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To pen or to key? That's the question.

To pen or to key? That's the question.

 

 

To pen or to key?  Not too long ago, this question sparked an education debate in Lancaster, PA.  Although, schools elsewhere are trying to figure it out too.  As schools continue to make technology an important part of their curriculum (and standards increasingly dictate instruction), cursive writing is becoming an outdated skill.  Learning how to type is all the rage. 

Since cursive writing is not listed in the Common Core Standards for English language arts, teachers are not necessarily concerned with teaching it.  In a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article (see above link), Conestoga Valley elementary school teacher, Jill Kennett, admitted that her students spend a few minutes each day focusing on one cursive letter.  When all letters have been learned, students take a test and if they pass, they receive a "cursive writer's license."  In Kennett's classroom, cursive is taught out of tradition, maybe even nostalgia, but it's not a necessity.

Contrastingly, many Catholic schools continue to make writing in cursive a priority.  Encouraging quality penmanship and principles of etiquette are some of the reasons why Catholic schools persist in keeping cursive around.  Schools in Penn Manor use cursive as a technique to help develop students' fine motor skills.  Still, more schools see the value in pushing keyboard skills.

A firm believer that technology is a part of our evolution as humans and as a society, I tend to think that cursive was bound to go out of style.  It's not that I want it to, but outside of greeting cards, I can't remember the last time I sat down to hand-write anything.  Even in greeting cards, I write using the standard alphabet.  For me, cursive was a third grade nightmare.  Similarly, third graders I tutored last year, while excited to learn cursive, were unclear about when they would use it; they were learning to type at the same time.  Despite reading Beverly Cleary's Muggie Maggie and engaging in discussion about the value of learning and writing in cursive, these third graders moved on desiring their keyboards and wanting to know more about Word commands.

You see, even third graders know that most of their work will involve technology.  Should we slow that from happening?  Considering the latest technology allows us to detect certain medical conditions sooner than expected, has given us green buildings and alternative energy, as well as e-learning equipment to help students with special needs, I think we can forfeit cursive.

But, students do need to know how to write their signature, as there are official documents that require it, and as one teacher noted in the Post Gazette article, the Constitution and other historical documents are penned in cursive.  In order for students to make sense of the past, an ability to read cursive is necessary.

I don't think technology wants cursive writing to go away either.  Consider that as students learn their keyboarding skills, they will be introduced to various fonts, and among them are Lucida Handwriting and School House Cursive B. I think that cursive is here to stay.  Well, at least for a little while longer.

 

* Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursive.

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10 comments

The very simple answer is that Education would finally move into the 21st Century.

Look at today's preschool children. The iPad has become their busy box.  They are confused at paper magazines that do not scroll to touch.  They can have relatively complex conversations and they understand pictures and icons.  They are on cell phones and would soon learn to text just as they learned to speak and listen.  And these children come to school in a 21st Century environment.  And then, we put a pencil their hands. 

There are those that think the students would not really understand unless they learned to do it for the 19th Century workplace.  They make a good case for what we will have lost.  But the bottom line is all the students will lose is handwriting.  I propose the creation of a new discipline called something like Handwriting Arts.  It would be required of all students, but not as basic to Education.

Getting back to the 19th Century, arithmetic then, was the basis of all higher mathematics.  It was essential to progress.  The 20th Century changed that, and in the 21st Century paper and pencil is replaced by a spreadsheet.  It is easier to teach mathematics when the student is not distracted by arithmetic.  Like handwriting, there would be computation courses which would stress 19th Century approaches.  The emphasis, however, would be on advanced estimation rather than exact arithmetic.  If I want exact information, I would use automation.

I answered the question of the negative consequences to Education without paper and pencil.  Turn it around:

What would be the consequences to Education if computers were banned?

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Hi Bob, 

I enjoyed reading your comment. I am especially intrigued by the idea of "Handwriting Arts," as it would be an interdisciplinary subject (studying it would involve utilizing art, language arts, history, etc.).  I also think that technology encourages teachers and students to consider the intermingling of subjects in ways that have not been considered/used before, which I find important to the learning process.  

I had not thought about the history/evolution of arithmetic in the way that you write about it, however, it is important to know the basics (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) before learning anything more challenging.  Cursive is a little different.  Everyone learns to write and read the basic alphabet as small children, however, cursive is just a new way of doing it.  For me, cursive didn't stick, and my signature is totally illegible.  

