NEW CASTLE —
Local teachers are not writing off cursive. They still encourage students to try their hand at writing like grownups.
Students at Neshannock learn and practice “old-school cursive writing to a varying degree” in grades three to six, said elementary principal Matthew Heasley.
Several years ago, realizing children couldn’t read “connected, script writing,” the district developed a philosophy to bring back cursive writing.
“But we don’t assign a letter grade as we used to,” he said.
Fourth-graders, Heasley said, are required to write their spelling test words in cursive — but they may also print the word if they’re not sure.
Heasley added, “After grade seven, I don’t know if they ever do anything with cursive again.”
With computers central to modern education, keyboarding is the focus of educators.
Most children, Heasley said, enter school familiar with computers and with a stylized “hunt-and-peck” system of typing. Keyboarding, as typing is now called, is taught in grade two or three and children are required to be proficient by grade four.
That has become the focus of the high-tech 21st century, he said.
“We expose them to handwriting, we teach handwriting but it is not required by the state in our language and core curriculum.
“Our hope and goal is that they’ll recognize it for what it is and be able to read it if they encounter it. It’s nice if a child can read a hand-written cursive note from their grandma if she sends them a birthday card and puts a note in it.”
Union students begin to learn cursive writing in grade two. These skills are reinforced in third grade and in grades three and four, students are required to use cursive in spelling tests, creative writing assignments and reports.
“By fourth grade we begin to change the focus and work computers into classroom work,” said elementary principal Linda O’Neill.
Word-processing skills are begun in grade three, “but we believe our students should be familiar with cursive writing, know what it is and be able to develop a signature, to sign their name.”
She said Pennsylvania does not require cursive writing be taught, “But it remains in our curriculum ... and we grade it — satisfactory or unsatisfactory.”
She added, “A lot of the kids think it’s fun to learn to write like their parents and grandparents.”
Students in New Castle learn about cursive writing in grade three. But by grade six, keyboarding takes center stage.
“We’re looking into beginning keyboarding sooner, maybe grade four or five,” said Terry Meehan, who is assistant to the superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “By sixth grade, many have learned bad habits by texting or using the hunt-and-pick system to type.”
Meehan said the district uses the “Handwriting Without Tears” program which covers pre-kindergarten through middle school. It begins with printing, builds on basics and includes cursive writing by grade three.
“Handwriting is a lost art,” Meehan said. “Our kids learn how to do it, how to read it but we don’t grade it.”
The state department of education, he added, does not require that schools teach cursive writing or keyboarding.
In Ellwood City, second-graders learn to write in the cursive style, connecting the printed letters they learned in kindergarten.
“Writing in some form is taught and graded in kindergarten and grades one and two,” elementary principal Frank Keally said. “Our students know it exists, and use it in grades three to six, but it is not assessed, not graded and not emphasized. It has been de-emphasized since I was in third grade in the 1980s.”
The district, Keally said, targets subjects emphasized by the state department of education that include reading, math, science and writing skills and focuses more on content than penmanship.
Second-graders are introduced to computer classes and become familiar with computers, software and typing, even though they are not “officially” introduced to keyboarding until grade seven.
“But kids today are computer savvy even before they come to school,” Keally pointed out.
The Shenango district is so “old school” on handwriting they use a method developed in 1908, elementary principal Adam Vincent said.
“We teach handwriting from kindergarten through grade six using the time-honored Peterson System and supplemental materials provided by our teachers.”
Second-graders who enter the school year printing are introduced to cursive writing following the Christmas break.
Vincent said not all teachers are fans of cursive lettering.
“Some ask why do we need it since everything is printed and keyboarding is part of the curriculum, but the veteran teachers say there is a lot more to handwriting than making letters.”
All students from kindergarten on up get computer classes at least one day each week, Vincent said, noting students become proficient in keyboarding at a young age.
Mohawk second-graders also learn to write in the cursive style, spending 15 minutes each day practicing, said assistant elementary principal George Sperdute.
This system continues into third grade. Students in grades four through six practice writing skills only 10 minutes per day, but it is incorporated into spelling and writing assignments.
He said students are not graded on their efforts, “but they must know how to read cursive and how to sign their names.”
Keyboarding, on the other hand, is introduced in kindergarten. The onset of iPads and touch screens in the classroom has made even pre-kindergartners fluent in high tech.
Cursive writing is a part of the curriculum in the Wilmington district, according to elementary principal Kenneth Jewell.
“We begin teaching it in grade two and build on the basics,” he said.
“I don’t see us getting rid of it anytime soon.”
Attempts to reach the Laurel school district were unsuccessful.