With over a decade of experience working with children of all ages, helping them to master the skills to write legibly I have encountered a number of common issues with the continuous cursive method. I have had to spend a large percentage of my time solely correcting issues that have been created due to the child either being taught with the continuous cursive method with entry/lead in stroke, or due to the child being rushed within their early learning of handwriting.
The initial stages when a child is being introduced to handwriting are vital, as this is where the fundamental foundations of handwriting should be laid. The process of mastering legible handwriting is similar to building a house; you must ensure you have strong foundations. The same goes with handwriting. As teachers we should be ensuring that a child has understood and mastered all of the basics of handwriting before allowing them to build upon these skills. We should be then ensuring that a child has fully developed their fine motor skills, as well as their individual letter formation, before moving them onto the joining of letters.
As a handwriting professional, I have picked up on an educational trend that seems to be appearing in a number of schools. I have seen more schools opting to teach the continuous cursive method with the lead in/entry stroke as early as Reception. I have also witnessed a number of handwriting ‘schemes’ being created and sold to schools, which also focus on the teaching of the continuous cursive method.
Those that are supporting the teaching of cursive from as early as Reception, are doing so as they believe it is beneficial by removing the need to teach a second stage of movement patterns at a later date. Unfortunately, many schools have fallen for this theory, but what they are not aware of is that not only does this method not have sufficient evidence to support the view that it is ‘beneficial’, but neither the National Curriculum or Ofsted have stated that they actually require children to be taught using cursive, or to write in the cursive style.
Having worked closely with a number of schools and teachers throughout my career, I have seen the pressures that teachers are continuously under to meet the requirements of the interim teacher assessment frameworks. I understand the rush to join at the expense of common sense. However, in view of all the evidence now available and using my experienced based information, it puzzles me as to why some schools are still opting to teach with the continuous cursive method with the lead in/entry stroke from the baseline. The continuous cursive method only adds to the pressures that teachers are under, as this method does not save time, as it would be suggested by some supporters of these ‘schemes’. The continuous cursive method only leaves “a myriad of handwriting problems”, that are very difficult to reverse at a later date.
Furthermore, Ruth Miskin, Read Write Inc recently blogged that ‘telling children that every letter starts on the line is just untrue.’ If all the handwriting experts agree that teaching the continuous cursive with the entry strokes impedes handwriting, why are schools still teaching it?
The fact remains that when writing with the continuous cursive method, “the fingers simultaneously perform a range of complex fine motor movements in a series of different directions, and this required a high level of gross fine motor coordination” stated by Angela Webb, Chair of the National Handwriting Association. However, as many schools are teaching this method as early as Reception, children have not been allowed the time they need to develop their fine motor skills to the point where they can even hold a pencil correctly, let alone write using the cursive style. By rushing through this vital stage of developing the fine motor skills in order to get their children joining letters, schools are creating a generation of children who will lack the fine and gross motor skills needed for a wide range of jobs. We have previously spoken to the owner of a chain of pub restaurants in the UK, who stated that she was struggling to find applicants aged 16-21 to hire, as many applicants lacked in the fine and gross motor skills needed to write down food orders from customers, or to carry a number of plates to tables.
This lack in fine and gross motor skills is also creating issues within a child’s school career. The main reason why schools are required to teach a child the skill of handwriting, is because it is how a child is assessed. Other than subjects that are practical, such as IT, PE and Design Technology, the majority of other school subjects will be assessed through the use of a written exam. So, whether a child is in primary school, secondary school or high school, they will be expected to be able to be write legibly and at speed during their SATs or GCSE exams.
If a child has not been provided with the opportunity to fully develop their fine and gross motor skills, they will not be able to even hold and use a pencil effectively and comfortably, let alone write legibly and at speed for long periods of time. If a school is not effectively teaching their students the skill of handwriting, they are in fact not meeting what is required of them.