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The Effects of Manuscript, Cursive or Manuscript/Cursive Styles on Writing Development in Grade 2

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Abstract

In the research area of writing development, an increasing number of researchers suggest that graphomotor skills could be much more important than they appear to be (Christensen, 2009). Few researchers have studied the link between handwriting and teaching practices, despite the fact that some studies indicate its importance (Graham, 2010). The general objective of this study is to explore the relationship between different handwriting styles and the development of writing skills among 715 children in Grade 2. Generally, our results show that the three handwriting styles (manuscript/cursive, manuscript, and cursive) have different effects on writing development (speed, quality, word production, and text production).
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 110
The Effects of Manuscript, Cursive or Manuscript/Cursive Styles
on Writing Development in Grade 2
MARIE-FRANCE MORIN
Faculté d’éducation - Université de Sherbrooke
NATALIE LAVOIE
Département des sciences de l’éducation- Université du Québec à Rimouski
ISABELLE MONTESINOS
Faculté des sciences de l’éducation - Université de Montréal
Abstract
In the research area of writing development, an increasing number of researchers suggest
that graphomotor skills could be much more important than they appear to be
(Christensen, 2009). Few researchers have studied the link between handwriting and
teaching practices, despite the fact that some studies indicate its importance (Graham,
2010). The general objective of this study is to explore the relationship between different
handwriting styles and the development of writing skills among 715 children in Grade 2.
Generally, our results show that the three handwriting styles (manuscript/cursive,
manuscript, and cursive) have different effects on writing development (speed, quality,
word production, and text production).
Handwriting and Text Production
Based on Hayes and Flower’s model (1980), written production supposes three
cognitive processes: planning (generating ideas and setting goals), translating
(transcribing ideas into written text), and revising (rereading the text to improve clarity of
idea expression). Further, Berninger and Swanson (1994) adapt this model to text
production among younger writers. They describe two processes for translation: text
generation, which occurs at different levels of language, and transcription, which includes
handwriting (letter production) and spelling (word production).
The emergence of cognitive psychology studies in the area of writing learning has
brought to light the fact that the development of handwriting skills brings into play
several related abilities and that handwriting skills take a long time to acquire (Alamargot
& Fayol, 2009). Indeed, an increasing number of studies are shedding light on the
relationships between handwriting, spelling, and text production. Given the fact that text
production requires the coordination of a large number of cognitive and metacognitive
abilities, it could be argued that the graphomotor skills mobilized by children during
handwriting have relatively little importance in the writing process as a whole. However,
several studies have provided good reason to believe that this low-level aspect could be
much more important than it might appear; to generate creative and well-structured
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 111
written texts, students must master the mechanical tools of getting letters, words, and
sentences onto the page at a level of automaticity (Berninger, Vaughan, Abbott, Begay,
Coleman, Curtin, et al., 2002; Bourdin, Cogis, & Foulin, 2010; Christensen, 2005;
Medwell & Wray, 2008).
Children entering primary school spend most of their cognitive energy managing
the spelling and graphomotor aspects of writing. More advanced writers are not only able
to manage the spelling and graphomotor aspects of writing, but they can also focus on
planning and editing activities. Indeed, to the extent that young students deploy a
significant portion of their cognitive energy controlling low-level processes (such as
handwriting or spelling), few attentional resources are available for more complex tasks
(such as idea generation, word choice, management of cognitive activities, and text
editing) (Medwell & Wray, 2008). In other words, for learners, the high demands and
difficulties of handwriting not only stop concurrent activation of other processes, but can
explain why it’s difficult for them to engage in high-level processes (McCutchen, 2011).
Based on Christensen (2005), “unless handwriting is automated, the cognitive load
required for the physical act of writing can overwhelm the system and interfere with more
complex processes that require conscious thought for ideation, sequencing ideas, and
monitoring of accuracy and communicative clarity” (p. 442).
