April 19, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Is the pen still mighty in the computer age?

Your grandchildren may use a stylus on a tablet PC instead of a Bic on tablet paper, but they will continue to write.

That's because even in an era when elementary school students are adept at mousing and teenagers are fiends at text-messaging, some experts say that writing with a pen is still the backbone for teaching people how to read and learn facts.

The difference will be in how the characters are made.

Cursive writing is introduced as part of the English language arts curriculum at the second or third grade level in most states, according to James Miles, senior associate at the International Center for Leadership and Education.

But as states re-evaluate the standards that dictate to schools what students need to know--including the seemingly universal addition of requirements for computer literacy--there is a lot of discussion of whether cursive should even be taught. If it's removed as a requirement, many of today's new teachers, brought up in the computer age themselves, will probably decide against teaching cursive handwriting, said Miles.

"The teachers we have coming into the classroom now were born in the late '80s, so they weren't taught it. It wasn't a focus or priority for their teacher," said Miles.

Photos: Handwriting tests in the text message era

While cursive skills may be waning, QWERTY skills are on the rise. Today's youngsters are probably better typists than their parents were as children, and perhaps even as adults.

Typing isn't even called typing anymore, what with the PC having made the typewriter as quaint as a Conestoga wagon. Now referred to as keyboarding, it's introduced as part of state standards for computer skills in the second and third grade.

Miles said that based on anecdotal discussions with teachers across the country, the average student exiting fifth grade can touch-type about thirty-something words per minute with fair accuracy. (For comparison, the United States Office of Personnel Management requires 40 wpm for "Clerk-Typist" positions.)

Cursive shouldn't be confused with penmanship, the act of writing with a pen or pencil. Printing is still one of the main teaching methods for reading and writing. Educators call it "writing to teach." Handwriting, which has evolved into a hybrid of script and print, should stay around for quite some time.

"If I go back to my generation, we did the Palmer penmanship (method), and you spent hours getting the tails and stems going the right way. That has gone by the wayside. Basically, what you do now is some form of cursive mixed in with some of the print so we don't necessarily have all our letters connected. The letters looks more printed than cursive and it's better for speed," said Miles.

The Palmer method--which should be familiar to many baby boomers, and certainly to their parents--is no longer the method of choice. Just as the number of television channels blossomed with the advent of cable, there are now over a dozen methods of handwriting put forth by various educational resources and textbook manufacturers.

D'Nealian, one popular method of handwriting taught today, incorporates some of the pen movement and style of traditional penmanship, but has fewer flourishing loops and looks closer to printing. Another cursive/print font called Handwriting Without Tears, emphasizes consistency and legibility, but does not dictate to students how the letters should be made with the pen.

Regardless of the variation, most cursive fonts taught today forgo the extra loops and flourishes of the Palmer method in favor of speed and clarity. Some of the companies selling handwriting programs also include European characters, a sign of the expected diversity that today's students will experience in the classroom and later in the working world.

"The Old English writing of calligraphy was a way of writing at one point. We got away from that to a more expedient way and I think this is just a progression," said Miles.

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Can Writing Be Replaced?
Despite advances in computer technology, several challenges remain. One of these is a means of expressing maths and technical drawings as other than bitmaps. Those who do not learn to write will be limited in what they can communicate to what they can express using a computer.
Posted by SmpCtryPhys (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I had not take thought about this subject in such terms! You have brought up another excellent point!
Posted by Cenn (3 comments )
Link Flag
Re: On the computer, you just go back.
"One little girl said, 'I don't like to write, because when you make a mistake you have to erase. On the computer, you just go back.' I thought, wow. That's this generation," said Miles.

Uh, no, it's not just this generation. I said much the same thing to a college professor in the late 80's, after having used word processor software to write nearly all of my undergraduate papers. What a joy those writing assignments were compared with the drudgery of the handwritten and typewritten papers I wrote in high school.

There are differences in the creative process when writing by hand vs. word processor. Writing by hand forces the mind to organize and compose more of the message in one's head before writing it down, whereas with the word processor the writer is free to get the threads of thought down on the "page" and then re-organize and refine them into a cohesive message.

The argument the professor I mentioned above made in response to my opinion was that hand written essays teach a level of cognitive discipline and ability. In my opinion, this is not entirely true, because in the time before the word processor one typically created multiple drafts of a document, where the re-organization and refinement occurred between drafts. This is an example of how the computer improves productivity.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
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Excellent point!
Wow, what a great point! I actually had to drop a college creative writing II class in my Junior year because of a difference of opinion on writing style with my professor.

