Knowledge of how to teach cursive writing is becoming lost at an even faster rate than is cursive itself in the English-speaking world.
Interestingly, this is not the case in many non-English-speaking European countries and their former colonies around-the-world, in which printing is not ever taught. Instead, five-year-olds begin immediately with learning cursive letters.
This post will not deal with the issue of whether cursive should continue to be taught. Instead, it will explain the proper procedure for teaching cursive, since there are few teachers left who really know how.
TWO VERY WRONG METHODS TO TEACH CURSIVE:
1. Give the students a workbook and tell them to work through it on their own whenever they have free time. This method is the fall-back approach for a teacher who is asked/told to teach cursive, but who doesn’t have time/isn’t interested/doesn’t know how/doesn’t know how to write well (or at all) in cursive himself or herself.
2. Put a letter (and later a word) on the board, and tell students in the class to “copy” it, leaving each child to devise their own different method to attempt a facsimile. Unfortunately, this is the method most often employed in some former French colonies (and many other places), with abysmal results.
WRONG TECHNIQUES AND PHILOSOPHIES FOR TEACHING CURSIVE:
3. Tell students to keep their papers or cursive workbooks straight in front of them while writing. This produces an incorrect vertical script, or even a backslanted script, angling upward to the left. The paper or workbook must be turned in order to achieve an acceptable slant, and this habit needs to be demonbstrated and enforced in Kindergarten when children first are learning to print.
Cursive script in languages which are written from left-to-right should be be slanted upward to the right (English, French, Italian, Spanish, or any languages written using a Roman script). Cursive script in languages which are written from left-to-right should be slanted upward slightly to the left (Arabic, and other languages which are written using the Arabic script). This series of articles, however, will deal with teaching cursive writing in the American script (but the methods are the same for teaching any Roman-letter cursive script).
In some countries, vertical scripts are acceptable, but slanted scripts are much more beautiful and generally more highly esteemed.
4. Treat cursive as a subject less important, or less interesting, than math, science, or reading. To achieve a good result, cursive needs to be given an equal (or greater) priority to all these subjects for a short period of time (the 6-8 weeks it takes for the whole class to learn it well).
Teachers can make cursive a very fun class that everyone will look forward to, and techniques for doing so will be described in this series.
Once cursive has been learned, regular attention must be given to cursive for another three months (about 15 minutes, three times a week) for the next three months. (Procedures will be described in this series.)
5.) Start by teaching only the lower-case letters, and save the upper-case letters for “later.” This generally results in non-mastery of cursive, because the students never learn, nor master, all of the capital letters. Instead of writing some letters in cursive, and others in printing, students revert back to printing because of not feeling competent in writing cursive captials.
6. Grade the students on the neatness of their writing. This is a BIG mistake. Cursive writing is not about neatness. It is about speed and usefulness, first of all. Secondly, it is about being clear enough to be understood; for most people, it need not be a work of art to achieve these objectives. For those who enjoy it, beauty can be achieved in addition (but this should have nothing to do with grading).
Students should have their cursive writing graded on three OBJECTIVE criteria ONLY: 1.) Are the letters being formed correctly, starting in the right place, looping in the correct direction, retraced correctly, and crossed or dotted correctly? 2.) Are the upper zones and lower zones in balanced proportion to each other? 3.) Is the slant consistent, and within an acceptable range? And yes, left-handers can achieve the correct slant (techniques for left-handers will be discussed in this series).
With these guidelines, most students are quite capable of achieving grades which will motivate them. Keep in mind, the writing of some students can meet all three criteria, yet look messy. If the criteria are met, the student should have an A (grades in the American system fall between high grades of A, and low grades of F.).
This is especially motivating to some young boys who have more difficulty than many girls in achieving neatness. These A students with messy cursive are often the students who later become most motivated of all to improve the neatness of their writing, seeing their success on objective criteria.
7. Have children copy long passages nightly, claiming it is “to improve their handwriting.” Copying on one’s own, without specific feedback and instruction from the teacher, will NEVER improve students’ cursive writing and is guaranteed to make children HATE cursive writing forever, rather than it becoming a useful and enjoyable life skill.
Correct techniques for improving neatness in cursive will be discussed in this series.
–Lynne Diligent, an Expert in Teaching Cursive Writing
Other Cursive Posts by Lynne Diligent: