The times are changing and this is good news for dyslexics. Forty-six states have replaced decades-old handwriting requirements with a keyboarding mandate by adopting the Common Core State Standards. This is big news for all students, but most particularly for dyslexics.
Children and adults who are dyslexic have inherent difficulties with letter formation involved with cursive writing as well as spelling. To a dyslexic, letter formation is tedious rather than natural. This has nothing to do with motivation or ability, but rather represents an inherent quality of being dyslexic. Having to devote energies to cursive handwriting inhibits the full expression of a dyslexic student’s creativity, imagination, and ability to show what they know. Writing in lovely longhand is laborious and students often leave out important details that their teachers need to see in order to assess what they have learned. This happens not because the students don't know the material, but because the actual act of writing is so difficult and time consuming for them. As a consequence, not only is expression constricted, the written product does not reflect an accurate representation of the dyslexic to write creatively, to think, and to imagine. Fortunately, the dyslexic does not have to be inhibited and hindered by these inherent difficulties but can use twenty-first-century technology such as keyboarding.
Given the significant realities and trade-offs during a student’s already packed day, teaching keyboarding instead of a second round handwriting skill (cursive) is a far more effective and relevant skill for a modern-day education. The nostalgic cries touting the beauty and beneficial process of “pen to paper” expression are being drowned out by the pragmatic realities of a technological shift that is too massive to resist. Many experts predict that cursive will ultimately become an art form rather than a common means of written expression.
As more and more teachers move to replace Handwriting Without Tears cursive workbooks with keyboarding apps, dyslexics will be the big winners. Most teachers would agree that, aside from extended time, having access to a computer and all of its possibilities is probably the most significant accommodation a dyslexic student can leverage to improve academic performance. No small part of that advantage involves switching dyslexic students from cursive to keyboarding. Once dyslexic students change to keyboarding, their volume of word use increases dramatically as well as their written clarity, spelling, and overall editing. Standard fonts help them read and recognize their own words, while automated editing and spell-check options correct common mistakes. All this adds up to more expressive, enthusiastic, and confident dyslexic students. Who could argue with that?
Practically speaking, when it comes to moving dyslexic students onto laptops, there is no time to waste once writing expectations increase. However, it is important to make sure that students learn proper keyboarding skills from the start. Dyslexic students often benefit from daily practice with game-like software that tracks their progress. Many are captivated by the built-in challenges involving race cars, horses, and avatars and are motivated to increase their scores by improving their fluency and accuracy. Games allow them to master keyboarding through isolated practice, rather than learning the various keys while trying to compose. Keyboarding practice for five to ten minutes a day can be easy, convenient, and fun. Children can practice independently, but someone should regularly check their technique to preempt the formation of bad habits. Extra vigilance and disciplined practice at the beginning are worth it, for students will be using keyboarding skills to express themselves for the rest of their lives.
Despite all the persistent mechanical challenges associated with being dyslexic, the integration of new technologies in the classroom suggests that there has never been a more favorable time to be a dyslexic student. This “cursive-to-keyboarding” shift is yet another scholastic victory that will help level the academic playing field. Let’s hope this mandate translates into permanent change.
Note: If your school is still demanding cursive, start a conversation. There is no reason that cursive should keep any student from reaching her full potential.