Friday, 29 October 2010

Cursive Writing

My eldest son started in Year 2 without being able to read or write. We had been living abroad and, in Turkey as in many European countries, formal learning didn't start until a child was 7. With Year 2 being a SATs year, our son had a lot of catching up to do. And with the support of a great teacher, catch up he did! However, less than a term into Year 3 he was struggling and said, "I don't know what to do. Either I write enough but it isn't neat enough. Or I write neatly but I can't write enough." Apparently, this sometimes led to him missing his playtime, and it was a source of stress to him.

At parents' evening, we asked his teacher why there was such an emphasis on cursive writing. Our son's printed writing was really quite neat, and we never had to write in cursive script when we were at school. The teacher's response was short and telling: "It's 2 marks on the SATs test."

I am not arguing that it is not important for children to learn to write, but when do you or I now sit and write by hand? Maybe a list or a note .... However most writing now is done at the computer, and by the time our children leave school, voice recognition technology will mean they need only talk to a computer and the text will appear. This technology is already in existence. Why then the insistence on cursive writing, the endless hours spent by active inquisitive youngsters labouring over their handwriting? For 2 marks on a SATs paper? That's not a good enough reason for me.

I have just heard that the schools' line on cursive writing has now been extended to reception - with young children being taught cursive script right from the beginning, rather than learning to print and then having to switch over to cursive later on. I wonder if anyone has actually observed a young child writing before making these changes to the way in which children are taught. My 4 year old is learning to form his letters very well at his own pace. Today he wrote his first and surname (which he copied from a label he found) in beautiful print. How on earth he would react to my pointing out and picking over his 'errors' or to my continually insisting 'We don't write it like that, we write it like this' I cannot imagine. But surely it would crush his pleasure and sense of achievement in these early efforts. Worse, over time, I am sure it would destroy any inclination he had to write purely for pleasure.

I wonder why the solution in current educational practice always seems to be to start things younger .... Maybe we would be better to take a lesson from other countries and formalise learning later instead?

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