He was a published author, a quite good one at that, but I had also had short stories and poetry published and therefore had my own methodologies. The disagreement came when he failed me for a completed assignment because I didn't include my "draft progression" with the finished product. IN its place I included what I call my "freethink" exercises. The difference being exactly what you stated; he was looking for a linear progression from version 1 to version 2 to version 3. I would write by brainstorming a lot of plot ideas, character development devices, thought transitions, etc. And would then form them into an outline of the "session" and go back and add to the story, or refine it as I went along. The problem is that it wasn't very linear and I don't write in complete drafts, I make incremental changes. He explained that this was not acceptable because it wasn't the method being taught, I explained that, while I respect his writing and his opinions very much, that forcing an established writer to change his methods is not acceptable to me. He said he understood, we shook hands and he approved my withdrawal.

I realize now that he was accustomed to writing with pen and paper and learned later that he doesn't type anything until the final draft. This helps to explain the difference; I have NEVER done any form of creative writing with pen and paper. I had a TI-64 computer at age 4 and never knew anything else.

Its interesting how a technology can impact a writers process to such a degree, yet neither one is necessarily better than the other, you simply adapt to the tools presented to you in your formative years.
Posted by PhillyBoy919 (126 comments )
Link Flag
Tablet Pc's Are Useless
It is a product that has been tired three times so far, once in the 90's, again when Microsoft pushed it in 2003 and again by Microsoft two years ago with the UMPC. It has and is failling in all three scenario's. The product is a waste of time, money, and effort.

The future of computer interfacing technology is writing out long papers, or for developers writing out long lines of code. I don't think so. Why would we ever invent the typewriter if in the future we were going to return to writing out long lines of anything.

Hopefully the end of the tablet pc grows near and it stays at the end. It is wasting money put out by Microsoft, that can be used to better another functionality of Windows. But Microsoft will not drop the project because it is a pet project of Bill Gates. The product just isn't useful.
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
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Learning how to use technology appropriately
I own a Tablet PC (a HP TC1100 to be exact) and I love it. I have found myself becoming very nervous about the prospect that it will die one day and I won't be able to replace it (there are certain things about the form factor of this particular model that, imo, make it the best on the market, namely a detachable keyboard).

But I have met many people who share your sentiment and have come to realize that the reason they feel this way is they have absurd expectation of what this technology can and should be used for. Its the same reason we have people walking around with 40lbs laptops and complaining about how they wish they were smaller, but they want it to have a 17' screen, a full size keyboard, a DVD Burner and 8 hours of battery life.

People expect technology to be able to anything and everything and that is not and never will be the case. Why do people expect these things to be able to understand their hand writing when another human has a hard time reading it?
What these things are perfect (or at least the tablet functionality) for is as an electronic notebook. I know they're a little expensive for just that purpose (but since they are essentially laptops they can be used for that purpose as well).

And don't say their not good for writing long papers or lines of code. I have done both on my tablet. Granted it all had to be retyped, but anyone that doesn't re-type a paper is shooting themselves in the foot and probably just trying to coast through life (and here is where I'd lament grade inflation if I really had time).

Being a Creative Writing major at university I wrote most of my stories (and papers)long hand on my tablet and then retyped them into my PC. By doing this my writing became stronger, both in the creative and academic fields. Plus I never have to worry about losing/finding a spiral notebook. I have hundreds of these squirreled away in my closets and can never find what it is I'm looking for. But with the Tablet its all just simply there.

What you want is expediency and are not concerned with finding constructive ways to use the tools you are confronted with. Tablets are useful if you know how to use them.
Posted by worsethannormal (52 comments )
Link Flag
More uses than just writing...
I being a graphic artist use a graphics tablet to draw in photoshop
all the time. Therefore, a portable tablet would be great for me.
There are also an infinite number of other uses for a tablet
computer besides writing.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
Teachers don't know cursive?
I'm sorry, but if you're an adult american and you can read, but don't know how to read and write cursive, you're a moron.

"Our teachers can't write cursive so we won't teach it". Better hire better teachers. I suppose when people can't do addition and subtraction we'll stop teaching that, too.
Posted by bob donut (90 comments )
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You missed the point
They don't know cursive because their teachers didn't think it a priority. Which is fine - because quite frankly cursive is not required anymore except to sign your name. It's difficult to read for some due to the difference in writing styles and it's counter productive. If you're writing a paper, chances are you're printing, not using cursive.

I use a hybrid of cursive and printing just due to the nature of how I write letters. But I print more than cursive.
Posted by ReVeLaTeD (755 comments )
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Sad Future
In the future I can imagine this conversation.

"Can you write down your phone number?"