Basing themselves on the well-known cognitive constraint phenomenon
encountered in writing (Bourdin, 2002; McCutchen, 2008, 2011), studies have drawn
attention to the importance of automating certain activities in the act of writing (such as
recalling word spelling or handwriting) to enable young students to devote attentional
resources to managing more complex aspects of text production. Indeed, many
researchers (in particular, Bourdin, 2002; Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott &
Whitaker, 1997; Jones & Christensen, 1999) note the need for automating letter and word
writing in order to free up attentional resources so they can be devoted primarily to the
many cognitive tasks involved in text production. As Graham and Bereiter (1996) note, if
children write slowly, they will be unable to remember all of their ideas, forgetting them
before they are able to write them. With regard to the impact of concurrent activities on
attentional resources, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1987) note that when 6- to 7-year olds
simply dictate a text rather than writing it out themselves, the text is more coherent, more
elaborate and much longer. De La Paz and Graham (1995) also note that writing under
dictation reduces the attentional demand on children, a condition which enhances
handwriting quality at the beginning of kindergarten.
This relationship between graphomotor skills in writing and spelling mastery is also
noted by Berninger and Swanson (1994). They show that the younger children are, the
more graphomotor skills and spelling are important, even though those skills still
influence the quality of texts produced by older children. Another study in Grade 2 (Jones
& Christensen, 1999) reveals that 53% of the variance in text production quality can be
attributed to the automation of letter production. Similarly, Fayol and Miret (2005) note a
link between the extent of graphomotor mastery and the spelling performances of third
graders (N=77). In this study, the French researchers find that the low performances in
handwriting were significantly correlated with low scores in word production.
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 112
A vast study of 600 first to sixth graders in the USA (Graham et al, 1997) clarifies
our understanding of the relationships between the graphomotor components of writing,
spelling, and the quality and fluidity of writing activities. This is achieved by an analysis
that relies on structural equation modeling (SEM). This model has the advantage of being
able to validate developmental hypotheses. The authors were able to show that
transcription skills (graphomotor skills and spelling) are important determinants in the
variance in fluidity and composition quality in writing (number of words), both at the
beginning and the end of primary school. However, this analysis reveals that handwriting
directly predicts the quality of written productions by all primary school students.
Graham and Harris (2000) note that mastery of graphomotor skills in writing does not
only facilitate the initial writing learning process, but also supports the overall
development of writing for a period of at least six months. In another study conducted by
Berninger, Abbott, et al. (2002) to explore writing and reading connections in elementary
school, one of the results shows that the covariance was significant between handwriting
and spelling only in Grade 1---when manuscript style is introduced---and in Grade 3---
when cursive style is introduced. As Berninger et al. (2002) claim, “handwriting may
constrain spelling, and spelling may constrain handwriting in typically developing
writers” (p.44). The precision of the above results (Graham et al, 1997; Graham & Harris,
2000) supports earlier hypotheses arguing for an important determining role for
transcription skills in writing. Above all, they draw attention to the often-underestimated
contribution of graphomotor components to writing skills (quality and fluidity) of
primary school students, which are more important than the contribution of spelling
abilities.
In the same way, two studies conducted by Medwell and her colleagues in England
(Medwell, Stand, & Wrap, 2007, 2009) show that a high proportion of the variance in
composition was related to handwriting (automatic letter production). This is not only
true in a study with 179 children in Grade 2 (Medwell et al., 2007), but also in Grade 6
(N=198) at the end of elementary school (Medwell et al., 2009). This finding supports the
idea that handwriting requires cognitive efforts not only for children at the beginning of
elementary school but also at the end. This finding also shows that cognitive processes
might be unavailable for higher level tasks in text production throughout the entire
elementary school period.
Graphomotor activity thus appears to be an important component of the writing act
because it has an impact on student performances in spelling and written composition and
because handwriting problems influence the quality of text production. Moreover, various
studies have clearly shown the contribution of this component by demonstrating that
good spelling and text production abilities are dependent upon the automation of
graphomotor skills during elementary school.