Nonetheless, I do agree with your final question: What would happen to Education if computers were banned? The answers make for an essential conversation.

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Why is it important to know arithmetic?  What would a student lose in mathematics if they learned it on a spreadsheet where arithmetic was invisible? 

We can teach computation separate from mathematics.  I would concentrate on estimation with the emphasis on how close to the answer rather than the exact answer.  If exact answers were essential, I would most certainly automate it rather than depend on mental arithmetic.

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I think you guys raise excellent points. My biggest issue, here, however, is how we include the children without iPads or schools with computer labs, or homes with computers. A pencil is an equalizer. Every child regardless of their home situation or school district can gain a valuable skill that will help them in their future: communicarion. There may be many of us who choose not to write hand-written letters or sign our names to checks (although I am not one of them but more on that in a second) but I wonder if that is a function of having the choice not to do so. 

Not too long ago, I was in North Carolina doing work on bringing broadband to the rural U.S. and met people my parents' age who couldn't sign their name. Their family had to do it for them, leaving them in a vulnerable position. There are kids who are in high school now who have trouble writing (and reading) to the point that predators could easily take advantage of them. In NC, I met smart, engaged kids, who had to share one computer among several households or classrooms. I would be worried if the teachers in their districts were pressured to forgo the "pen" for the "key" as some sort of new standard b/c it would mean that a lot of folks such as the ones I met in NC (although they have this problem in my state, Illinois, as well) would be at an even more severe disadvantage than they already are. Keeping writing as a standard (and even making cursive a standard) would level the playing field for 3yr olds who don't know that computer technology is standard for many others.

Returning to the idea of hand-written letters, my research and travel preferences mean that I leave the country once or twice a year for an extended time. I have learned the hard way that being able to clearly write down a problem, complaint, address (for when Air France loses your luggage, as they have mine every single consarned time I've flown them) is a key component to communication, especially in areas without the same level of technology.  Being able to write properly (and putting my official signature on certain docs) has proved immensely helpful. Even as we are an interconnected global society, there still are many, many places without the same level of technology and those differences in tech - and our expectations of what technology should be available - can hamper our ability to communicate effectively (and respectfully) with others.

In short, I'd like to move back to the time when we thought writing was an art. I go to countries like Japan, where technology is obviously, put in a primary position, but there still is pride in being able to write one's language beautifully (and not just in calligraphy) b/c it shows pride in one's culture.  While I enjoy the possibilities technology offers us, I also don't believe that retiring the stepping stones to that technology is a step forward.  What's that saying again?

You don't know where you're going till you know where you come from.

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I think you guys raise excellent points. My biggest issue, here, however, is how we include the children without iPads or schools with computer labs, or homes with computers. A pencil is an equalizer. Every child regardless of their home situation or school district can gain a valuable skill that will help them in their future: communicarion. There may be many of us who choose not to write hand-written letters or sign our names to checks (although I am not one of them but more on that in a second) but I wonder if that is a function of having the choice not to do so. 

Not too long ago, I was in North Carolina doing work on bringing broadband to the rural U.S. and met people my parents' age who couldn't sign their name. Their family had to do it for them, leaving them in a vulnerable position. There are kids who are in high school now who have trouble writing (and reading) to the point that predators could easily take advantage of them. In NC, I met smart, engaged kids, who had to share one computer among several households or classrooms. I would be worried if the teachers in their districts were pressured to forgo the "pen" for the "key" as some sort of new standard b/c it would mean that a lot of folks such as the ones I met in NC (although they have this problem in my state, Illinois, as well) would be at an even more severe disadvantage than they already are. Keeping writing as a standard (and even making cursive a standard) would level the playing field for 3yr olds who don't know that computer technology is standard for many others.

Returning to the idea of hand-written letters, my research and travel preferences mean that I leave the country once or twice a year for an extended time. I have learned the hard way that being able to clearly write down a problem, complaint, address (for when Air France loses your luggage, as they have mine every single consarned time I've flown them) is a key component to communication, especially in areas without the same level of technology.  Being able to write properly (and putting my official signature on certain docs) has proved immensely helpful. Even as we are an interconnected global society, there still are many, many places without the same level of technology and those differences in tech - and our expectations of what technology should be available - can hamper our ability to communicate effectively (and respectfully) with others.

