Rowan Elementary students learn benefits of cursive writing

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:34 p.m.

It's four down and 22 to go for second-graders in Lynn Davis' classroom at Rowan Elementary School.

They're learning the cursive alphabet — one stroke, one loop, one slant at a time — in 15-to 20-minute lessons each day. They began the cursive style in December after brushing up on their block lettering and learning how to slant print.

“It's fun,” said Patrick Carter, 8, of Cranberry Township. “It's not hard to me. My favorite subject is writing.”

During each class, students follow the process of seeing the lines and curves that ultimately will produce a new letter. Then, standing at their desks, the children swing their arms in a full movement of the new pattern. Seated, they close their eyes and imagine the motion. After Davis demonstrates on the SMART Board, they trace the design on their papers with their fingers. Finally, they practice, putting pencil to paper.

The shapes of a single session will make the lower case L and E. Instruction isn't in A to Z order. Rather, the letters with the simplest strokes are taught first.

Seneca Valley School District uses the Peterson Directed Handwriting Method, founded in 1908 by Dr. P.O. Peterson. His system focuses on acquiring a smooth rhythmic movement for each letter.

“Sharp top, loop, slant, stop,” Davis reminded.

According to the Peterson Method, moving the pen with the voice creates muscle memory. Through practice, the letters and words they make are legible and created through unconscious effort.

Davis, a 23-year veteran of Seneca Valley, has watched the progress of her handwriting students over the years.

“It's one of the goals of the second-graders to learn cursive,” she said.

Students are graded on legibility, she explained — being either outstanding, satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory. Along the way, they complete handwriting samples, which are judged by their classroom peers.

“Girls judge the boys' writing, and boys judge the girls',” she said.

The very best examples are displayed in class.

“I was one of the good girls,” Davis said of the days when she learned the cursive style.

“I made my letters beautifully.”

She remembers teaching handwriting, using chalkboard liners to reproduce five parallel lines to mimic a tablet page. She progressed to the use of an overhead projector for instructions. Now, the SMART Board lets her illustrate the shapes as the children study her hand movements.

But the point of teaching the handwriting skill hasn't changed — even though the times have.

“In this digital age, cursive and keyboarding both should be taught,” she said.

The continual use of computers demands it. But learning cursive has more importance than just teaching children how to write their signatures. Rowan students will reach this exciting stage in April.

Davis, of Ross Township, has done a bit of her own research on the digital/paper divide.

“There are many studies existing that show how cursive actually helps reading fluency and supports struggling readers,” she said.

Another study showed how it helped the brain, but a comment from her 18-year-old son supported her line of thinking.

“‘It's a part of history,'” she said of their conversation. The documents, the texts and the great books of the past are rich with cursive writing.”

But for second-graders, they know cursive is a skill for grown-ups. It's also a skill for very important uses.

Addie Fisher, 7, of Cranberry, said she will use her favorite letter T and all the others to express herself in a letter to Davis, a comment that warranted smiles and a hug.

“These are the moments I live for,” Davis said.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-772-6353.

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