In a modern view of writing, it appears important to consider the role of technology
in the writing process (Salomon, Kozminsky, & Asaf, 2004). However, Christensen
(2009) upholds the importance of handwriting in the development of writing in school,
especially for beginner writers. She states two reasons: 1) the ability to produce written
texts is necessary to complete different written tasks in school (for example, class work or
assessment tasks); 2) the phenomenon of cognitive overload that occurs during
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 113
handwriting and interferes with text production in young writers is also observed during
keyboarding; in other words, if a young typist allocates a large part of his attention to
typing, he doesn’t have sufficient attention for dealing with more complex activities of
text production (Christensen, 2004; Connelly, Gee & Walsh, 2007). Moreover,
Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou, and Velay (2005) conducted a study to examine letter
recognition in two groups of kindergarten writers (one using handwriting and one using
typing). They found that letter recognition was better in the handwriting group. This
finding shows that whether a child learns to write letters through handwriting or through
typing may influence visual recognition of letters, which is important in reading and
writing. So, even if more research is needed in the future to explore the link between the
digital environment and literacy (Burnett, 2009; Christensen, 2009), recent research
argues for the justified place of “writing by hand” within the current context of writing in
school.
Handwriting Styles
Previous research leads us to see the importance of handwriting in the development
of writing abilities in primary school children and raises pedagogical issues as well as a
number of questions. For example, how can we create a pedagogical setting that
contributes to this automation? Do the different writing styles taught in primary school
have an impact on the development of handwriting and writing in general? Both
pedagogical practices and opinions vary on this issue. Indeed, this issue is at the heart of
a large controversy in the various countries using the Latin alphabet (Ediger, 2002).
Different choices have been made in different settings. For example, in the United States
and Canada, manuscript style is introduced initially in Grade 1, followed by cursive style
in Grade 2. France favours teaching only cursive handwriting from kindergarten. And in
Mexico, manuscript style is generally the only style taught.
To better understand the official orientation for handwriting teaching in primary
school in Canada, LeBlanc (2010) studied the official programs of all Canadian
provinces. Manuscript style is the first writing style for the majority of official programs
(Alberta, North Western Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New
Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland). Cursive style is prescribed
as the second style. In Quebec, these two styles are also recommended; but there is no
indication on when to change from manuscript to cursive style. For two others provinces
(British Colombia and Ontario), no recommendation is made as to official style. In
summary, most official programs in Canada prescribe first teaching manuscript style
followed by cursive style. Even in the provinces where official recommendations are
vague, the above-mentioned practice is still prevalent in most schools.
A recent study (Bara, Morin, Montésinos-Gelet, & Lavoie, in press) explores the
declared practices and conceptions about teaching handwriting among 45 teachers (Grade
2) in France and in Quebec (Canada). This study shows that teachers in France and
Quebec do not agree on which writing style should be taught in primary school. In the
Bara and al. (in press) study, individual interviews with 45 teachers reveal that in-class
writing practices did not differ between teachers who taught cursive style and those who
taught manuscript style. The majority of teachers (77.8% in Quebec and 94.7% in France)
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 114
claimed to propose activities in class about letter formation three times a week (copying
letter forms or working alone with exercise books). However, only teachers of cursive
style reported giving explicit teaching with verbal instructions.
Some researchers have opted to study handwriting styles and their relationship to
certain aspects of writing skills. For example, Graham, Berninger and Weintraub (1998)
studied primary school children’s writing speed and the legibility of their handwriting in
function of the handwriting style used. They met with 600 fourth, fifth and sixth graders
and concluded that the writing speed of children who combined manuscript and cursive
styles was faster than that of children who only used one style. Children who combine
manuscript and cursive handwriting generally do so because they initially adopted the
manuscript style and subsequently learned cursive handwriting, which is faster (however,
this finding is contradicted by research by Graham et al, 1998).
The successive teaching of two handwriting styles (manuscript followed by cursive)
appears to prevail in Quebec, Canada, although the teaching program offers no
recommendation to this effect. From a purely motor activity perspective, this approach
appears to be reasonable since it involves first adopting a handwriting style reputed to be
simpler and then turning to a handwriting style that is acknowledged as being faster.
