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Ohio District Preserves Cursive by Teaching It in Art Class

Cursive handwriting is often described as a lost art. So why not teach it in art class? That's exactly what one Ohio school district plans to do.

At a time when some states are dropping cursive handwriting writing instruction from their curriculum, the 4,000-student Green Local school district south of Akron has found an innovative way to keep it in the curriculum. The district will reintroduce handwriting in the fall, only now it will become part of art instruction whereas traditionally, cursive instruction has been part of  English/language arts teaching.

Teaching cursive in art class is a creative and intriguing solution to a problem that has been vexing educators and script lovers for years: how to save handwriting instruction in an increasingly digital age.

The idea is getting attention. The Akron Beacon Journal wrote about the decision earlier this week. When school district officials posted the story on the district's Facebook page, it got more than 39,000 hits within 24 hours.

"The vast majority of comments have been very positive," said Kimberly Brueck, the director of technology and secondary curriculum, who led the charge. "People are saying 'it should never have gone away; my grandchildren will now be able to read my letters.'"

The debate over whether schools should keep or dump cursive handwriting instruction has been going on for years.  Education Week wrote a detailed piece on the issue in 2012 and has published several updates since on how states are handling the issue.

While cursive has always been considered part of the English/language arts arena, the Common Core State Standards, released in 2010, omitted cursive instruction.

That doesn't mean school districts can't or shouldn't teach it. It just means it's a local decision, a representative with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped spearhead development of the Common Core standards, told Education Week in 2012. But it seems that for many states, the omission was a green light for phasing the loopy letters out.

Cursive instruction isn't going without a fight, though. Advocates of cursive instruction are lobbying their states and districts to continue teaching it, including in Ohio where lawmakers introduced a bill in April to revive cursive instruction, according to the Columbus Dispatch. In Indiana, which dropped it in 2011, cursive supporters are trying for the fifth time to reinstate it into the curriculum. Similar bills are pending in other states including Nevada. Several states including California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Tennessee have passed similar legislation, according to the Dispatch.

Advocates say preserving cursive writing instruction is important for several reasons. It isn't just about nostalgia or being able to pen a nice letter to Grandma. Learning cursive helps children develop fine-motor skills. Some experts say it improves reading comprehension. Plus, advocates argue, you can't read the nation's historic documents if you don't know how to read cursive.

Here's how the Green Local School District saved cursive.

Brueck said educators in her district have been concerned for years that cursive has been "fading from the curricular conscience of elementary schools." Currently only a few of the district's elementary school teachers still teach it, and instruction is inconsistent from classroom to classroom. Educators in her district were concerned that students can no longer read historical documents or anything written in script. So a year and a half ago they started talking about how to revive it. 

"It dawned on me that when I was a kid there was an art unit where we learned calligraphy. I was reflecting on this and said 'I wonder if we could teach cursive in our art class.'"

She threw the idea out to the district's arts teachers during a regular meeting. They liked it and planning began.

Starting next year, the art teachers will teach basic cursive in 1st grade. That's earlier than normal. "We thought it would be a good idea to introduce it when students are still learning to print and read," Brueck said.

Students will learn to write their first names in cursive and will be expected to sign their names like that on all their papers. Non-art teachers will integrate that into their classrooms, too, so students will get practice.

The "meat" of cursive instruction will happen in 2nd grade art class, when students will learn lowercase letters. In 3rd grade, they'll learn capital letters.

Brueck said the district has two goals:

1) It wants students to be able to sign their names. "We don't want to go back to the days when everyone would sign with an "X," she said.

2) It wants students to be able to read source documents, like the Declaration of Independence. Ohio's curriculum standards, including common core, expect students to be able to interact with those texts, Brueck said. Many of those are written in cursive or some form of script.

Brueck said she's getting a lot of positive feedback. Other districts seem intrigued, she said. She hopes the idea catches on.

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