fluency using unjoined upper case and lower case letters’. The expectation in Year 3 and Year 4 is for students to ‘write using clearly formed letters and to develop increased fluency and automaticity’.
When a student is learning cursive they need to learn about entries, exits, joins, letters that don’t join, letters that change and different types of joins for different letters. They need to plan ahead. Cursive print requires a lot more working memory and a significant amount of practise to become fluent and automatic.
For students with language difficulties, learning cursive handwriting is a very difficult task. Many of these students have not established automatic print script before it is time to introduce cursive. These students also often also have difficulties with their written language and spelling abilities. Combining learning cursive with these factors to try and produce written work is extremely difficult for a student with language difficulties. There is a high correlation between automated handwriting and written language ability. There is also a high correlation between automated handwriting and spelling ability. Slow handwriting often leads to a student having difficulty transcribing their thoughts into written language which impacts work output. In the classroom this may be the student who can say their ideas, however when they try to write their idea it becomes jumbled.
In the Australian Curriculum from Year 5 onwards, ‘developing a handwriting style that is becoming legible, fluent and automatic’ is the requirement. This handwriting style may be print script, cursive script or mixed script. Often students who had not established automatic print script prior to learning cursive script use the inefficient mixed script, which isn’t fluent or automated.
Therefore the purpose and functionality of teaching entries, exits and cursive needs to be considered and professional judgement used as to whether this is a priority to teach. If a student with language difficulties is having difficulty spelling and also generating and writing sentences it may be suggested that teaching cursive is not a priority. Instead focus on the student continuing to use legible handwriting and building skills in spelling and transcribing thoughts into written communication.
‘Handwriting- A fundamental Skill in Written Language’- Dr Dian Jones
The Australian Curriculum- http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/english/Curriculum/F-10