The other day we read Stephen Colbourn's story The Lost Ship. It opens with a passage in cursive (pictured above). This was a challenge for some of my learners. But not, surprisingly, an unwelcome challenge.

I like this story because it leaves room for inference, speculation, reading between the lines - a skill set necessary for "critical" reading. I'd always looked on the part using cursive as an unfortunate extra. "I'll read this part," I used to say, jumping in before anyone got frustrated or defensive.

But tonight the learners wanted to try it. So we shadow read: me reading along with each learner, with a lowered voice and drawing out the syllables to help them decode.

I often wonder why, in this age of electronic print (which we've been in for more than half a century), society is still using cursive. I, personally, haven't used it in more than 20 years. I could make a go of it if I had to, but it is a skill I'm gradually losing, without apparent cost.

Do they still teach it in schools, I wonder?

One of my learners wants to learn to read cursive because she gets hand-written notes while on the job. I guess that makes sense - her desire, I mean. The note-thing seems a shame somehow. It's just one more barrier. By what percentage could we raise the national literacy rates if everyone agreed on one way to fashion an "a" or a "g"?.

Still, the learners' interest in cursive has shifted my practice. I'll be slower to steer learners clear of cursive in the future.

By the way, I couldn't find much about Stephen Colbourn on the web. He is or was a freelance writer associated with the London School of Journalism, as well as being involved with computer instruction and educational materials development. One blurb says he "studied Russian and English as a Foreign Language", leading me to wonder what his native language might be. But maybe that was a typo. The blurb adds, "His publications include a number of guided readers for students of English as well as short stories and articles on literature and history." Two other stories of his that we often read are The Arcade and The Briefcase. All of these are part of the (now hard to find) Heinemann Guided Readers series, probably not available in a bookstore near you.

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