However, questions can be asked about the relevance of submitting children to a dual
learning process, especially in the case of children with learning disabilities (Gregg,
Coleman, Davis, & Chalk, 2007). Whatever handwriting style is used, there is no doubt
that the ability to recognize various forms of the same letter in the Latin alphabet is
necessary for children to be able to read in their language. On the other hand, the ability
to write using different handwriting styles is not a prerequisite for being understood. Is
this dual teaching necessary or does it hinder writers? To answer this question, more
studies are needed to examine the relationship between different handwriting styles and
handwriting efficacy (Christensen, 2009).
Research Objectives
This study seeks to provide a better understanding of writing development. More
precisely, it seeks to document the possible effects of different handwriting styles
(Manuscript/cursive, Manuscript or Cursive) on various components of writing. Firstly,
and with a view to shedding light on the role of handwriting skills at the beginning of
primary school, the present study examines the relationship between graphomotor skills
(speed and quality) and writing mastery. Secondly, this research investigates the impacts
of three handwriting styles on graphomotor, spelling, and writing skills of children at the
beginning of primary school.
Methodology
Population
715 seven- to eight-year-old French-speaking children (Québec, Canada)
participated in this study (average age=7.7; 342 girls and 373 boys). Our sample was
divided into three groups according to teaching practices: Manuscript/cursive group (the
most common profile in Quebec schools): children who learned manuscript handwriting
in Grade 1 and cursive handwriting in Grade 2 (n=288); Manuscript group: children who
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 115
have only learned manuscript handwriting since the beginning of primary school
(n=163); Cursive group: children who have only learned cursive handwriting since the
beginning of primary school (n=264).
Tasks
These children performed three collective tasks at the beginning and the end of
Grade 2: writing letters of the alphabet, writing words and writing a text (adapted from
Berninger et al., 1997). The three tasks were successively performed in a period of 45
minutes. Specifically, in the first task, the students had to write, in order, as many letters
of the alphabet as they could in one minute (Berninger & Rutberg, 1992). The number of
properly produced letters gave a score for writing speed (SA). In addition, there was an
evaluation of the quality of letter formation based on a variety of criteria (e.g., linearity,
spacing between letters, and letter size and form).
The second task, writing words, involved writing a certain number of words in a
given amount of time to evaluate the level of automatization for these written words
(orthographic-motor integration). Specifically, the children were asked to write 20 one- or
two-syllable words presented orally and visually (illustrations and word spelling).
Following the 20-word presentation, a sheet with the illustrations of the words was given
to the children and they were asked to write as many words as they could in five minutes
(the illustrations were provided to help recall). This task allowed us to determine a
writing speed score based on the number of words produced within the time limit (SW).
The third task involved producing a text in a given amount of time. After reading a
short narrative, the children were asked to produce a written summary. They were given
three minutes to think about what they would write and 10 minutes to write the text. An
overall score for the quality of the text (OQ) was determined based on presence of events
(0 to 6) and presence of characters (0 to 4). The length of production was also evaluated
based on the number of words written. A syntax score was also attributed based on
sentence structure with respect to meaning and word order. For example, a sentence was
judged agrammatical when we observed perturbation in meaning or in word order, or
when we observed word omission (for example, a sentence without verb or subject) or
presence of pseudowords.
Results
To answer our first research question, we begin by presenting our results with
regard to the relationship between graphomotor skills (speed and quality) and mastery of
writing. We then look at whether we can observe a differentiated impact of handwriting
styles on graphomotor skill (handwriting development), word production and text
production.
Relationship Between Graphomotor Skills and Written Production
Table 1
Relationship Between Graphomotor Skills (Speed and Quality) and Writing at the End of
Grade2 (N=718)
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 116
Quality
(alphabet
task)
Word
production
Syntax (text
production)
Length of
summary
Quality of
summary’s
content
Corr.
-.114
.340***
.075*
.278***
.300***
sig.
.002
.000
.045
.000
.000
N
718
718
709
710
709
Corr.
.169***
.124**
.056
.044
sig.
