In the age of technology, should schools write off cursive?

In the age of technology, should schools write off cursive?

As school curriculums get more packed with standards to meet, and student learning trends toward more technology, cursive writing has been left hanging in the balance, and up to individual districts to determine whether its instruction warrants time in the school day.

Feelings on script, and penmanship in general, are mixed among area school officials.

In talks with The Breeze this week, North Providence Supt. Melinda Smith, Woonsocket Supt. Giovanna Donoyan and Smithfield Supt. Robert O'Brien touted its importance, while Lincoln Curriculum Director Caroline Frey said it has been swapped for technology instruction and not taught in town for the past two years, save for a few teachers who may choose to incorporate it into other lessons.

Frey said she has no concerns that students will grow up without a knowledge of how to read cursive text, equating it to analog clocks in a world where many students read only digital.

Donoyan said script requires perseverance and thought in a world that can be "too fast-paced for our little minds."

"I think that there's a sense of duty as an educator to ensure that children know how to write and write legibly," Donoyan said.

USA Today reported last week that at least 41 states do not mandate cursive writing instruction, nor does the Common Core standards. Rhode Island is one of those states.

"There are no state mandates regarding the study or practice of cursive writing," said Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger. "Districts can decide whether to provide instruction in cursive writing."

Smith said that while script has always been taught in the North Providence schools, its instruction will be made more consistent throughout classrooms as the district updates curriculums this year under the direction of Asst. Supt. Lisa Jacques and elementary school principals.

They will decide when such learning will be officially implemented, Smith said, with a current emphasis on handwriting placed on students in kindergarten through grade 2. Script is usually introduced, she added, during the latter part of 2nd grade.

"It is an important thing," said Smith, who said she learned the importance of penmanship as a student in Catholic schools growing up. "Students still have to communicate through handwriting."

O'Brien said he brought back the teaching of cursive writing after Smithfield teachers urged him to do so. He had noticed teachers printing on classroom blackboards, and when he asked why, teachers told him that the kids could not read the script.

"Most people print today," he acknowledged. "Not too many people use it any more, the kids text message and all that. But still, there are times when you need to write, it's all part of communication."

When he realized cursive writing was actually becoming a lost art, he said he knew it was time to teach it again.

"The way the world is changing, writing is important," O'Brien said.

While not commenting directly on cursive writing's place in the Woonsocket curriculum, which is being looked at this year, Donoyan said it has always been taught. Fundations, a phonics program new to the elementary schools this year, has a cursive writing component, she said.

"I personally believe that we should have cursive writing," Donoyan said, explaining that, like math, it teaches perseverance. "Learning cursive is regimented, but it also requires a whole thought process."

She said she is "really disappointed" that handwriting, and letter-writing, has become less of a priority for so many.

"Society, in general, has lost the beauty of writing on a piece of paper," Donoyan said.

But she acknowledged that in a school district, there is only so much time to cover all the lessons students need to learn throughout the year.

"There are so many things that we have to do and cram into it," she said, adding that handwriting, which could be placed "under the umbrella of literacy skills," has to be balanced with technology skills.

Frey, who said districts are "bogged down" with trying to meet all the standards, said Lincoln students have to be prepared for the technological expectations they have before them.

Standardized tests, like the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, are headed to almost exclusively online participation.

"The way that we do things has just changed so much," Frey said, adding that cursive writing is not seen as being a vital skill. "Being technologically savvy is critical for students."

She said in her time spent in Newport and Cranston schools prior to her taking her job in Lincoln, she had also seen a trend in leaving cursive for more technology lessons.

"It's generally not taught," Frey said. "I have not seen it in five years."

She said writing and understanding numbers and capital and lowercase letters is taught through literacy lessons and still considered "critical," but there is less of an emphasis on penmanship.

Instead, computer skills like copying and pasting, or dragging and dropping an item on the screen, are more important, she said.

PARCC will require students to not only respond to prompts, but also select and move information in selected passages that prove their argument, Frey explained.

Computers are introduced to students in kindergarten classrooms, Frey said, and there is a focus for grades 4 and 5 to learn keyboarding skills.

Lincoln students take a keyboarding class in grade 6, she said, and there are computer tech classes for grades 7 and 8. At the high school level, there are two levels of computer tool box courses students can take as electives.

Smith said North Providence has brought in Learning.com's EasyTech program for computer literacy in anticipation of the PARCC test implementation in 2014.

Starting this year, Smith said, students will learn keyboarding and computer mouse skills as early as kindergarten.

"Technology is really an active part of children's lives," Frey said.

Valley Breeze & Observer Correspondent Denise Perreault also contributed to this report.