Monday, July 1, 2013

Should Schools Still Teach Cursive?

Sophomore Andrew Forbes of Nashville, Tennessee, used cursive everyday in elementary school, from third grade through eighth grade. He was required to write out all his papers, worksheets, and notes in the flowing line of slanted script. He finds cursive so much faster and easier than printing, he still uses it daily in high school.

But he gets the feeling he’s alone. “Everybody uses print. Out of all my friends, there is maybe one person who, I think, uses cursive. When they [my friends] saw that I use cursive, they were very surprised.”
Forbes might be one of the last holdouts. The decline in teaching cursive handwriting, the rise of the keyboard, and the introduction of the Common Core State Standards that do not require children to know cursive has the New York Times asking, “Is Cursive Dead?” Passionate advocates claim that cursive is a cultural tradition with cognitive and academic benefits that must be preserved, while some teachers and handwriting experts say the decline of cursive is natural, and it should be allowed to morph into a print/cursive hybrid, or bow out altogether.

Handwriting expert and founder of the World Handwriting Contest Kate Gladstone opined in the Times that handwriting is important, but it doesn’t matter whether the handwriting is cursive. “In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks,” she writes. “Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?”

“It just takes so much time to teach it and there are far more important things for kids to learn now.”
Research suggests a strong connection between handwriting and brain development — not only in the development of fine motor skills, but also in how children learn. In one study conducted by psychologist and cognitive scientist Karin Harman James at Indiana University, children who printed letters instead of just seeing and saying them showed “adult” brain activity; in another, led by educational psychologist Virginia Berninger at the University of Washington, second, fourth and sixth grade students wrote better sentences, wrote more and faster when using a pen and paper as opposed to a keyboard.

But is there a benefit, a definitive connection between the connected loops of cursive and improved function of the brain? James’s preliminary research on the benefits of using cursive exclusively shows promising findings: in one study, college students remembered information better when they copied a paragraph in cursive compared to both printing and typing. James emphasized, however, that the study of cursive is just beginning, and noted that “scientists have not determined the benefits of teaching or not teaching cursive.”


Kids are lacking in so many skills, says retired fourth-grade teacher Barbara Kuykendall, who taught cursive handwriting for twenty years in Evansville, Indiana, she’s glad the Common Core Standards no longer require students to learn cursive. “I used to teach cursive and am glad it’s out of the curriculum now. It’s a time issue. It just takes so much time to teach it and there are far more important things for kids to learn now.” She said it would be easy to teach kids to sign their name in cursive, then leave it at that. “If none of them know cursive, it wouldn’t be as big a deal to them as it is to us.”

“I think there is value in learning a skill that that takes patience, perseverance, and diligence to master.”
And for children with developmental issues, not having the pressure of learning cursive can be a relief. Chicago mom and graphic designer Christina Kakavas’ five-year-old son Markos has dyspraxia, and works with a therapist on his fine motor skills. Markos has trouble shaping letters by hand. Kakavas discovered some iPad apps that let him trace letters with his finger or by using the trackpad on the laptop instead of holding a pencil, incorporating the best of both the digital and the handwriting worlds. “Initially, I didn’t want Markos playing games or sitting on the computer or iPad. Then I realized using the mouse or trackpad [to shape letters] would allow him to improve his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.”

Of course, there is more to cursive handwriting than the time it takes to teach it, or the cognitive benefits of using it. Cursive’s roots are deeply embedded in cultural significance: the Declaration of Independence was written in cursive; there is the overwhelming recognition of finding a letter written in a loved one’s unique handwriting. And beyond the logistical problem of future generations not being able to read cursive, is there a reason to learn cursive for no reason at all, besides doing it for its own sake?

Marjorie Martin teaches cursive in her second-grade class at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, New Hampshire, even though she often wonders if it’s worth it. But she continues, because she believes there’s value in the process. “There aren’t too many things like this for the general population of kids anymore,” she said. “No woodworking class, the endless sawing and sanding to make a coatrack, no knitting, the frustration of needing to pull out 5 rows when you see that you dropped a stitch. I think there is value in learning a skill that that takes patience, perseverance, and diligence to master. Then, there’s also the end product to consider. We are creating a generation that won’t know how to build a simple doghouse or replace a button. But shouldn’t they be able to create a reasonably attractive handwritten note?”