"Sorry, I don't have my printer."
Posted by bob donut (90 comments )
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Yeah, here it is in vector format
Oh wait, you want it on paper? Well, that's worthless. No. I don't do that anymore. I sure hope you're not using paper on a daily basis. Get with the times. And hurry up- We're switching to VoIP ID's in a few weeks. A year and we'll be decommissioning the old phone lines for their copper supply and using fiber and wireless, along with this phone number you asked for.

Really. Paper and writing utensils need to go away. They have no value to me- but I'm not the nostalgic type. Not sad at all, seeing the medium go.
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Link Flag
Sad Future
In the future I can imagine this conversation.

"Can you write down your phone number?"

"Sorry, I don't have my printer."
Posted by bob donut (90 comments )
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Very Active Imagination
Most people these days don't write down phone numbers to begin with. They enter them into their cell phones.
Posted by cacker25 (4 comments )
Link Flag
I do not use Dvorak's keyboard but everybody says it is better than
Qwerty (that was designed to avoid messing mechanics!)

But I do appreciate handwriting... and cursive. Handwriting a full
brain/muscular interaction learnig process!

And as Albert Einsteins said... "The fourth World War will be fight
with stone and sticks"... so, no more keyboards.
Posted by lmasanti (293 comments )
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Vital cognitive connections
Your comment contains the seed of a vital point here: human learning is an interaction between the brain and the senses. We need to continue teaching handwriting in schools because it builds the brain in vital areas. Keyboarding and writing skills together build a more powerful, more capable brain than one that only keyboards. In similar fashion watching visual media has been replacing reading in the era since television, but reading is vital for developing other areas of the brain. Reading is also vital for its connection with writing and keyboarding, since spelling is learned primarily by gestalt, not by rule.

Education for children should consist of incorporating all forms of cognitive interaction into the curriculum, not weeding out old ways to make way for the new. We want children to build the best possible brains and bodies--writing, keyboarding, reading, and watching quality tv programming are all equally important to that end.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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Why QWERTY took over...
This goes back to the days before the IBM Selectric typewriter - the one that had the "ball" moving across the carriage hitting the letters onto the paper.

Before the IBM Selectric, typewriters used to use hammers to place the letters onto the paper. Each hammer had two sets of characters - the second set being used when you hit down the SHIFT key.

When the Dvorak key arrangement was invented, it was designed for speed. So it is very true that Dvorak is faster than QWERTY. The problem however is that, as you pointed out with the "mechanics", when you type "too fast", the hammers in the typewriter were not quick enough to pop up, hit the paper, and then come back down before the next letter was hit. If I remember correctly, vowels on the Dvorak layout were all on one side, the idea being we type vowels more than any other character. Dvorak caused too many problems of the hammers jamming together, so you had to constantly unravel the hammers before you can continue typing.

QWERTY was designed to actually "slow down" typing. The idea with QWERTY is to force the typist to move back and forth between the left and right sides of the keyboard, giving the hammers time. When the IBM Selectric replaced the hammers, jamming was no longer an issue. However, everyone already learned how to use QWERTY, so it was virtually impossible for companies like IBM to put out Dvorak typewriters and have everyone re-learn how to type.

The reason QWERTY continue to live is that society hasn't set the standard to switch from QWERTY to Dvorak - or even some other keyboard layout that might be better than Dvorak. Besides typing at home and at work, there are MANY other places you might run into that forces you to type in QWERTY.
Posted by groink_hi (380 comments )
Link Flag
What's wrong with Tablet?
You know, you don't HAVE to buy a tablet PC if you don't need it.
The fact that not every Notebook is a Tablet doesn't mean it is bad tech, just that not everyone needs it.
I know plenty of happy tablet users. I own a UMPC myself (for certain tasks under certain circumstances), and I am sure you disaprove of that even more! Doesn't stop me from using it though!
Posted by _SdC_ (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Your child left behind
My children don?t need cursive just like they don?t need music, art and physical education right! What a bunch of crap. I am so disappointed with what ?No Child Left Behind? has done to our education system. This entire cursive debate is nothing more than a whitewash of the fact that teachers don?t have time to teach cursive. Teachers only have time to teach for TASP tests here in Texas. We are replacing curriculum that taught children to use their mind creatively with multiple choice tests that require little brain work.

I have spoken with many parents of my son's classmates and we have all noticed the same thing. All energy in the classroom is focused on useless multiple choice tests that are now mandated. The children don?t have time to memorize multiplication tables and they don?t have time to learn to write properly. My son and children in schools all over Texas get more homework in the third grade than I did in middle school. Why? Because during class all they have time to do is practice for multiple choice tests.

