The Case for Cursive: Connected Letters, Connected Thinking

I wonder how many of you reading this write in cursive. If so, you are among a declining group. Cursive is a dying form of writing, especially with the prevalence of laptops and tablets in classrooms all over the country.

Many schools aren’t even teaching cursive to kids.

But are we short-changing our kids if we don’t teach cursive writing? Do they lose something besides flowery writing and a unique signature? A most definite YES to both of those questions.

Your Brain on Cursive Writing

The development of the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine made it possible to see activity in the brain and pinpoint which parts of the brain are being used during critical functions such as thought, speech, and writing, among others.

Brain mapping, as it is called, shows that during cursive writing both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are active. This is something that is not present either while keyboarding or writing in print.

This right-left brain synergy, when both sides of the brain are used simultaneously, promotes improved language and memory functions.

Some brain researchers go further to say the more we integrate the logical (left) and intuitive (right) sides of our brain, the greater our skill at innovation — the ability to analyze problems and solve them with out-of-the-box thinking.

Researchers studying Einstein’s brain found that the right and left hemispheres of his brain were uniquely well connected. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

Why Should You Bother With Cursive Writing?

Cursive writing, specifically, is beneficial in these five ways:

1. Once letter formation is learned, cursive writing is faster than printing, and for many students it’s faster than keyboarding.

2. The connected letters in cursive result in increased writing fluency (speed and smoothness). The flow of cursive means your pen — along with your thoughts — doesn’t stop moving.

3. This characteristic of cursive writing is shown to be especially beneficial for many struggling learners with processing speed deficits or language difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia. Cursive writing also results in fewer letter reversals, which are common with dyslexics.

4. Cursive writing leads to better spelling, because words are visualized as units rather than separate strokes.

5. The ability to read cursive gives you access to many primary sources (i.e. the Constitution) that are written in cursive. That’s a lot of history that you’ll miss out on if you can’t read cursive.

Why Both Printing and Cursive Are Better for Your Brain

Functional MRIs provide proof that writing by hand activates language areas of the brain that are not engaged with keyboarding.

The more our neurons are activated and making connections, the greater the learning and retention of new information.

From Essays to Note Taking: Why Writing by Hand is More Powerful

There are two compelling studies that further prove the superior benefits of handwriting versus keyboarding for learning.

Educational psychologist Virginia Berninger, who studied the writing composition of children in grades 2 through 5, found that the students “consistently did better writing with a pen when they wrote essays.”

Compared to the students that typed on a keyboard, the students that hand wrote their essays were able to compose at a faster rate, and they produced longer essays. They also wrote more complete sentences than the keyboarders, and their essays expressed more ideas.

Another study looked at college students taking lecture notes on laptops versus longhand in notepads. Students that took notes on computer produced a lot more notes, but the quality was poor. The typed notes tended to be mindless transcription of the lecture. The handwritten notes, while less lengthy, resulted in deeper learning and longer retention.

A week after viewing the lectures, the college students were given ten minutes to review their notes then given a test. Students with handwritten notes performed significantly better on both factual and conceptual questions.

While computers may make it easier to take lots of notes, they may bypass the deeper thinking that needs to occur for effective note taking and, consequently, learning.

Bringing Cursive Back from the Brink of Extinction

Without federal mandates to teach cursive, many school districts are now deciding whether to keep or do away with cursive handwriting. Some districts have already eliminated it. They have been told that computers and keyboarding can replace handwriting. They have been misled into thinking that cursive is inconsequential and not worth the time spent in school learning it.

But you know differently.

What Can You Do to Keep Cursive in Your Child’s School?

If you feel, like I do, that cursive belongs in our school curriculum, it’s not too late. If enough of us can make more people aware of how important cursive is to learning, we can save it.

What can one person do?

You can share this information and research with members of your school committee. Share it with administrators in your school district. Share it with other parents and with your children’s teachers.

If enough people in your area understand the benefits of cursive, you can affect change in your district. And, gradually at first, then exponentially, cursive writing will spread until it again takes its rightful place in helping to teach our children to write, think, and learn.

Your child will have the best of both worlds — the ability to access a mountain of information at a moment’s notice through technology and the internet, and the ability to process that information deeply and thoughtfully, using those language areas of her brain that have been developed in part through the experience of cursive writing.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.