.000
.001
.133
.245
N
718
709
710
709
Correlation analysis (Spearman) suggests that writing speed is significantly related
to word-writing performance (word production: .340) and the ability to produce a text
(syntax: .075, length: .278, and quality of the summary’s content: .300). On the other
hand, letter quality is only significantly correlated with word production (.169) and
syntax (.124). As such, we can say that the greater the writing speed, the better the
performances in word and text production.
Graphomotor skills
This section presents student performances for each of the three handwriting styles
with regard to their graphomotor skills (writing speed and quality)
Table 2
Performances (Mean, Standard Deviation) for Graphomotor Skills (Speed and Quality)
for All Subjects (N=718) by Handwriting Style (Manuscript/Cursive, Manuscript,
Cursive)
Beginning of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
End of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
Speed
Manuscript-
cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
22.91 (9.11)
18.31 (7.33)
19.28 (7.56)
30.38 (11.78)
30.07 (11.17)
25.42 (9.24)
Quality
Manuscript-
cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
6.96 (1.30)
6.86 (1.51)
7.12 (1.42)
7.12 (1.37)
6.95 (1.41)
7.191.50)
1.1 Speed.
ANCOVA results show that handwriting styles have an effect on speed (F (2.711) =
15.634, p < 0.001). Multiple comparison analysis (Boneferroni method) shows that the
results differ at the end of the year when beginning of year scores (30.38 > 30.07 > 25.42)
are taken into account.
For all the handwriting styles, the increase between the beginning and the end of the
year is significant (p < 0.001). Moreover, the increase is sharper for certain styles (F
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 117
(2.712) = 16.191, p < 0.001). In this regard, multiple comparison tests show that the
difference between the beginning and the end of the year is greater (p < 0.05) for the
Manuscript style (11.77) than for the Manuscript/cursive and Cursive styles (respectively
7.47 and 6.14).
Despite the progress displayed in all the handwriting styles, our results indicate that
by the end of Grade 2, Cursive style displays the weakest scores (25.42). The difference
is significant (p < 0.001) in comparison to the other styles.
1.2 Quality.
ANCOVA results show that handwriting style has no effect on quality (F (2. 709) =
0.714, p =.490). The increase between the beginning and the end of the year is not
significant (p < 0.05) for any of the styles and the absence of an increase is similar in all
handwriting styles (F (2.710) = 0.234, p = .792).
Word Production
This section presents student performances for each of the three handwriting styles
with regard to word production. These performances were measured based on the number
of words having the correct spelling in the isolated word task.
Table 3
Performances (Mean, Standard Deviation) for Word Production for All Subjects (N=718)
by Handwriting Style (Manuscript-Cursive, Manuscript or Cursive)
Beginning of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
End of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
Manuscript-cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
13.51 (5.14)
11.89 (5.42)
13.37 (4.98)
15.34 (4.06)
14.73 (4.00)
16.25 (3.41)
For all the styles, the increase between the beginning and the end of the year is
significant (p < 0.001). Moreover, the increase is sharper for certain handwriting styles (F
(2.712) = 7.207, p < 0.001). Multiple comparison tests show that the difference between
the two points in time is weaker (p < 0.05) for the Manuscript/cursive approach (1.83)
than for the Manuscript and Cursive styles (respectively 2.85 and 2.89). We can,
therefore, see that Manuscript/cursive style subjects display less improvement in word
production than Manuscript and Cursive subjects.
We can observe that by the end of the year, Cursive style displays higher scores
than Manuscript/cursive and Manuscript styles (respectively p < 0.001 and p < 0.05). It
should be noted that the difference between Cursive and Manuscript styles could be due
to a difference favouring Cursive style at the beginning of the year. In addition, the
difference between Cursive and Manuscript/cursive styles at the end of the year is worth
noting since these two groups had very similar performances.
Composition Skills
This section presents student performances for each of the three handwriting styles
with regard to composition skills (syntax, length, and content quality). These
performances were measured based on recall of a story.