Perhaps upcoming generations, equipped with ever-present handheld technology, think differently. Andrew Forbes says that, although he uses cursive for all his schoolwork (except for the final drafts of papers that must be typed), he would never think of handwriting a note to a friend. “If I’m just trying to let somebody know something, I’ll just text them, honestly. If I want to ask somebody, ‘Hey are you going to that thing?’ I’m not going to write a letter and send it to them. My phone lets me have connection a lot faster.”

America Is Raising A Generation Of Kids Who Can't Think Or Write Clearly

The decades-long war against English and the other humanities has succeeded in many ways, which has had some unintended and very negative effects, according to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Parents don't read to their children as much, K-12 humanities teachers are not as well-trained as STEM ones, federal funding for international education is down 41% over four years, and many college students graduate without being able to write clearly.

Although humanities degrees are not in total freefall, the bigger problem centers on the decline in pre-college humanities education and in the liberal arts curriculum in college.

Humanities get a tiny fraction of the federal funding that STEM programs do. Many schools, public ones in particular, are already under huge financial pressure, so they're going to focus more of their energies on the things that they can get others to pay for:

That means fewer offerings, less faculty, and a decline in the sort of introductory and mandatory classes that used to be standard in college. 

The result is not only relatively fewer humanities majors but also a generation of students who get out of school and don't know how to write well or express themselves clearly. 
The New York Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg, who has spent time teaching writing to both undergrads and graduate students at places like Harvard, Yale, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, reports that kids are shockingly ill-prepared:

Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.
They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.

Those are undergraduate and even graduate students at some of the top colleges and universities in the country who have chosen to focus on writing to a certain extent. Things are presumably even worse elsewhere.

A 2010 study from Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that students majoring in liberal arts fields see "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." 

De-emphasizing, de-funding, and demonizing the humanities means that students don't get trained well in the things that are the hardest to teach once at a job: thinking and writing clearly. 

CEOs, including Jeff Bezos, Logitech's Bracken Darrell, Aetna's Mark Bertolini, and legendary Intel co-founder Andy Grove emphasize how essential clear writing and the liberal arts are. STEM alone isn't enough. 

Even Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke recently gave English majors a shout-out.   

The point is that good writing isn't just a "utilitarian skill" as Klinkenborg puts it but something that takes a great deal of practice, thought, and engagement with history and what other people have written.
Let's hope that argument keeps the field alive.

Read more:

Liberal Arts and Humanities Education: Who Is Right—Bill Gates, or the Late Steve Jobs?

When students asked me what subjects they should major in to become a tech entrepreneur, I would say engineering, mathematics, and science. I used to believe that education in these fields was a prerequisite for innovation, and that engineers made the best entrepreneurs.

That was several years ago.

I realized how much my views have changed when the The New York Times asked me to write a piece for its “Room for Debate” forum two years ago. Since then, I have learned even more about the importance of design and the role of the humanities in fostering creativity. I now believe that the innovation economy needs musicians, artists, and psychologists, as much as biomedical engineers, computer programmers, and scientists.

I advise students to study subjects in which they have the most passion. They must have the discipline to complete their bachelors degree from any good school—not overpriced elite institutions that will burden them with debt and limit their life options. With a bachelors degree, they gain valuable social skills, learn how to interact and work with others, how to compromise, and how to deal with rejection and failure. Most importantly, they learn what it is that they don’t know and where to find this knowledge when they need it.
The NY Times had asked me to comment on the divergence of opinion between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

In a speech before the National Governors Association, Gates had argued that we need to spend our limited education budget on disciplines that produce the most jobs. He implied that we should reduce our investment in the liberal arts because liberal-arts degrees don’t correlate well with job creation. Three days later, at the unveiling of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs had said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices”.

Here is what I wrote for The Times.

It’s commonly believed that engineers dominate Silicon Valley and that there is a correlation between the capacity for innovation and an education in mathematics and the sciences. Both assumptions are false.

My research team at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. We found that they tended to be highly educated: 92 percent held bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent held higher degrees. But only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and just two percent held them in mathematics. The rest have degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, health care, and arts and the humanities.

Gaining a degree made a big difference in the sales and employment of the company that a founder started. But the field that the degree was in and the school that it was obtained from were not a significant factor.