Multiple choice state mandated tests destroy creative thinking. When I was in school we didn?t learn cursive because we might need it - we learned it to obtain precision in writing as part of a well rounded curriculum. Most of us didn?t learn algebra because we would need it - we learned it as part of a well rounded curriculum that helped to improve creative thinking. Are we going to stop teaching algebra next?

When I was in the third grade (my son is now) students had memorized multiplication tables by the end of the school year. They had gained basic writing skills and knew how to space out words, where to place periods etc. No children in my son?s school have learned these skills at the third grade level. Why? Because they don?t ?need? to I guess?.
Posted by Cenn (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let;s leave everyone behind
I agree with you!! :(
I hope they will put more emphasis in learning and creating. I know what are you talking about I teach in Harrisburg.
Posted by ykcunningham (2 comments )
Link Flag
No Child left behind
They all fail together. I am disgusted with the amount of time spent in the schools "teaching to the test". Rote factoids memorized to regurgitate on a test form is not education. Education involves learning how to think. The teachers have even complained that with the federal mandates, they spend three months educating students and the rest of the time is spent drilling them on the test so THE SCHOOL SYSTEM can get a passing grade. - YeeHaw! Lets hear it for the school board. Forget educating our kids, wouldn't want the schools to fail now would we?

Two years ago my daughter was told that since her mother worked in insurance, she was a secretary/clerk. Period. No discussion allowed. That is what the test required for an answer. Now I happen to know her mother was a manager of two interstate teams that she managed remotely. One did all the online manuals for the company, and one did all quality review for claims. She has since been promoted to a titled position. Does this sound like a secretary/clerk?

Stupid tests for stupid people, courtesy of stupid politicians. And yet, somehow they get re-elected.
Posted by zclayton2 (130 comments )
Link Flag
How dare you!
How dare you even question it. Of course it is and it will be for ever.
Posted by Karl Viklund (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where did you find this so called expert info on writing skills.
Clearly, keyboarding will be the predominate form of the written word for now and until some other more efficient method evolves. However, to think that cursive writing has been lost in our schools - or in other nations', or that printing is replacing it is imbecilic - just as the statement that printing is more efficient, or faster than cursive. I say this with more 40 years in the in and around the field of education and computer experience almost since its commercial beginings.

I like CNET, but every once in a while your writers (in this case a very loose description) fail so badly at checking the qualifications of your sources its pathtetic. I think you will find substantial disagreement with your sources unfounded opinions if you surveyed educators across this and other western nations. I suggest that Mr. Miles like so many "experts" has been "institualized" - and as such ought to get our his institution and into the real world more often.
Posted by duggerdm (103 comments )
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Writing Skills
Your grammar and spelling suggest you might want to consider improving your writing skills.

Your words:
"I say this with more 40 years in the in and around the field of education"

"fail so badly at checking the qualifications of your sources its pathtetic."

"think you will find substantial disagreement with your sources unfounded opinions"

"has been "institualized" - and as such ought to get our his institution and into the real world more often."
Posted by mcwallis (2 comments )
Link Flag
I have used a tablet pc before. And have found them worthless. Many people feel as I do, and I am sorry but I did not mean to offend you. But it is idiotic do have to retype all your papers anyway if the purpose of technology is to make life easier. As for writing out long hand papers, I assume that is a personal preference of yours, thats fine. But is it shouldn't become standard, If my only option in the future is to write out long papers then what is the sense of having a tablet.

I should just get a tablet of paper, it doesn't need a battery, or require booting. As far as writing code out, I am refering to developers writting software packages free hand. I just feel as though the end is near with these devices I am one of many who is happy about that. i think that is somewthing we both agreeded on, that the end is coming?
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not the best headline for this story
I was expecting an essay on how the power of the written word still reigns strong as shown by BLOGS.

Not that this wasn't an interesting story but it doesn't fit it's headline very well.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh, hey, what do you know, these computer things can be handy sometimes!

Computers are infinitely more flexible than paper. And QWERTY? We should have pretty good voice recognition here in a few years, so I wouldn't worry to much about that either. Paper can go off in a corner and die. Time to bring in the digital age.

By the way, that money printing practice is pathetic too. They need to knock it off and give everybody debit cards. So much cost maintaining physical currency. And not worth it at all. To much government power to track people? Then give us direct democracy. Who's with me? ethana2@gmail.com
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agreed with you 100% except for your statement about the departure of keyboards. Imagine your in a public place composing a confidental business/personal email or business proposal. Is that something you really want to be dictating out loud? Even if the answer is I'm alright with it, let's take a look at another problem, now everyone is dictating to their PC, in an office setting. The PC your using needs to be able to distinguish your voice and be able to respond and dictate only you. So it needs to block out all the speech spoken by your coworkers. This is difficult and not to mention a very difficult scenario where you will be able to concentrate and get any work done.

