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Kids learn cursive at summer workshop at Spencer-Penn
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Instructor Lynn Wolf looks over writing done by Kayla Preston during a cursive writing class held at Spencer-Penn Centre. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Monday, July 22, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

“Curve tall, down, slant, swing.”

These could have been instructions at a dance class, or maybe an exercise group. Instead, they were directions on how to write an “r” in cursive, the writing style that moves from individual block letters into merged, rounded letters to form words.

Years ago, cursive writing was a standard practice and a standard lesson in school. But in the digital age, many educators question the value of spending classroom time on it.

“At the same time, new research has been emerging that points to the educational value of handwriting in ways that go well beyond being able to read cursive or take notes without benefit of a handheld device,” the National Association of State Boards of Education wrote of “The Handwriting Debate” in a policy update in September 2012.

Those benefits include literacy and brain development, memory and development of cognitive and motor skills, the policy stated. “Handwriting instruction can be especially valuable to many students with disabilities,” it stated.

That is why Keri Knott of Spencer, a rising 10th-grader at Magna Vista High School, is taking a class in cursive writing this summer at the Spencer-Penn Centre. She has dyslexia, a learning disorder that affects the recognition and comprehension of written words, and said some of her printed words are hard for her to read.

The course instructor, retired educator Lynn Wolf, said cursive writing helps dyslexics by such things as helping prevent the flipping of letters such as b and d, u and n.

One hour a week for six weeks this summer, about 10 students ranging in age from 9 to 74 are gathering to follow Wolf’s directions and learn the art of writing in cursive.

In the case of the letter “r,” the art comes down to those five words: curve tall, down, slant and swing. For instance, after demonstrating on a white board how to properly form the letter “r” while saying each movement aloud, Wolf had students stand, point the index fingers on their writing hands and air-write “r,” saying each movement as they moved their fingers: curve tall, down, slant, swing.

After tracing the letter r, the students were asked to practice writing the letter on several different textures, such as a worksheet, another student’s back (writing with an index finger), on a piece of carpet and on a chalkboard.

Or take the letter “s.” It involves curve tall, down, cup handle, swing. Cup handle? In addition to the other techniques, Wolf held a ceramic mug upside down and pointed out the cup’s “s”-shape handle.

Wolf makes the class fun and multisensory, including auditory (hearing), visual, kinesthetic (large muscle groups) and tactile (fine, smaller muscle groups). It’s important to use various senses because students learn in different ways, she said.

The students are taking the class for a variety of reasons, but many mentioned developing a legible signature.

Scott Harmon of Pleasant Grove, a rising fifth-grader at Carver Elementary, is taking the class with his 74-year-old maternal grandmother, Jean Moore, also of Pleasant Grove, who works at a florist. Scott said he thinks learning cursive will help him write his signature legibly and to read cursive. Moore said she thinks her being in the class with Scott helps him.

Christopher Dennis, a rising fifth-grader at Carver Elementary, said learning cursive will help him write his signature legibly and to fill out job applications when he grows up.

Keri Knott said she feels teachers in public schools do not have adequate time to teach cursive writing since there are so many other demands on them because of Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

She added that she thinks the techniques Wolf used will help her remember the cursive letters better.

Barbara Gravely, 63, of Axton, who owns a sewing business, said she cannot write as well as she used to. “When you get older, you lose it,” Gravely said of cursive writing skills.

Wolf, a retired educator with a doctorate in educational leadership, said she is using in the cursive writing class some of the techniques she used during the 15 years she was a learning disabilities teacher for Henry County Schools. She also was an administrator for that school division and later retired from Averett University, where she was director of and department chair for the teacher education program.

Wolf said instruction in cursive writing takes a back seat to many other subjects in public schools because it is not tested under SOL requirements.

Handwriting is part of the instructional program in early elementary grades under Virginia’s English Standards of Learning, Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, has said. Second-graders are expected to be able to print legibly and begin to make the transition to cursive writing while they learn how to edit for grammar, punctuation and spelling. By the end of grade three, students are expected to write legibly in cursive, enhance the ability to edit writing and write a short report.

But that’s not enough instruction, according to Wolf, who said she feels students are not being taught to mastery and that after instruction ends in public schools, students tend to not hold on to what they learned because they don’t have the comfort level to continue practicing cursive writing.

She said she thinks the cursive writing class is a good idea and hopes it continues in the future.


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