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 118
Table 4
Performances (Mean, Standard Deviation) for Composition Skills (Syntax, Length,
Summary Content) for All Subjects (N=718) by Teaching Approach (Manuscript/Cursive,
Manuscript, Cursive)
Beginning of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
End of the year
Mean (standard deviation)
Syntax
Manuscript-cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
3.29 (1.43)
3.02 (1.41)
3.32 (1.40)
3.24 (1.22)
2.94 (1.37)
3.59 (1.06)
Length
Manuscript-cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
41.49 (24.29)
35.17 (22.30)
37.89 (22.57)
55.78 (31.47)
48.91 (29.00)
51.43 (27.56)
Quality of summary’s
content
Manuscript-cursive
Manuscript
Cursive
4.39 (1.74)
3.89 (1.71)
4.14 (1.48)
4.85 (2.01)
4.65 (1.78)
4.731.85)
1.1 Syntax.
Our results indicate a progression only for Cursive style and this progression is
significant (p < 0.01). The performances displayed by the subjects in Manuscript/cursive
and Manuscript styles did not improve between the beginning and the end of Grade two.
Moreover, at the end of the year, Cursive style subjects displayed significantly
higher scores than those of Manuscript style (p < 0.001) and Manuscript/cursive style (p
< 0.01).
1.2 Length.
For all approaches, the increase between the beginning and the end of the year is
significant (p < 0.001). However, the increase is not greater from one style to the next (F
(2.703) = 0.062, p = .940). ANCOVA results show that the style has no effect on the
number of words produced (F (2.702) = 0.484, p = .617). The texts get longer over the
school year regardless of handwriting style.
1.3 Quality of summary’s content.
For all handwriting styles, the increase over the school year is significant (p <
0.001). However, the increase is not greater from one style to the next (F (2.701) = 1.168,
p = .312). ANCOVA results show that the handwriting style has no effect on the quality
of the summary (F (2.700) = 0.023, p = .978).
Discussion
Graphomotor Skills and Written Production
In line with other studies, we looked at writing speed and the quality of letter
formation to examine students’ graphomotor skills. Our results lead us first to note a link
between graphomotor skills and writing skills. This observed relationship supports the
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 119
findings of other studies (Berninger et al., 2002; Fayol & Miret, 2005; Graham et al.,
1997; Medwell et al., 2007) that show the contribution of these skills to writing skills.
Our results add to previous research by showing that writing speed has more of an impact
on word production and composition performance than the quality of letter formation. As
such, the faster the writing speed, the better the spelling and text performance. This
observation concurs with Graham and Weintraub (1996) who note that when writing
speed is not fast enough, children forget their ideas before they can write them, which, in
turn, has a negative impact on text production. By writing faster, children thus appear to
automate the graphomotor aspect of spelling information, which is a crucial element in
the development of writing skills (Berninger & Swanson, 1994). Overall, our results
confirm the cognitive view that “writing quality depends, at least partially, on the writer’s
skill in managing the writing processes” (Beauvais, Olive, & Passerault1, 2011, p.425)
We also note the students’ ability to develop their writing speed because of the
significant differences observed between the beginning and the end of the year. These
results are not particularly surprising since they show that, with writing practice over the
course of the year, the students gain experience and increase their writing speed.
Improved writing speed enables them to spell better and to write better texts. This
observation concurs with studies showing the link between handwriting, word spelling,
and text quality (Fayol & Miret, 2005; Graham et al. 1997; Jones & Christensen, 1999).
We did not observe a significant increase in the quality of letter formation over the
course of the year; it remained stable. This result might seem surprising. Since young
writers have generally not automated letter formation, one could assume that the various
writing experiences throughout the year would lead to an improvement in the quality of
letter formation. However, it was not the case in our study. We could hypothesize that
this aspect of writing does not receive much attention in class and as such, pedagogical
factors had an impact on our results, particularly with regard to certain elements of
teaching handwriting (frequency, direct and explicit nature). When we return to the
declared practices of the teachers in this study, in the interview before the
experimentation, half of the teachers in all groups (Manuscript/cursive, Manuscript or
Cursive) did not declare teaching handwriting in an explicit context in class. Yet recent
work in this area indicates that writing can only improve with at least a minimum of
teaching (direct and explicit) and frequent practice (Chartrel & Vinter, 2004; Graham,
2010; Schlagal, 2007), especially in the early moments of schooling. However, if quality
is not worked on, practice will ensure a certain degree of legibility though it will not
guarantee progress. For this pedagogical point, other research will be needed to study the
link between the nature of teaching practices in handwriting and the development of
writing skills in primary school.