Over the past year, I have interviewed the founders of more than 200 Silicon Valley start-ups. The most common traits I have observed are a passion to change the world and the confidence to defy the odds and succeed.

It is the same in business. In the two companies I founded, I was involved in hiring more than 1000 workers over the years. I never observed a correlation between the school of graduation or field of study, on one hand, and success in the workplace, on the other. What make people successful are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes, and how hard they work.

And then there is the matter of design. Steve Jobs taught the world that good engineering is important but that what matters the most is good design. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools, but it’s much harder to turn engineers into artists.

Our society needs liberal-arts majors as much as it does engineers and scientists.

But here is a harsh reality: that employment prospects are dim for liberal-arts majors. Graduates from top engineering schools are always in high demand, but PhDs in English from even the most prestigious universities often can’t get jobs. The data I presented above were on the background of tech-company founders—those who made the transition into entrepreneurship. Most don’t. And, as you can note from Bill Gates’ speech, there is a bias against liberal arts and humanities.

So students of the humanities need to be prepared for a difficult slog. They will need to work harder than engineers do to find their way into the realm of entrepreneurship. And they will have to use their advantage of creativity to force their way into key roles. Then they can do that magic that Steve Jobs did with his elegant inventions.

You can read more on my website: or follow me on Twitter:@wadhwa.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The New Bill of Rights for All Students

Monday, May 20, 2013

By Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education

Gallup has a silver bullet for solving many of the world’s problems. Here it is: Every student in the world, from pre-K to higher ed, needs:

  • Someone who cares about their development 
  • To do what they like to do each day
  • To do what they are best at every day
That’s it. It should be the new bill of rights for all students -- and frankly, all people -- worldwide.

This insight is rooted in Gallup’s most important findings -- everyone in the world wants a good job, and no one ever became successful by trying to improve their weaknesses. They became great by playing to their strengths and leveraging their innate talents. These two findings have absolutely everything in common with the new bill of rights.

A “good job” is not just any job. True, it’s regular work -- a job. But most importantly, it’s about being engaged in your work -- something Gallup is an expert on, having conducted more than 24 million workplace engagement surveys worldwide. And being engaged in your work -- experiencing “flow,” as some experts call it, at its finest -- is mostly about three key ingredients: having a manager or someone at work who cares about your development, doing what you like to do each day, and doing what you’re best at every day. We know that if you have a manager who focuses on your strengths, for example, the chances of you being disengaged are virtually zero. On the flip side, if you have a manager who ignores you entirely, there is virtually no chance that you are engaged.   

Ad man of the century, Roy Spence, has become a nationally-renowned guru on how individuals and organizations can find their “purpose.” His message is that the purpose of life is to play to your strengths. And yet, our entire educational system and work environment is built around a deficit-based model. We have created a world where we spend almost all of our time focused on what is wrong, rather than what is right. 

Throughout the U.S. educational system, we harp on what is wrong with schools, how ineffective teachers are, and what our kids don’t know. We do this across our workplaces as well when managers give employees reviews -- that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a manager who actually takes the time to give you one. The focus is on “constructive criticism,” the polite way of saying what you’re doing wrong and what you’re no good at. Imagine what the world would look like if we found a way to maximize human potential by everyone doing what they are best at every day. The impact is unfathomable. 

Gallup estimates that -- at most -- 30% of the United State’s workforce is actively engaged in their work. We also know the outlook is pretty miserable in schools; in elementary school, engagement peaks at 76%, but then decreases each year students are in school -- down to 61% in middle school and then 44% in high school. If schools focused on students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses, students would be more engaged throughout their entire education.  

After surveying citizens in 160 countries for the past six years, Gallup knows what a life well lived looks like. Those who rate their lives the highest in the world have one important factor in common, a factor that is the strongest predictor of how they view their lives: career wellbeing. In short, they like what they do, they do what they’re best at, and they most certainly have someone who cares about their development. 

We need a new Bill of Rights -- not just for students and not just for the United States -- but for humankind. If you want to “fix” our economy and “fix” the education system that fuels it, we’ve learned the hard way that it can’t be accomplished by hammering away at weaknesses. 

