Writing off cursive? Not in Catholic schools

Nissa LaPoint
Regina Hombs works with third-grader Claire Begler at All Souls School in Englewood
during a lesson on cursive writing.

The writing may be on the wall for cursive. But Denver Catholic schools refuse to type up its obituary.

While more of the nation’s public schools adopt standards lacking cursive requirements, educators in the Denver Archdiocese said they won’t write it off.

“It is dying even in the state of Colorado,” said Mary Cohen, associate superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools. “But we’re committed to teaching children in the art of cursive writing.”cursive 2

Forty-five states, including Colorado, have adopted through its state legislature or school boards the new Common Core State Standards for English, a framework for education standards that rarely mentions handwriting—stylistically referring to both print and cursive styles—and excludes cursive altogether.

“We’re focusing less on writing and more about the content of what they’re writing about in preparation for college and a career,” said Melissa Colsman, executive director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Department of Education.

While school districts may choose to teach cursive, state standards don’t require it, she added.

The antiquated skill, opponents say, is unnecessary in an increasingly digitally-centric world and waste of classroom time better spent on other academic subjects.

Proponents counter that beyond its historical significance, cursive boosts motor skills, brain development and correlates with academic achievement. Cohen said cursive is a timeless skill which shows reverence and enhances dignity.

In the midst of debates, Denver Archdiocese Catholic school administrators are revising its curriculum—completed every five years—for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Cursive objectives will be maintained and a required skill by the end of third grade.

“Given the research we have, we’re going to keep it,” Cohen said.

Literacy skills

Keeping cursive in schools has literary benefits. According to research presented at the January 2012 “Handwriting in  he 21st Century?: An Educational Summit” in Washington, D.C., oral and written language is interconnected to effective communication.

Educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington said she found second-,fourth- and sixth-graders who used handwriting wrote more words, wrote faster and expressed more ideas than those using keyboarding. A separate examination of 144 pupils revealed improved handwriting correlated with improved reading skills, word recognition, compositional abilities and memory.

Third-grade teacher Regina Hombs of All Souls School in Englewood is adamant about teaching the dying skill.

She said cursive, especially for special needs children, makes it “easier for them to recognize a word rather than a bunch of letters.”

The flow of cursive aids in pronunciation, too, she said.

Cognitive and motor benefits

Handwriting also supports brain function.

“When we (handwrite), there’s something happening neurologically that’s beneficial,” Cohen said.

In a research study, Indiana University’s Karin James, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, found the act of writing by hand caused a significant increase in children’s brain activation. Using an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scan, James showed students who wrote well engaged more of their brain’s visual regions than typing.

Recognizing its importance, Catholic teachers on the Office of Catholic School’s curriculum committee board gave  unanimous approval for its continued use in the classroom.

Enhancing humanity

Hombs said she’s noted learning cursive will boost her student’s emotional development.

“They’re very proud it,” she said when her students handwrite. “It’s very good for self esteem. Now they’re writing

like an adult.”

Cursive also contributes to intimacy and is considered proper etiquette for occasions like sending thank you notes and birthday cards.

“People think we don’t need this anymore because we have technology, but we still want to able to write in cursive. It’s polite to handwrite a note because it’s a way of reverencing them,” Cohen said. “You leave your DNA on paper.”

Cursive, she said, will stay in Catholic schools.

“It’s really an important part of our humanity.”

COMING UP: Summer reading for kids

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SummerReading

Kids are smart. That’s why Tamara Conley, research librarian at St. John Vianney Theological seminary, Cardinal StaffŸord Library is such an advocate for kids reading as much as possible.

“Kids should be reading something. Anything. If you want to develop literacy, then you have to read,” Conley said. “No one ever had a bad summer because they read too many books.”

Conley writes reviews of children’s books for Catholic Library World magazine, available at the seminary library. She and other Catholic librarians across the country evaluate literature written for children and young adults, and rate it according to both literacy levels and the values it teaches.

She said it’s important for modern parents to be aware of that their children are reading, and especially the values
their books teach.

