, Salem, MA

Local News

April 6, 2013

Handwriting at risk in schools

If John Hancock were alive today, would he trade handwriting for keyboarding skills?

It’s a question for debate even here, in the home state of the founding father whose elegant script on the Declaration of Independence has made his name synonymous with “signature.”

And it’s a question faced particularly in local elementary schools, as computer skills take more and more precedence over penmanship.

Richard Giso, a first-grade teacher at Bates Elementary in Salem, says learning handwriting is a critical building block to student literacy. However, he understands the flip side of the argument, having taught fourth grade, where computer skills come more into play.

“I’m not too sure I’d be comfortable with my first-graders keyboarding if I haven’t seen them write a sentence successfully,” said Giso, who is also an instructor at Salem State University.

“(Older students) need to know how to type just as quickly,” he said, “but also need to know how to write their name in cursive in this information age. Taking notes at the college level could mean taking out their iPad.”

The debate comes as states across the nation begin to adopt the so-called “common core” curriculum standards. While the elementary guidelines require English, math — and computer keyboard — proficiency, penmanship is not included.

Massachusetts, however, is among a handful of states that have added a handwriting requirement to the standards, though it doesn’t specify whether it should be proficiency in printing or cursive writing.

Some see it penmanship as a waste of time, an anachronism in a digitized society where even signatures are electronic. But others say it helps kids hone fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own unique stamp of identity.

Louise Swiniarski, a professor of early childhood education at Salem State University who supervises student teachers, says the focus on handwriting and cursive instruction varies from school to school.

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