We need to find what’s strong, not what’s wrong. And that starts with each human being playing to their own strengths. That’s a journey that starts at birth and goes until death, from pre-K to post-career. Share the new Bill of Rights now:
  1. I have someone who cares about my development.
  2. I do what I like to do each day.
  3. I do what I’m best at every day. 
It will change the trajectory of students’ lives -- and of human development throughout the world.

Learn how to achieve better student outcomes in higher education with the Gallup StrengthsQuest Operating System.

Brandon Busteed leads the development of Gallup’s education work. His career spans a wide range of important work in education as an educational entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and university trustee. Busteed’s work involves integrating Gallup’s research and science on selection, strengths, engagement, and wellbeing to improve student success, teacher effectiveness, and education outcomes. His mission is to create a national movement to measure the education outcomes that matter most, connect education to jobs and job creation, and to promote a paradigm shift from knowledge mastery to emotional engagement in education.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Report: Students Taking Online Courses Jumps 96 Percent over 5 Years

The number of college students taking at least one online course nearly doubled, from 23 percent to 45, over the last five years according to the 2013 College Explorer, a new report from market research company re:fuel. Students taking online courses are also enrolled in an average of two per term, according to the report.

Though the number of students turning to the Internet for their education is increasing at a rapid clip, the reviews are mixed.

"While students appreciate the flexibility online classes afford, many also struggle with managing coursework when they don't have regular assignments or meetings," said Tammy Nelson, vice president of marketing & research at re:fuel, in a prepared statement. "Students who need additional assistance to grasp course material also struggle to find help when professors and fellow students are available only in the digital world."    
Students are also bringing more devices onto campus with them, according to the survey, at an average of 6.9 each, up one half from last year's report.

At 85 percent, laptops are the most commonly owned device among students who responded, with smartphones in second place at 69 percent. Gaming consoles, MP3 players and printers close out the top five at 68, 67, and 62 percent, respectively. Smartphones, however, move into first place, at 31 percent, when students are asked what devices they intend to purchase in the next year.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Seventy percent of students surveyed said they use their laptops for research and coursework;
  • Forty-seven percent said they use a laptop regularly for taking notes in class, though pen and paper is still more popular for that task, with 79 percent saying they use those tools more typically;
  • Among students who reported owning a tablet, 33 percent said they use them for work, research, and taking notes, and 37 percent said they read e-textbooks on them;
  • Some students, 13 percent, even reported taking class notes on their smartphones;
  • Although ownership of tablets and electronic readers is increasing, according to the survey, printed textbooks still dominate, making up 59 percent of the textbooks responding students bought;
  • Students who responded to the survey reported spending an average of 14.4 hours multitasking across their various devices, with much of that time spent looking for or consuming entertainment;
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents said they regularly watch TV in real-time on a television set, with another 20 percent reporting they watch on a computer;
  • Downloaded television, however, is more likely to be watched on a computer or tablet, at 43 and 28 percent, respectively;
  • Movies consumption has no such clear winner, with 51 percent reporting that they watch them on a television, 52 percent saying they watch on a computer, and 30 percent reporting they watch them on tablets;
  • Nearly half of students surveyed reported regularly using a second screen as they watch television, at 49 percent;
  • Students reported using mobile apps primarily for entertainment, with 73 percent using them for games, 67 percent for music, and social networking rounding out the top three at 64 percent;
  • Facebook use is up five percent over last year's study, to 86 percent;
  • Twitter is the second most commonly used social network among responding students, at 38 percent, marking an eight point increase over the previous year;
  • Instagram, which was included in the survey for the first time this year, came in third at 30 percent; and
  • Google+ was the only social network included in the survey to show a decline in use, from 32 percent in the previous report to 29 in this year's.
Much of this activity is still happening on campus, according to the report, with students spending an average of 10.2 hours on campus each day during the week and 6.5 hours each day on the weekend.

"While we expect to see a net increase in the number of online courses students take in the future, the campus environment remains the main hub of daily life," John Geraci, president and founder of Crux Research, in a prepared statement. "Students taking online classes must often visit campus to obtain materials, join study groups or do research — not to mention the myriad recreation, shopping and entertainment venues available at colleges today…"
The 2013 College Explorer report was based on responses from 1,528 current college students taking at least one course on a physical campus.