Horry, Georgetown students continue learning cursive in a digital world

Third-grader Jaiden Polle put pencil to paper, making a few swirling letters before stopping, erasing and starting again. Happy with her second try, her hand picked up speed as she made the curving motions that would render her assignment in script rather than manuscript, or print.

“It’s easier for me,” said Jaiden of cursive writing, “and it’s faster.”

Jaiden and her classmates at St. James Elementary School on Thursday were learning to write paragraphs, complete with adjectives and sentences that state a main idea. They each had the choice of which writing style to use, and Jaiden was one of the few who tackled her sentences in cursive.

“As the year progresses, they’ll do more and be more comfortable with it,” said teacher Kathy Moore. “I still think they need it and to learn how to read it – how would they read historical documents or recognize John Hancock’s name?”

Moore said she’s old school, but she’s not alone in maintaining the importance of handwriting in the digital world. Many states have eliminated cursive instruction from their curriculum or have made the teaching optional, but South Carolina requires it, according to English-Language Arts State Standards adopted in 2008.The practice is sure to be up for debate in districts as the state transitions to the Common Core State Standards, which will be fully implemented in 2014.

South Carolina is one of 45 states and three territories that have adopted Common Core, which does not explicitly require students to learn cursive writing. The State Board of Education and Education Oversight Committee could have added cursive writing to the Common Core English-Language Arts standards but chose not to, according to information from the S.C. Department of Education.

St. James Principal Mary Beth Heath said cursive is formally taught in the second semester of second grade, but the curriculum leaves little time these days for handwriting – which is not a graded subject – and third-graders get the lesson by writing spelling and vocabulary in cursive. She said keyboarding, however, which used to be taught in middle school, now is taught at the elementary level from kindergarten up.

“Learning to write words in cursive is exciting for them,” said Heath, saying it can come easier for some children who have trouble learning to print, “but we have to do a little of both because we don’t want them not to have an option.”

Heath said students value printed words because everything they see is in print, whether on a computer or a finished product, but there are areas where cursive is more appropriate. While manuscript works well in subjects such as math where clarity is needed, she said cursive comes in handy, whether for speed when taking notes or for writing a more personal note.

At Horry County Schools, the subject of handwriting continuing under Common Core hasn’t formally been discussed, but Beverly Pilkey, HCS director of elementary education, said a lot will have to be considered for any decision.

“Nationally, the trends are to move more toward 21st century skills, and that’s something we’ll be looking at – national trends and goals,” Pilkey said.

The Georgetown County School District, however, plans to keep handwriting in the mix, said Patti Hammel, executive director for student performance and federal programs.

“We do still feel it’s important, although handwriting is something that used to have a lot more emphasis than it does now,” Hammel said. “With the computer-based programs, it will certainly become less important, but there is a relationship between students who learn to write cursive effectively and achievement. In my opinion, there is still a place for students to write.”