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Why Cursive for Special Needs?

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    Why Cursive for Special Needs?

    If you plan a simple summer program for your special-needs children to prevent regression or boost skills, consider cursive.

    Penmanship -- The Real Hands-On Learning -- seems to offer children more than we might think. Consider Ten Reasons to Teach Cursive even (especially?) with special-needs children.

    For a 4-minute helpful video on paper placement for right- or left-handed children: view here. You can begin teaching cursive as early as the child's first-grade level.

    According to this interpretation of results from a study in Quebec, Learning Cursive in the First Grade may even assist those with dyslexia. Interested in more? Consider some thoughts from a Professor of Neuroscience on cursive's benefits to the brain.

    We plan to release a new two-tiered set, "My Thankfulness Journal," so the child can practice his penmanship each evening, even as he learns to gives thanks daily. (We like to combine skills whenever possible!) Every entry encourages proper letter-writing format: greeting, indentation to begin the text, and closing. Brief daily verses from Holy Scripture allow for memorization or meditation. Look for these soon from Memoria Press. The journals will utilize Iris Hatfield's print-like cursive program which may help facilitate more automated, efficient, legible, and beautiful handwriting for our special-needs students.


    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

    Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., with Foreword by Dr. Gene Edward Veith

    Simply Classical Curriculum for Special Needs

    Underappreciated Aspects of the Québec Handwriting Research

    Regarding the research from Québec — this particularly interests me because I am a dyslexic dysgraphic (age 51) who self-remediated for handwriting (at age 24) and became a handwriting instructor.

    In published summaries of the Québec research (like the one on this forum), it hasparticularly interesting to read the public statements of the lead researcher (Dr. Montésinos-Gelet), asserting that cursive handwriting prevents such dyslexia-related errors as reversals. I am wondering if any of the cursive supporters here send elsewhere, curing the Québec research, have I sighs that may be of help to me as I struggle to reconcile that assertion with the fact that reversals (for instance) have been documented in dyslexics who were taught only cursive handwriting.
    (An example is the well-known earliest published case study of dyslexia: "A case of Congenital Word-Blindness" by W. Pringle Morgan [source on request]. In 1896 when Morgan's case was published, all handwriting instruction was cursive, and had been so for several centuries — yet the dyslexic errors that Morgan documenfs his patient as making include at least two reversals in handwriting : "Precy" for "Percy" — the patient's own name — and "sturng" for "string.")
    Today, cursive reversals in dyslexia are familiar within my own experience and observation as well — including observation of dyslexics today who had been taught cursive only. (A frequent cursive reversal replaces cursive "J" with cursive "f," and vice versa, as these letters in cursive are near-exact mirror-images of each other.)

    Because of my own experiences, and to better help my students, after reading your wen-site's summary of the Québec research I went again to the research itself — the originally published paper — and compared the research paper's content with that of the summary. This comparison reveals some interesting differences between the summary and the actual research on the performance of students who had learned manuscript only, cursive only, or manuscript and then cursive.
    Your summary states, unambiguously, that students who learned cursive benefited the most with regard to such skills as syntax and grammar.
    This is where I am questioning how correctly and adequately the summary reflects the actual research findings — because, as I turned from your summary and again read your research itself, I saw that the findings are NOT, after all, entirely in favor of cursive.

    The Québec researchers find that those students who were taught cursive only "displayed the weakest scores" in graphomotor skills (handwriting speed and handwriting quality) — page 117 of the original research report (Journal Reference: Marie-France Morin, Natalie Lavoie, Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet. The Effects of Manuscript, Cursive or Manuscript/Cursive Styles on Writing Development in Grade 2. Language and Literacy, 2012; 14 (1): 110-124

    On two measures of composition skill (length of content and quality of content), the cursive-only group "displays the weakest scores" — page 118 of the originalresearch report.

    The original research report, further, calls attention to an important factor which was entirely omitted from your summary of the research.. Specifically, the original research report states that the handwriting method (manuscript, cursive, or both) was NOT the only variable differing across the experimental and control groups. On page 114 of the original research report, and again on page 120 of that report, we learn that the teachers who used only cursive (and ONLY those teachers) were additionally using a particular instructional strategy unrelated to cursive — they were the only teachers who were "giving explicit teaching with verbal instructions" (page 114), and were also the only teachers "to integrate verbal information in handwriting teaching" (page 120, where the researchers acknowledge that this uncontrolled, extra variable may have had an impact on the cursive-only group's higher scores in a couple of areas

    In sum — rather than your web-site's simple picture of uniform advantages for cursive-only instruction — the researchers also found some areas for cursive-related concern: areas which your summary avoids mentioning.

