Are Slanted Manuscript Alphabets Superior to the Traditional Manuscript Alphabet?
Graham, Steve, Childhood Education
On "Back-to-School" night, a 1st-grade teacher was sharing with parents her plans for their children during the first half of the year. When one parent asked about handwriting, the teacher eagerly noted that they would be using the D'Nealian handwriting program (Thurber, 1993a).
The teacher went on to explain that the D'Nealian program did not use the traditional manuscript alphabet, which is characterized by round, upright letters that resemble type. Instead, they would use a modified script in which the manuscript letters are slanted and most of the "small" or lower-case letters resemble their cursive counterparts. She then showed the parents a chart containing the D'Nealian alphabet, emphasizing that the modified manuscript letters make the transition between manuscript and cursive writing easier and quicker for young children.
While most of the parents were unfamiliar with the D'Nealian alphabet or the concept of slanted manuscript letters, only a few voiced any comments. One parent noted that it seemed a waste of time to learn a new script when her child could already write most of the traditional letters "quite well." Another parent, however, indicated that her older child had learned to write using D'Nealian, and that it was "simply marvelous." After hearing the first two comments, a third parent asked the teacher to "please tell us again why you think this new alphabet is better."
The teacher related many of the claims made by advocates for the newer, slanted manuscript style (Coon & Palmer, 1993; Thurber, 1993b). She reiterated that the new, slanted manuscript alphabet made the transition to cursive writing easier, saving a considerable amount of instructional time. She further indicated that the new, slanted alphabets, such as D'Nealian, used continuous strokes to form manuscript letters, resulting in better rhythm, greater speed, more writing and fewer letter reversals. She also stressed that this type of alphabet was better for children with learning disabilities and other handicaps.
As she repeated and expanded her rationale, the teacher did not refer to the research that addresses whether slanted manuscript alphabets are superior to the traditional ones. And none of the parents thought to request evidence to support the claims. This paper examines the merits of the claims made by this 1st-grade teacher and the other advocates of slanted manuscript alphabets.
Prior to the 1980s, the most critical issue involving handwriting script centered on whether to teach both manuscript and cursive writing. Some educators challenged the desirability of teaching both types of writing, recommending that only manuscript be taught (Groff, 1964; Templin, 1963) or making the more controversial suggestion that only cursive be taught (cf. Early, 1973). Neither of these recommendations generated enough support to seriously challenge the traditional approach of teaching manuscript in kindergarten through grade 2 and cursive in grade 2 or 3. Advocates of teaching only manuscript were unable to overcome tradition. Proponents for the cursive-only approach were unable to effectively counter evidence that manuscript writing is more legible than cursive writing, leads to greater gains in reading achievement, can be written as fast and is easier to learn (Askov & Peck, 1982; Graham & Miller, 1980).
During the 1980s, this debate declined in the United States and educators turned their attention to other styles of print (Askov & Peck, 1982), such as italics and the D'Nealian alphabet developed by Donald Thurber (1983). Interest in the use of alternative alphabets as a means to facilitate the transition to cursive writing was strong enough that two publishing companies developed handwriting programs that centered around the concept of slanted manuscript letters--the D'Nealian method, published by Scott, Foresman (Thurber, 1993a), and the McDougal, Littell (1993) program. …