Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sign Here or Make Your Mark

The phrase “You need to sign here” may cause anxiety because it means monthly payments or a commitment of some sort, but for teens today it creates anxiety because it asks them to complete a simple task that they are not prepared to do. Yes, you heard me right. The majority of high school students do not know how to sign their name because they cannot write in cursive.

As with all things in education, the only thing that remains the same is change. Somewhere, about ten to fifteen years ago most school systems decided that the time spent teaching second or third graders how to write (and read) in cursive could be better spent learning other things, especially test preparation. I’m sure they thought not much would be lost by losing cursive. After all, these students will be typing on a keyboard anyway. And as far as reading historic documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, well, all can be accessed in type-written form online.

I don’t believe they gave much thought to the need for some sort of a signature. I don’t suppose it would have ever occurred to me that they had never been taught cursive until I started teaching high school six years ago. I have to admit that in the beginning I would even write my feedback notes on their writing assignments in cursive. None of those students ever mentioned that they could not read my suggestions, not that many of them wanted to read how they might improve their writing after it was graded. It was only when I was asked to have students sign to receive materials that I realized that they could not sign their names. Line after line would be filled with printed names.

I teach English and our system is focusing on increasing literacy – a lofty and important goal. Understanding and communication are necessities for success now more than ever. Yesterday, I decided to address the cursive issue with my students, thinking that a literate student should know how to sign their name. I gave them sheets, writing each of their names in cursive at the top, then helped them practice. I explained the importance of developing a signature that looked the same all of the time as a way of identification. Yeah, I know some of you are thinking that your doctor’s signature is nothing more than a hump here and there and a line to the side. That may be so, but you can bet that Dr. So-and-so knows that you do not print your signature. They may develop the hump and line method later, but for this week we are learning that little bit of cursive writing.

There are studies that show that learning cursive engages different parts of the brain than printing does, and learning cursive improves childhood development. Many teachers have commented on how much better the hand-eye coordination is with kids who have learned cursive. I will add that I do not believe that our little one-day lesson on how to sign your name will improve any of that for my high school students. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure the next generation doesn’t revert back to the days of “Make your mark here.”                   

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