    • According to the Québec research, the cursive-only group wrote the most slowly,

    • According to the Québec research, the cursive-only group produced the worst quality of handwriting,

    • According to the Québec research, the cursive-only group produced the lowest quantity of writing,

    • According to the Québec research, the cursive-only group produced the lowest quality of content,

    • out of the six writing-related areas evaluated in the research, there were only two areas (syntax and word production, with the latter evaluated by students' spelling: pages 117 - 118) in which the cursive-only group got a higher score — and this group (as noted above) also was happened to be the only group which was ever actually given "explicit teaching with verbal instructions." We cannot know how the other two groups would have performed if the additional variable in the study had been properly controlled for: in other words, if either all three groups, or none of the groups, had been given "explicit teaching with verbal instructions." )

    Therefore, the actual results (as opposed to their representation in your summary and in other summaries that yours may be quoting) reveal a very mixed pattern of significant advantages and significant disadvantages for cursive versus manuscript. In all but two areas (syntax and spelling), the manuscript-only groups (not either of the cursive groups) have the advantage — which makes it very questionable to have the results summarized as conclusive research support for cursive )

    Fortunately, though, there is one important research finding which your site manages (to its credit) to present correctly. This crucial matter is the researchers' discovery of serious disadvantages (in at four out of six writing-related areas) for the manuscript-then-cursive group. It is commendable that your summary emphasizes this finding, as I believe it provides a clear and productive direction for further research
    A generally advantageous form of handwriting must be a form which can be taught once and consistently developed (rather than taught twice and inconsistently replaced) throughout a child's education. We must — as the research makes clear — forgo the customary destructive change-over: the jump (or crash) from one form of handwriting to a very dfferent form which is diametrically opposed to the first one.

    To find a consistent and generally advantageous handwriting, we would do well to look at the actual performance of handwriters who write quickly and clearly. Here, the Québec research indeed provides some vital guidance, by its references to the findings of Steven Graham (unfortunately also ignored in the summary on your web-site).
    As the researchers note (page 114), Graham documents that the highest speed and highest legibility are produced by writers who combine particular features of manuscript handwriting with particular features of cursive handwriting — NOT a use of two styles, but integrating the best features of both into a single style.

    Although the researchers did not choose to itemize the specific features that Graham isolated as advantageous, these features deserve the attention of anyone who wants to improve the teaching and performance of handwriting.
    Features which Graham observes to be advantageous include the incorporation of print-like letter-shapes into cursive — typically when the cursive letter differs markedly from the printed one — and the simplification of the more difficult joins through replacing these with pen-lifts.
    Interestingly, several published handwriting instruction resources and curricula have been identified (source info and illustrations on request) that intentionally incorporate these very features into a handwriting model which these curricula are using for all grades: so that these features are explicitly taught within a unified, self-consistent method of handwriting, rather than being left to possibly emerge on their own after the student has survived two opposing methods which are mutually inconsistent.

    Given Graham's observation of advantageous features in handwriting — and the Québec researcher's own findings, which establish the importance of adhering to a single consistent method — may I suggest that it is time to take a look at those methods of handwriting which are not only self-consistent (the importance of this has now been conclusively established) but which are additionally in line with what is known (through research) about the actual habits of highly effective handwriters?

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest


      Reading those "thoughts from a Professor of Neuroscience"

      I've been reading, too, those "thoughts from a Professor of Neuroscience" (to which Mrs. Swope's message also refers).
      When I followed the link — and started reading what was there, checking sources, and so on — I found that every argument and source the professor used (and claimed as specific support for cursive) was in fact only an argument generally for handwriting, never specifically for cursive above any of the other forms of our handwriting. Not one of the sources or studies cited — if one traced the paper trail all the way back to the originals, instead of remaining content with the predigested summaries and the quotations of other people's summaries — actually made a case for cursive or demonstrated advantages for cursive over any of the other forms of handwriting.
      Please explain why such material is being promoted as "support for cursive." It is as if one were to suppose a "superiority for McDonald's hamburgers" based, not on comparing /a/ the nutritional content of McDonald's with /b/ the nutritional content of other foods, but on comparing /a/ nutrition (if any) gained from a McDonald's burger with /b/ the results of not eating anything.