In short, I'd like to move back to the time when we thought writing was an art. I go to countries like Japan, where technology is obviously, put in a primary position, but there still is pride in being able to write one's language beautifully (and not just in calligraphy) b/c it shows pride in one's culture.  While I enjoy the possibilities technology offers us, I also don't believe that retiring the stepping stones to that technology is a step forward.  What's that saying again?

You don't know where you're going till you know where you come from.

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Kimberly - I am glad you highlighted the economic issues surrouding technology and schools and reminded us  that not everyone has access to technology.  It has become increasingly evident that only rich public and private schools are able to supply their students with laptops, among other devices.  And with NCLB standards defining how funding is distributed to schools, poor and low performing schools are often left in the dust and unable to provide their students with appropriate textbooks, let alone computers and the latest software.  Learning how to write is one task, but, as you have noted, learning to type is a totally different skill.  If typing were the norm, those without computers would be at a serious disadvantage.  Choosing to type or handwrite is more than an issue of personal preference -- some people really do not have a choice. 

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I know very well about the economics of computers.  I am working with emerging countries where they do not have electricity, much less computers, much even less Internet.  But we have a different situation in the US.  If we got rid of pencil and paper so too would we get rid of NCLB and stop spending outrageous prices for standardized tests that are not standardized, valid, or reliable  They are just a pool of items that the states arbitrarily use to evaluate schools and teachers, leaving the children behind.  Use that money to get computers and start using authentic assessment to measure what a student can do rather than a test which tries to predict what a student will do.

If every child has a computer we do not need to keep buying textbooks that are two years out of date by the time they are published.  That could also pay for computers and let the teachers design their own courses from the material that already exists on the web.

 

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Hi Bob - 

I don't know if it's that simple. I don't have nearly as much experience with emerging economies and education, as you do, so I defer to you in re: the challenges folks face there. But I have worked in organizations that focus on getting access to low-income people and I have seen the ridiculousness of NCLB up close. I just don't believe that getting rid of pens and paper will get rid of standardized testing - it'll just move it to the computer. Which will put those children without the newest computers, updates and technology at a disadvantage, yet again. 

And how does one define "authentic" assessment?  Is it in a child's ability to express him ro herself creatively through prose, picture, or song?  Is it with the completion of several mathematics questions?  Veteran teachers are in the fight of their lives just to be allowed to test and evaluate students in their own classrooms without interference from folks who haven't spent more than 2 or 3 hours - much less 2 or 3 months or years - in a classroom with 35 children with varying needs but feel confident in their ability to asses teaching practices and efficacy. 

While I agree that it would be great to have all of the schools on board with computer technology, I just cannot imagine a situation - especially in the citites in which I have lived (DC & Chicago in particular) - where the poorest children in the poorest schools are equally served. I worry that a rush to put computers in the classroom without fixing the issues that impact children's learning (hunger, abuse, poverty) will be a bandaid, but not a full repair. 

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Start with the premise that paper and pencil could no longer be used except in Handwriting Arts courses.

Would Education Establishmen throw up its hands and say, Education is dead?  Or would they look at alternatives?

Two simple altervatives, keyboard input or voice input.  In either case there would be some output tthat could be transmitted.  Once the Education reaches that conclusion, iPads will be Kindergarten or Pre K.

 

My definition of Primary Education and an example of Authentic Assessment

Children can search the web for information and integrate that into a word processor/spreadsheet report.  I can see many children reaching that stage pre-k when the tablet makers see the market.

If you had such a report, why on earth would you want to give the child a standardized test?  I would prefer something like a flexible project.  As an admissions officer would you prefer the standardized test or the project to decide on admissions?

 

You are concerned about the lowest economic levels. 

There may not be enough computers for everyone all the time, but some exposure is better than none.

The computer for a computer for every child costs between $100 and $200.  How much do we pay for textbooks that are typically up to two years out of date when they are printed and which reflect the thinking of one or two men?

I can see this as a simple and cost effective way to aid Education.

 

If we can take this attitude, we will stop comparing ourselves to the rest of the world on standardized tests and look at what we are dynamically producing.  We were behind the Russians in 1970, the Japanese in 1990, and the Finns in 2010. 

During the years 2000 and 2009 US leaders won 63 Nobel Prizes---twice the previous decade.

 

What do those tests show since we only scored 17th in the world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bob and Kimberly - If you are still interested in this topic, here is another opinion: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2012/07/writing-by-hand-...

Dr. Potter considers the value of handwriting as it pertains to college students and questions the degree to which people see their handwriting as a reflection of their identities and experiences. 

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