President Obama reminded us in a win-back-the-future, State of the Union speech that looking forward in education requires smart decisions regarding cuts and spending: "Let's make sure that what we're cutting is really excess weight." Eliminating handwriting and spelling from the curriculum are perfect examples of what not to cut in our effort to win the future.
Inappropriate cutbacks were highlighted for me on January 23,rd National Handwriting Day in America. To celebrate, mankind sent an estimated 5 billion text messages on that day (many with misspellings), and I read an article about how the state of Georgia may be writing off penmanship. Unless things change, teaching cursive handwriting will not be included in next year's curriculum standards for Georgia's third and fourth grade teachers. When real learning is measured only by teaching to the test, foundational skills like penmanship and spelling may no longer be valued. In an age where we need to be efficient and cut budgets, is there no longer time for teaching handwriting and spelling because children need to get ready for the state test? Why not just throw handwriting out the school-house window, along with spelling and other foundational skills?
Your Child Has a Right to Be Taught Spelling and Handwriting
Your child deserves the right to be taught handwriting. She shouldn't have to go through the rest of her life relying solely on basic manuscript skills introduced in kindergarten or grade one or to be forced to replace all handwriting with keyboarding. A long time ago in my third and fourth grade classroom, I watched many children blossom as writers when the transition to cursive handwriting gave them better proficiency, confidence, and pride with written language. Learning to read and write in cursive was a milestone. You were a big kid now. Practicing letter strokes reinforced learning and led to automaticity. It built stamina--a requirement for all modes of written communication. Even in adulthood the beauty and expression of a handwritten communication--a thank you note, a love letter, a special poem, a one-hundred year old recipe handed down in great grandmother's own handwriting--personalizes the communication into a treasure that far exceeds a typed version.
Spelling and Writing Skills Improve Reading
In the mid-19th century, children learned to read by being taught spelling, but it is mistaken to think that teaching spelling as foundational for reading is a thing of the past. In fact, 21st century research points to the importance of spelling and writing for reading. Even though federal and state assessment policies and curriculum-adoption guidelines too often overlook the foundational aspects of spelling for reading comprehension, there is a high correlation. Brain imaging has shown that the notion that spelling is a simple visual-memory skill not needed for reading is misinformed: A word-form area of the brain where spellings are stored and retrieved is a critical component in the organization of brain circuitry for reading. "Writing to Read," a 2010 report from the Carnegie Corporation focusing on excellence in education provides research evidence that teaching writing and spelling strengthen students' reading skills.
Don't Mess With Texas
As the author of a spelling textbook with a thirty year career in promoting the importance of explicit spelling instruction for improving reading and writing proficiency, I can report on at least one recent positive development: Texas is calling for standalone spelling and handwriting books in the language arts curriculum--a version that meets rigorous standards and includes technology. It's a good move being picked up by many progressive schools. These books put spelling and handwriting back into the curriculum. Without the books, spelling and handwriting are slipping away or not being taught.
Parents and educators: pay attention to state education funding cuts. Make sure state legislators aren't stealing from the coffers of disenfranchised children. Textbooks--either print forms or digital--are still the backbone of the curriculum. Cutting out textbooks or dropping foundational skills like spelling and handwriting from the curriculum aren't like cutting excess fat. Cutting spelling and writing stop the blood flow to your child's reading and writing brain.