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Cursive letters offer more than aesthetic, study says

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AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Mike Spencer

(Read caption) Cursive letters may go the way of the Morse code in US schools, but a study from Canada shows that learning cursive early can boost writing and spelling skills. Fourth-grader Tuesday Whalen, 9, practices her cursive writing skills at Parsley Elementary School in Wilmington, N.C., March 18, 2013.

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The pseudo-science of graphology has for centuries maintained that handwriting is a window into the soul: by scrupulous observation, an expert graphologist could, in theory, divine personal qualities, truthfulness, and even the moral character of the writer emanating from the handwriting that they were studying.

And while handwriting analysis might be overambitious about what it reads into the written word, it plays on an essential truth: the way we write relates to the way we think and express ourselves. As cursive handwriting is drummed out of schools from coast to coast, there has been push back from parents and educators – initially on an emotional basis, but increasingly with some more rigorous backing.

A study (published in 2012, but hitting the newswires this month) by Professor Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Education looked into the writing habits of 718 Québec students and teachers in 54 second grade classrooms. Students were learning cursive, or learning to print letters, or both – the study suggests that students just learning cursive reaped benefits when it came to spelling and syntax.

The development of automatic motor movements, the study suggested, was key – when you can write in a smooth, no-thought-required manner, you can concentrate on expressing yourself, not on grinding out each individual word or letter. Cursive in particular forced students to develop a stroke order that resulted in no backwards letters, and it also pushed students into laying down proper word spacing.

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