Simplifying The Writing Process
by Philip Mcinnis Spring 1995.
Since the mid-1920's, American educators have accepted the manuscript form of script as the appropriate form for introducing children to writing. Previous to that time, cursive was the accepted form used in all schools. A significant number of private and parochial schools throughout the country did not make the shift and have continued to introduce the cursive form in kindergarten. At the same time that there has been extensive research in reading, writing and math, there has been virtually none in penmanship. As a school psychologist who was often requested to evaluate and label children who demonstrated writing and reading problems, I did examine the available research. This was completed briefly at first and then with greater interest as it became apparent that the sequence utilized was incorrect. It became increasingly clear that cursive was the preferred pattern. What follows is summary of the findings and how to implement the findings.
The first consideration should be related to the age when a child is able to complete the form (shape) required to make the letters of the alphabet. Research by Gesell, Starr, and Berry all give the basic perceptual ages for the Euclidean designs as:
vertical line C.A. 1.9
horizontal line C.A. 2.0
circle C.A. 3.0
cross C.A. 4.0
square C.A. 5.0
triangle C.A. 5.3 - 5.6
horizontal rectangle C.A. 6.0
Millions of children of aged four, five and six are screened each year with some variation of these basic designs, and they give us the same data each year from all continents. It also should be noted that children develop in the same sequential, hierarchical manner. An interpretation of this information indicates that if children of five are unable to make a triangle, then they will clearly have difficulty making a capital letter A in manuscript. The children please us by making the letters - bottom up, right to left, verticals instead of diagonals, etc. and we have been accepting anything they complete and, the more they reinforce incorrectly, the more difficult it is to correct. They can correctly make 17 of the lower case cursive letters with the line structures they are able to use by the age of 3. Should they write letters at that time? No. However, when they are old enough to write, they will find cursive more readily available to them.
When are children ready to write? The fine muscles of the hand and wrist and arm all need activities to develop in an age appropriate manner. Pre-school children need to tear cloth and paper, finger paint, cut with safe scissors, fold, paste, glue and use a paper punch. They should first write on unlined paper with crayons or finger paint, use chalkboard, use gross movements of their arms and they should be allowed to write in a size that is normal and natural for them. Early writing is best accomplished on an easel or chalkboard. The gross motor movements will gradually refine to a smaller form needed for lined paper. Paper which has a top line should not be introduced until the children have eye-hand coordination of at least that of a six year old. If they are able to make the designs referred to above, they are developmentally six and are readily to use lined paper. Do not use the child's chronological age to determine readiness.
WHICH PATTERN FOR CHILDREN?
Conventional wisdom says that children who write in cursive would have difficulty reading manuscript. There is no evidence to support this opinion! If fact, the only country in Europe which does not teach cursive first in Great Britain. The literacy rate in the European countries does not suffer because of the introduction of cursive. In the 1950's French educators attempted to improve their educational system by shifting to manuscript. Within three years they realize their error and immediately changed back to cursive. Dr. Feland Meadows, CA state Irvine professor, reports that "---evidence based upon 15 years research, experimentation and practice in the development of language and literacy in six languages - English, French, Japanese, Nahuatl, and Otomi - has demonstrated that: 1. It is more effective to teach children cursive long hand first. 2. Children learn to read more easily if we teach them to write first.
Schools with which I consult first started using cursive in kindergarten in 1978 -79. Since that time, there have been dozens of school districts which have made the change. Advantages we have seen are as follows:
#The continuous movement to complete a letter is more natural, emphasizes left to right directionality, and may be corrected by the child as he writes.
# Cursive movements are a gross motor activity as compared with the fine motor endeavor of manuscript writing.
# All lower case cursive letters start from the same beginning point. With the same starting point, the confusion resulting in reversals or inversions is eliminated. The lower case cursive letters all flow from left to right. Manuscript letters start from many different positions. Further, the cursive flow from left to right reinforces the necessary pattern for both reading and writing.
# Each time the writing implement is picked up from the paper the potential for error is increased.
# There is a simplicity of cursive with regard to starting points, directional pattern and types of strokes.
# Research by McKenna in 1966 stated that cursive is the preferred pattern for remedial students. Connell, 1983, Early, 1976, and Kaufman, 1979 all support the same conclusion.
# The continuous motion allows the children to complete each word as a unit without the repeated stops and starts characteristic of manuscript writing. The isolated movements in manuscript writing tend to fragment each word, making it more difficult to remember as a unit.
# When the child writes a whole word as a unit, he needs less reinforcements in order to remember the word. With the same effort he remembers more words and this results in improved reading skills. We don't want children to read one letter at a time. We want them to read words. Cursive promotes the Gestalt, or wholeness, of words, and then sentences for comprehension.
Learning cursive first is easier and more natural for children. It does not result in any confusion for reading as long as both cursive and manuscript forms of the letter are shown by the teacher\parent. Children recognize letters on familiar objects like McDonalds, Burger King, cereal boxes, and the many fonts used in books. They read each other's writing with all of it's variety.
Children with learning problems of any kind will find it easier to learn one pattern to an automatic level than to try to shift after several years. Children with problems resist the change in 2nd or 3rd grade and they are right! We should allow them to do the easiest pattern and stick with it throughout their school years.
In the 1930's, 1940's, and early 1950's penmanship was a subject which was graded throughout the entire elementary school years. There were daily practice activities which were graded. The emphasis resulted in better writers than what we have experienced in the last three decades. Legible penmanship will result from practice throughout the primary years.