The second thing is a about paper, I'm right with you on that. Except the future is not a tablet pc, in the future we will use normal laptops to do work, tablets I feel just aren't useful.
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
Link Flag
I agreed with you 100% except for your statement about the departure of keyboards. Imagine your in a public place composing a confidental business/personal email or business proposal. Is that something you really want to be dictating out loud? Even if the answer is I'm alright with it, let's take a look at another problem, now everyone is dictating to their PC, in an office setting. The PC your using needs to be able to distinguish your voice and be able to respond and dictate only you. So it needs to block out all the speech spoken by your coworkers. This is difficult and not to mention a very difficult scenario where you will be able to concentrate and get any work done.

The second thing is a about paper, I'm right with you on that. Except the future is not a tablet pc, in the future we will use normal laptops to do work, tablets I feel just aren't useful.
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
Link Flag
Is the pen still mighty in the computer age?
This article reminded me of going to the store and standing on line for a LONG time because the cashier couldn't give a costumer change without using a calculator. Don't people know how add and substratc anymore? How many of you have been witness of this problem before?
Posted by ykcunningham (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cursive is already being lost
As the mother of an 8th grade boy, I can tell you that the art of cursive is already lost for many. While cursive was taught to my son in 3rd/4th grade it was not manditory that it be used on assignments. So the skill was learned and then quickly abandoned. My son does writing via computer whenever possible and prints everything else. Sad, but perhaps just a sign of the times.
Posted by tmcasey (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Handwriting is becoming an antiquated notion
I'm 29 years-old and my cursive writing is bad to the point where not even I can read it back to myself most of the time. I didn't have a single cursive writing lesson until 4th grade when I transferred from Public to Catholic school (another victim of a Catholic education) and the teacher was completely blown away when she started writing notes on the board and I raised my hand and told her that I couldn't understand what she was writing. I picked it up quickly enough but frequently got in trouble for printing simply because I found it unnecessary. I could read it, but why would I ever need to write with it? I still print to this day use cursive only when I sign my name.

I think my disdain for cursive is rooted in my computer experience. My dad is a tech geek so I had a computer at age 4 (TI-64). By 3rd grade I was capable of typing my own homework assignments, making customized greeting cards and signs, playing games, and some basic troubleshooting. I can remember my 5th grade teacher making me hand write an assignment that I had handed in typed, not believing me that I typed it myself (which illicited a rather furious response from my parents.)

The point being that I was ridiculously computer savvy, at the time, for my age. By comparison most of todays kids are light-years ahead of where I was at a similar age. If I felt cursive was unnecessary at the time, imagine how it must seem to these kids. If most of them can tough-type at 30 words per minute, why bother to learn cursive.

I agree that printing and penmanship will always matter. There are simply times when you need to write something down. But cursive writing is becoming a dinosaur very quickly because it is simply no longer relevant in the modern world.
Posted by PhillyBoy919 (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"no longer relevant in the modern world"
I agree with you to a degree...

Cursive writing, although useless in real life, is a great learning,
thinking and discipline tool for young developing minds. Just like
learning your multiplication tables, although not completely
necessary, is a useful tool for developing the mind. Cursive writing
is an art just like calligraphy and far to much art and creative
thinking is being removed from todays school systems.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
Put every aspect of your life in a computer, even let it think for you and you will end up a sad, ignorant person.

What is next? Not bothering to learn math? Or Science?
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Link Flag
Not to step on anybodies toes....
But I personally do not believe in cursive writing myself. Sure it was needed before all it was possible to create a readable document promptly and cleanly on typewriter or computer But just think about one thing here : the writing started as a printed letters not cursive. Cursive was developed as an alternative type of writing when a better writing implements(such as use of ink that allowed for more smother and faster writing) came into view. Cursive was a way for some one to simply write faster. (just as Dvorak keyboard it was designed to speed up writing process).
I think that we need to teach our children writing skills but to concentrate on teaching them rules and skills of how to properly write (i.e. punctuation, sentence development, story line and structure, proper syntax) rather then impose an unnecessary limitation such as cursive writing. teach them both possible ways of writing and even calligraphy just to give them a choice and knowledge but make that an elective process.
All students MUST know how to handwrite things so if needed they have the ability to do so but it should not mean that they can only do it in cursive when that need arise. Teacher should not concentrate on how the student wrote the paper (typed or cursive or mixed) but what is written.
if it is clean and legible it is good.
Posted by ryvlad (3 comments )
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