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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Cursive Writing as Part of OT

Published February 17, 2014 8:34 AM by Debra Karplus

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember that once you entered the third grade, penmanship was one of the subjects on your report card along with English, reading, and arithmetic. Every classroom bulletin board displayed charts of how capital and small letters were to be written in cursive, and of course, your teacher had such perfect script writing, that she herself could have handwritten the Declaration of Independence.  t was believed that you absolutely had to master cursive to succeed in school, whether it was for note taking in class or writing a book report.

But, when was the last time you hand wrote a letter to your Aunt Bessie? It's probable that you quickly dashed something off using a word processing program on your laptop computer, or more likely yet, you emailed her or used social media to say "hello". In an August 2013 issue of USA Today, it was stated that 41 states no longer require cursive writing as part of the public school curriculum. Cursive writing has lost its relevance in today's education arena.

Printing is still acceptable in most classrooms, even at the upper elementary school level, but children in all grades are learning competence at computer skills. The youngest students, even those in preschool, are typically exposed to the computer and are learning how to keyboard. It makes me a little embarrassed to think that I took my first keyboarding class, which was actually called "typing" as a high school freshman in 1966!

Developing handwriting skills has historically been an essential part of school-based occupational therapy. New federal legislation in the 1970s related to disability and to children may have been the impetus for the surge of special education programs in schools. Occupational therapy seemed to be a natural fit within these settings.  The foundation of school-based OT is to train in skills that facilitate success in school. Though there is clearly an overlap with services that a pediatric OT might provide in a medical setting, the differences are more obvious.

Occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistants (OTA) are part of the Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) at school along with general education and special education teachers, literacy specialists, school social workers and psychologists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists and other professionals. The focus of occupational therapy in schools is to determine measurable goals and a plan for achieving these goals.  Components of OT programs at school include but are not limited to activities of daily living such as donning and doffing a jacket at school and doing zippers, gross motor skills to be more successful in physical education classes, and handwriting.

Handwriting skill is essential for success in school for a number of reasons.

Being able to successfully complete readable written classroom work and homework papers is required for all students. After all, if the content is acceptable but illegible, how can a classroom teacher possibly even assess that the student has the mastered the concepts?

But being able to communicate in writing involves not just fine motor skills but also visual perceptual abilities and sensory functioning. These areas are the cornerstone occupational therapy in most any kind of setting.  Indeed, fine motor skills to hold a pen or pencil in a functional tripod grasp facilitates acceptable handwriting, printing or cursive, to correctly formulate alphabet letters, and also to hold the writing implement firmly enough to make marks on the page. Additionally, there is motor skill required to support the paper with the non-dominant hand and rotate the page in the case of cursive writing.

But what about some of the skills involved in handwriting and specifically cursive writing that occupational therapy services typically address? Left-right discrimination and crossing the midline are challenges for students with perceptual motor deficit whether from cerebral palsy or a wide away of other neuromuscular issues.  Problems with spatial relations are apparent during any sort of writing task such as line usage, letter spacing, letter size, or in the case of cursive writing, letter connections. Cursive writing can help a student improve sensorimotor functioning.

Chicken or egg, which comes first?  Indeed, a student needs to have overall better functioning to be successful with writing, whether it's printed or in cursive. But, conversely, success with cursive writing can improve and further develop gross and fine motor, coordination, and sensory integration skills including praxis and motor planning.  Cursive writing with its forward slanting letters and connections is clearly different from printed letters learned in the lower elementary grades.

There are many reasons why occupational therapist should include cursive writing as part of treatment planning for students in school-based settings.  Cursive writing is typically quicker than printing as the pen or pencil is not supposed to leave the paper, and experts claim that cursive is easier to accomplish, though that idea could be subject for debate, especially for some of the trickier upper case letters such as "J", "Z", or "Q".

Though competence in keyboarding for success of students in elementary, middle school and high school should, of course, become part of OT programs, cursive writing, in my opinion and that of some experts in the field of education, still has its place in today's fast moving electronic paradise.  Being able to read cursive is important is deciphering documents and events in history in the same way that reading old German script assists with genealogical research, or old Hebrew symbols for understanding biblical passages, or Greek for mythology or other readings.

Being able to create a signature in cursive is a necessary skill as well.  Certainly in today's online world, one can use last year's adjusted gross income (AGI) as a "signature" when completing income taxes on the Internet, or use some other password or security question to assure that you are who you say you, but truly, it's just not the same.

Cursive writing should continue to be part of occupational therapy treatment planning in school -based settings.  It just makes sense.  Printing, cursive, and keyboarding are not mutually exclusively skills and should be learned by students.

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Handwriting Apps

A variety of apps are available that help students with letter formation.


Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.

     This is what I'd expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing.  (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)

— According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There's even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive”  — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit  for more information.)

We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting  that is actually typical of effective handwriters?

      Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.

Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown:,,,,, )

Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

       (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and nor restricted to teachers — visit for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)

       When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)  

What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?        

       Cursive's cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

/1/ either the claim provides no source,


/2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrases by the person citing it


/3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

Cursive devotees' eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)

By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

       Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger's life easy.

All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

/1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”

Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May - June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at

/3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”

JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September - October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at

Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at

Ongoing handwriting poll:

The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting" by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):

Background on our handwriting, past and present:

3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:




(shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone      

DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest

CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

Kate Gladstone, handwriting instruction/remediation - CEO, hrhtn hrhen Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Wo December 16, 2014 12:02 AM
Albany NY

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