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Cursive Writing

March 8, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley

The ability to produce (write) or interpret (read) written text is central to human communication. Words and sentences can be constructed by handwriting (print/manuscript, cursive), typing, and/or other digital tools (e.g., speech-to-text technology). Compared to typing, handwriting practice has stronger positive impacts on reading, writing and memory. While there is limited research directly comparing cursive and print handwriting, there is evidence that cursive writing can preferentially increase the speed and fluency of writing and reading for some students, especially those with handwriting difficulties (e.g., dyslexia, dysgraphia and developmental control disorder). Missouri currently does not require students to read or write in cursive; however, twenty-one states specifically mandate cursive handwriting instruction in some form. House Bill 108 would require Missouri’s public school districts to provide cursive writing instruction by the end of the fifth grade and administer a proficiency test for reading and writing cursive.

Highlights

  • Relative to typing, handwriting instruction while children are learning to read and write can improve literacy (e.g., identifying letters, spelling, reading).
  • Most existing research on the learning benefits of cursive writing relies on measuring patterns of activation in specific regions of the brain. Additional research is needed to connect brain activity to learning gains from cursive writing.
  • In some cases, individuals with handwriting difficulties have demonstrated improved fluency and legibility after cursive instruction. However, the benefits of cursive writing do not fully raise proficiency to match individuals without handwriting difficulties.

Limitations

  • Most cursive handwriting studies have been performed using students and schools outside the United States where the most common type of handwriting is cursive or a print-cursive hybrid. While we expect that some elements of teaching strategies will translate across countries, cultural/regional differences in writing and education may not be universally applicable.
  • In addition to visualizing what parts of the brain are activated during cursive handwriting, additional research is needed to establish a causal relationship between cursive writing and improved literacy and/or academic performance.
  • There are limited to no studies evaluating the efficacy of cursive handwriting as an intervention for handwriting difficulties compared to other literacy interventions.
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