St. Mary Parish students still learn cursive handwriting

Nevaeh Dufrene, 7, a student at J.B. Maitland Elementary School in Morgan City, practices her handwriting Wednesday in Kristal Eimar’s second grade class.

Kristal Eimer, a second-grade teacher at Julia B. Maitland Elementary School in Morgan City, instructs her class on the fundamentals of handwriting and cursive writing. Eimer said her students will not implement cursive into their lessons until December, but have already begun to learn through worksheets containing exercises of letters, numbers and sentence formation.

Ann-Marie Guagliardo, 7, a student at J.B. Maitland Elementary School in Morgan City, practices her handwriting Wednesday morning in Kristal Eimar’s second grade class.

If you can’t talk and you can’t write, how are you going to communicate with somebody?

Many adults remember being taught cursive handwriting in second or third grade. Students typically are eager to learn to write like a grownup, imagining the loops and swirls they create are cursive letters before they’re taught to properly form them.
Kristal Eimer, a second grade teacher at Maitland Elementary in Morgan City, and others like her, continue to teach cursive handwriting despite opponents of cursive instruction across the nation saying the handwriting is no longer relevant in an increasingly digital society.
“In the younger grades, they focus on handwriting, simply because in order for you to communicate with people, you have to be able to talk. Well, you can’t always talk, so in order to communicate, you have to be able to write. … If you can’t talk and you can’t write, how are you going to communicate with somebody?” Eimer said.
Across the nation, teaching cursive has fallen out of favor as instructional time is gobbled up by a concentrated focus on reading, math, science and social studies in an effort to raise test scores. Coupled with an increasingly digital society, one school of thought is that the time would be better used to increase keyboarding skills in youngsters.
Proponents of cursive instruction say handwriting training helps small children develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and other brain and memory functions.
Common Core State Standards, adopted by all but five states, do not require that cursive handwriting be taught.
The Louisiana Department of Education says to do so is a district decision.
St. Mary Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the district does teach it and will continue to do so.
Karen Marin, St. Mary Parish elementary instructional specialist, said handwriting is taught in kindergarten through fifth grade during the English language arts block in St. Mary Parish. This is a district mandate; therefore, it is not a decision that a principal or a teacher can make.
It is taught specifically through direct instruction for students in kindergarten through second grade and, more indirectly, as practice in “work stations” for third through fifth grades, she said.
The transition from manuscript writing to cursive writing begins in the spring semester of second grade. It is taught through direct instruction using McGraw-Hill Reading Wonders materials, Marin said.
Eimer said her experience has been that student thought flows more easily with the loops and swirls of the font, thus they write more. Additionally, shy students express themselves better, and those who don’t know their letters are less shy about telling teachers they are having a problem because it’s cursive, she said.
In Eimer’s class, and in many across St. Mary Parish, cursive is taught 15 to 20 minutes daily beginning in December. Prior to that, Eimer teaches handwriting. Handwriting experts recommend 15 minutes a day of instruction in the subject.
At first, spelling grades go down because students are so eager to write in cursive but don’t yet know all the letters, she said, so they make an approximation of what they believe is the cursive version of the letter. Eventually, though, Eimer says she sees an increase in those same grades as students learn to form the cursive letters and are better able to communicate with a handwriting that keeps letters evenly spaced and more consistent.
“Or sometimes when you want to get your thoughts out, you can be more creative with your words,” Eimer said. “A lot of times kids don’t want to talk in front of big groups, so we teach them to write. Even the shy kids come about and we can have them express their thoughts and their feelings by writing. But, if we can’t understand what they’re saying or how they’re writing, we can’t understand what they’re trying to get across to us.”

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