        Indeed, Ms. Gladstone's call to the original sources is warranted. Greater scholarship results from a return to the actual research, rather than to someone's interpretation of a study. And in this case, as usual, the study itself is far more interesting!

        To read the entire original Quebec study for yourselves, click on the study's link (available within this link):

        *Morin, M., Lavoie, N., & Montesinos, I. (2012). The Effects of Manuscript, Cursive or Manuscript/Cursive Styles on Writing Development in Grade 2. Language & Literacy: A Canadian Educational E-Journal, 14(1), 110-124.

        From the researchers' conclusion in this small study, we receive some instruction.

        Additional studies are cited within. For ease of reading, I separated the content with some spacing. I think the second "paragraph" may be the most helpful for our purposes. See what you think:

        "....When we take the handwriting style into account, we can observe that
        Manuscript/cursive style children do not perform as well in spelling as the children in the
        other groups. This finding lends support to the idea that the development of writing skills
        in primary school is better served by teaching a single handwriting style (cursive or
        manuscript) to avoid dual learning. In this regard, a trend emerged for Cursive style
        students who were the only ones who showed an improvement in syntax. Moreover, the
        advantage of this style can also be seen in improved word production by the end of the

        Our study raises a certain number of pedagogical issues. Firstly, there is a need to
        think about the role of graphomotor skills in the development of writing skills and to
        assign more importance to them in the classroom. Secondly, it is important to support the
        educational community to ensure that decisions are made to encourage the automation of
        handwriting at the beginning of schooling (Tucha, Tucha, & Lange, 2008). To this end,
        direct and explicit teaching of letter formation and frequent practice opportunities are
        essential components (Graham, 2010).

        Lastly, further thinking is needed about the pertinence of learning two handwriting styles.
        In a larger context of technological advances within education, this reflection needs to consider
        not only the role of primary school in the development of fluency in writing, but also its essential
        role in the introduction of various technological tools in different contexts of communication. This
        consideration is important in the teaching of writing. We must ask ourselves: Is it more
        important to teach two styles of handwriting or to teach one style of handwriting and a
        �digital style� of communication? To answer these questions, more research is needed."

        As researchers often conclude, so do the Quebec researchers: more research is needed.

        In the meantime, some handwriting experts, including our own Iris Hatfield, strive to create a handwriting system that most easily "encourages the automation of
        handwriting at the beginning of schooling," as mentioned above (Tucha, Tucha, & Lange, 2008). Iris's own research and experience with dyslexic students led her to the conclusion that a simpler style of handwriting would not (of course) eliminate learning disabilities; rather, such a program of fewer "loops" and a more natural slant would promote more efficient, more automated, more legible, and more beautiful writing for the student's own satisfaction and for his proficiency with communication to others. Indeed, as Graham suggests, Iris incorporates print-like letters into her unique handwriting program for this very reason.

        This topic is relatively new to me, but the more studies I read, the more I respect Iris's wisdom and her program for our children. I wish NAC would have been available for my own children when they were young.

        Regardless of the various issues involved, those of us who know and love our Memoria Press resources recognize the clear advocacy for (and practice of) this point from the earliest years: "to this end, direct and explicit teaching of letter formation and frequent practice opportunities are essential components (Graham, 2010)." We can read our First Start Reading manuals and know this is most certainly true!

        Thank you for the call to delve more deeply into this important area of study --




          Hi Cheryl,
          I agree that the research is fascinating. My autistic son's teachers and I decided that cursive was probably not going to happen for him in his early elementary years. Learning to write in print had been a grueling process, due to his very short attention span and lack of desire to write At fourteen he prints beautifully -- when he wants to.
          My experiences with some of my other children (including one dysgraphic) led me to start reading as much as I could about handwriting and the arguments for and against cursive. I found the arguments for the teaching of cursive first to be quite convincing, as I did want my other (typically developing) children to have beautiful penmanship and to not struggle with the switch from print to cursive. With child number five I did very little printing at all and moved quickly into cursive. With six and seven I plan to go straight into cursive.

          dd 17
          ds 14 (special needs)
          ds 11
          ds 9
          dd 7
          ds 4
          dd 2