Writing Purpose vs Writing Tools In A 21st Century Classroom

By Char Shryock   Dir. of Curriculum, Bay Village City Schools

What is the difference between the purpose for writing and the decision on what tools you use to actually write?  I took a moment to look at my own handwritten note taking over the past few weeks.  I am a native cursive writer. I grew up in a time when I had many opportunities to write and read cursive handwriting. What I found was an interesting hybrid of printed and cursive letter formation in my own writing, sometimes within the same word.  The fact that students in elementary school currently use their handwriting skills to write down their ideas goes along with what Virginia Berninger from the University of Washington found when study children through 6th grade. A Washington Post article quoting her research, along with that of others, suggests students can use handwriting to quickly capture an idea, and develop their own handwriting style once they have learned the fundamentals.  She does not advocate for time spent on handwriting drills.   I learned to write cursive because it was a writing tool,  a way to put my thoughts and the thoughts of others down on paper so they could be referenced at a later date or as a way to communicate with someone who was not in close proximity to me.  Now, students in our district are learning print (manuscript) and then cursive as a way to reinforce their foundational reading skills, helping students to make connected letter sounds on paper to mirror the connected letter sounds they are reading.  There are many writing tools, both technology based and manual, available to them to help them capture and organize their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. 

With the ready access to digital means of communication, including increasingly dependable and accurate speech to text technology, students are no longer using cursive as a consistent tool for  written expression.  Students in grades K-3 do spend time on handwriting and letter formation as part of the process of developmental reading as well as a tool for written communication.  Beyond 3rd grade, instructional time is increasingly focused on the content of what they are writing, not necessarily the tool or format that they chose to write with.  Teachers do continue to emphasize legible handwriting when appropriate, with the student having choice in the use of print (manuscript) or cursive letter formation or even more likely, a digital way of writing.  As our society shifts to a more digital environment, we as educators need to consider what skills students should spend time in school learning and practicing.  Ohio’s Learning Standards for Writing and Language emphasize the need to be able to read and listen to a variety of texts both literary (fiction) and informational (non-fiction), find evidence to support ideas from those texts, synthesize and analyze information and then write about  it in a way that will make sense to others who are reading or listening to it.    Printing (manuscript) , cursive, keyboarding, and speech to text, are all tools to help students convey this information.  

As you move through this year, think about opportunities your students have to read and listen to a variety of texts, in a variety of formats. Students need many opportunities to write using evidence from a text, regardless of the format of this writing.  Twenty-first Century learners will need to analyze, synthesize and make inferences from the work of others. They will need to be able to share this analysis, and express their own innovative ideas, in the format that is best suited to convey their work.  Conversations around the role of cursive in classrooms can be the starting point for a deeper conversation on the tools and resources students need to share their thinking and continue to grow as effective writers and communicators.

Proposed Policy Related to Writing:

The  proposed legislation, Ohio HB 58, that would add to section to 3313.60 of the Ohio Revised Code the following language:

  1. The board of education of each city, exempted village, and local school district and the board of each cooperative education school district established, pursuant to section 3311.521 of the Revised Code, shall prescribe a curriculum for all schools under its control. Except as provided in division (E) of this section, in any such curriculum there shall be included the study of the following subjects:

9)Handwriting instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to ensure that students develop the ability to print letters and words legibly by third grade and to create readable documents using legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.

Interesting Resources:

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