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Monday, November 12, 2012 9:11 PM

State will weigh in on handwriting in classroom

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer

As computers become a more prominent resource in primary education, the Kansas Department of Education now is surveying school districts on how thoroughly they’re teaching cursive handwriting to students.

The Kansas Board of Education plans later this week to discuss the results of the survey, which the Ottawa School District recently completed, Dean Katt superintendent of Ottawa schools, said.

While he considers it to be important in some capacities, Katt said he’s pleased the state plans to offer suggestions as to what extent cursive handwriting should be taught.

“I definitely think that students need to know how to sign their name and have an understanding like that,” Katt said. “Cursive is important, but in reality — when you really look and see what these students will be doing when they graduate from high school — I can’t imagine everything that they do isn’t going to be on a keyboard. ... I’m glad the state is looking at it and is going to give us recommendations there.”

In general, schools across the nation now are spending less time teaching handwriting lessons, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. 

Through a majority of the 1900s, students spent roughly 30 to 45 minutes studying handwriting each day, the association wrote in a policy update. Today, however, students study handwriting for about 15 minutes a day, which the group said is closer to what experts recommend.  

Despite the decreased amount of time spent on cursive handwriting lessons, the association claims that such instruction still is beneficial for students in a variety of ways.

“The arguments against requiring handwriting instruction — cursive, in particular — are based on what might be called ‘common sense logic’ rather than on research,” the National Association of State Boards of Education wrote. “But the strongest arguments in favor of teaching cursive are emerging from a growing body of research from the last 10 to 15 years that points to the educational benefits of learning to write by hand — benefits that go well beyond just the ability to write and read cursive.”

Its reasons for schools to continue offering handwriting lessons include positive cognitive, literacy and motor skill development, in addition to improving one’s memory expressive abilities.

In addition to the developmental benefits, Jerry Henn, superintendent of Wellsville schools, said that cursive handwriting lessons also offer practical tools for students to use later in life.

“From my standpoint, we want to continue along those lines because when kids grow up they need to know how to write their signature [for] legalizing documents,” Henn said, adding that students in his district begin cursive lessons in second grade and continue through fifth grade. “There are lots of things we could be teaching our kids, but I think from my standpoint, everything that we teach in school should be based around what the kids’ needs are.”

In addition to providing his students with pragmatic lessons such as cursive handwriting, Henn said offering classes on new technology is equally as important.

“[Computer classes] are useful in many different areas,” Henn added of the district’s computer courses, which he said begin in elementary school. The classes, he said, incorporate basic computer knowledge, terminology, keyboarding and also Accelerated Reader courses, which aim to improve students’ reading abilities.

Katt said he also recognizes the importance for youth in Ottawa’s schools to learn about computers, in addition to using such technology to add in their education. Similar to students’ enthusiastic responses to the classes, Katt said, instructors also seem thrilled at the prospect of incorporating more technology into the classroom.  

“Kids are going to be using a keyboard in some capacity — whether it’s a phone, laptop or iPad — to communicate,” Katt said, adding that the district’s computer classes first begin with students in kindergarten. “I’m just excited that, even in elementary schools, the teachers have iPads and they’re starting to develop ways to integrate that into the classroom. It’s just exciting. There are all kinds of possibilities.”

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