“So many kids in Catholic schools get such a good education that they’re able to read things they may not be ready for,” she said. “Books are very influential, for good or for bad. Just like you know what they’re eating, you should know what they’re putting in their brains.”

So, when the summer-time boredom sets in, it may be tempting to grab whatever books are most enticing in the
library display. Conley said that while the desire to read is good, parents can use books to help form their children by
doing just a little bit of research first.

“We all have to develop our faith, and reading is a good way to do it,” she said. “I think reading about the saints in particular is good, because they recognize that there are people just like them, and they form an attachment.”

She also recommended parents discuss reading material with their children.

“Books can be a good way to start a conversation, and a good way to catechize,” she said.

One way for parents to do this is to read what their children are reading.

“It’s important for parents with advanced readers to read what their kids are ready to read, to make sure the maturity level is appropriate,” she said.

However, she said she realizes that it would be very difficult for parents to read every book their child does. That’s why she recommends parents use all the resources
available to them, including Religious Education teachers, parents of older children and parents who are willing to share the reading burden.

“Public librarians can help you too,” she said. “That’s their job, and they’re trained to do it. They can find book
reviews.”

Conley said that book series can be especially appealing to kids during vacation months, as they have more time to read through them. Below are some of her top choices for young readers, from publishers that she said parents should look into.

SaintsAndMe2
SAINTS AND ME

Conley said these long picture books use bright colors and fun stories to teach young readers about the saints. They
also help develop reading skills.

“They’re good for early readers because it teaches them literacy, as well as important content about the saints. It’s appropriate for their developmental stage,” she said.

The stories are followed by word games and« activities to help reinforce the lessons.

ChimeTravelers2_DC
CHIME TRAVELERS
The Chime Traveler books are based on a group of friends who clean a chapel together. When a bell rings in the chapel, they are transported to the time of different
saints. Conley said this story outline allows the books to teach life lessons without becoming dull.

“These books are so much fun. They’re great,” she said. “The child in the story learns about the saint, but it doesn’t
become too preachy.”

She said the books are great for young readers ready to make the switch to chapter books.

“It’s a big deal for a little kid to move from a picture book to a chapter book. It’s a good starting chapter book for a 7 or 8 year old, if they’re a good reader,” she said.

RedBlazerGirls_DC
RED BLAZER GIRLS
Conley said that this series is different from others on the list because it doesn’t try to explicitly teach the Catholic faith. Instead, it shows a group of friends in a Catholic
school solving mysteries.

“I love this series because it’s about Catholic school girls, who are taught by nuns, and even the title refers to part of
their uniform. I don’t remember having any books growing up about Catholic girls in a Catholic school,” Conley said. “The faith is part of their lives.”

The girls in the series are in seventh grade, which Conley says makes the series ideal for readers a few years younger.

“Kids like to read about kids a little older than them,” she said.

EncounterTheSaints2
ENCOUNTER THE SAINTS
This series is written by a variety of authors, so the style changes from book to book. They are simple biographies of the lives of Ÿdifferent saints, meant to be enticing to
young readers.

“They show us how the saints lived in a very accessible way,” Conley said.

The books feature saints who were priests and nuns, married and single. Because of the diversity of people covered, they can be appealing to both boys and girls.

JPI2High_DC
JPII HIGH
This series follows a group of friends who attend a Catholic High School together. The content of these books
is more advanced, but Conley said that can foster good conversations about issues the readers are actually facing.

“These are the problems normal kids handle in high school, but its explained from a Catholic perspective. It’s not preachy,” she said. “It’s also a good conversation starter for parents.”

She said the books are intriguing to middle schoolers because the kids in the series match up with where the readers are developmentally.

“These are questions that these readers will have,” she said.

She said the series also demonstrates how friends in this age group help each other, which is important to pre-teens
and teens.

“They work with their peers to learn their morality,” she said.

 

 

Be sure to checkout book programs this summer! Barnes & Noble and your local library should all have programs:

Arapahoe County Library
Littleton Public Library
Boulder Library
Douglas County Library
Poudre River Library 

Barnes and Noble also has a reading incentive program.