Cursive thing of the past at many Illinois schools

2011-08-01T07:00:00Z 2011-08-01T21:57:39Z Cursive thing of the past at many Illinois schoolsBy Phyllis Coulter

Amy Brooks can write a note to her third-grade daughter and be assured the girl will understand and follow the directions.

That is becoming rarer today because many elementary-school-age children don’t learn to read and write in cursive script anymore.

Brooks, whose children attend Benjamin Elementary School in Bloomington, was shocked to discover that the subject is not taught at some Illinois schools and others have cut back on it.

“I can’t imagine not learning cursive,” said the mother of two children who attend a Unit 5 school where it is still taught.

She said she can’t envision children not learning to sign their names, read a letter or understand a historic document.

“It’s a rite of passage,” she said.

The state of Illinois doesn’t mandate teaching cursive, leaving it up to local school districts, said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Most Twin City and area school districts still teach the skill in second or third grade or both, but several note that they spend less time with it today.

Some school officials say cursive writing is a skill for today but not necessarily for the future.

“My opinion, based upon what I have observed here and other places, is that it will go by the wayside at some point because technology is only increasing. The need for handwritten material is almost extinct,” said Lexington school Superintendent Curt Nettles.

In Bloomington District 87 there is a similar sentiment.

“We don’t feel compelled to completely put it by the wayside at this time,” said Cindy Helmers, District 87’s assistant superintendent of curriculum.

In Unit 5, it’s up to teachers to decide how to present it, said Kurt Swearingen, the district’s director of elementary education.

“Our focus has been on legibility,” he added. “Cursive used to be taught with workbooks and in a certain style, but now it is more important that students get their thoughts on paper, not how they can form a letter.”

Brooks said that her daughter, Peyton, 8, had looked forward to learning “grownup” handwriting in second grade last year.

“It was something fun to learn, and I wanted to know,” she said.

Her older brother Logan, 10, said he enjoys writing in cursive.

The siblings read notes written by their grandparents and write them thank-you notes for gifts. Logan also likes being able to endorse checks written to him.

“His handwriting is beautiful,” his mother said.

Michelle Kraft, the second-grade Benjamin teacher who taught Peyton handwriting, said her students don’t spend a lot of time on it.

“It’s much more important for us to get these kids reading on a grade level than writing cursive, but it is still a tool we want to expose them to,” Kraft said.

Ironically, as technology crowds out cursive, it also makes it easier to teach the handwriting style. Students in Kraft’s class learn how to form the letters by watching demonstrations on interactive white boards.

“There are some real benefits for some students who struggle with spacing or getting their thoughts on paper,” said Lauren Cottrell, a third-grade teacher at Stevenson Elementary School in Bloomington.

“My students are really excited and motivated to learn cursive,” she said. “They want to sign their name like their parents.”

Fred Shears, principal of Olympia North Elementary School in Danvers, said cursive still is vital to learning to communicate effectively, but he conceded that it is “likely inevitable” that the skill will fade from classrooms in the future.

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