Our results with regard to graphomotor skills show that while writing speed
improves, quality remains the same. These results strike us as interesting, in as much as
they reveal that speed does not increase to the detriment of writing quality. Even though
the children write faster, this does not have a negative impact on legibility. This
observation does not concur with the results of studies with students in higher grades
1 This research led by Beauvais & al. (2011) shows the link between how writers (students at university)
manage the cognitive activities during production and the quality of text.
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 120
(e.g., Hamstra-Bletz & Blöte, 1993). Indeed, they note that from mid-primary school on,
students pay less attention to handwriting and that their letter formation is not as good
and their writing is less legible.
Graphomotor Skills and Writing Styles
Students who learned cursive style wrote less rapidly than students in the other
styles. This observation concurs with other studies and suggests that cursive style
weakens writing speed. However, we observed that Cursive students displayed more
progress in word production than Manuscript/Cursive and Manuscript students and that
the word production performances of Manuscript/Cursive students were significantly
weaker than those observed in the other groups. As other studies have shown (e.g.,
Berninger, Abbott et al., 2002), it would appear that the graphomotor component
influences word production management, especially for learning writers faced with
learning another handwriting style (cursive following manuscript).
We observed that the Cursive style children also progress or progress more than the
other groups (especially in comparison to the Manuscript/Cursive group) in the areas of
word production and syntax, two important components of writing. The difference
between the Cursive style and the two other styles could be due to a variety of factors.
However, when we examined the nature of handwriting practices in the Cursive group
(Bara et al., in press), we did not find marked difference between the groups. The only
point of difference for the Cursive group was to integrate verbal information in
handwriting teaching. It may be the explicit character of this practice that explains this
difference; but this hypothesis will be confirmed with future research (Chartrel & Vinter,
2004; Graham, 2010). As mentioned by Christensen (2009), the results of previous
research is not clear on the role of verbal mediation, even if teachers’ verbal instructions
seem to be useful for young writers (Graham & Weintraud, 1996). A linguistic factor
may also explain this difference for the Cursive group. When students write in cursive,
the very nature of this style allows them to memorize and recall the word unit more
easily, as opposed to manuscript style---all letters of one word are tied together.
According to Abbott, Berninger, and Fayol (2010) who find a strong relationship between
word performance and text production, new research should explore the impact of
integrated instructional programs on writing abilities (integrating word instruction with
composition instruction or integrating word instruction with handwriting instruction).
Based on our study, we agree with Abbott et al. (2010) that “cross-cultural studies should
compare handwriting’s development and its longitudinal relationships to those of other
writing skills in countries that systematically vary in the consistency of handwriting
instruction provided across the grades” (p. 294).
In this discussion, it is important to note the fact that the standard-deviations are
important in size for both speed and quality, regardless of handwriting styles
(Manuscript/cursive, Manuscript or Cursive). This observation indicates that there is a
very broad heterogeneity among students with regard to this aspect of writing. In
pedagogical terms, this heterogeneity calls for teaching styles that are likely to offer a
better differentiation. This proposal remains to be explored in subsequent research.
Language and Literacy Volume 14, Issue 1, 2012 Page 121
Conclusion
In line with other studies, generally, our data tend to show that writing skills
improve in terms of speed (the students write faster), spelling (words are written better),
and text production (they produce longer texts, the syntax is better, and the summary
content is of better quality). However, writing quality remains the same over the course
of the year. 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
year.
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.
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Author Biographies
Marie-France Morin (Ph.D.) is professor in Education at Université de Sherbrooke
(Québec, Canada). She leads the Research Chair in reading and writing learning in young
children. Her research interests include emergent literacy in kindergarten and writing
(spelling and handwriting development) and reading in primary school. She also conducts
research on interaction between instruction and learning in early schooling.
Natalie Lavoie (Ph.D.) is professor in Education at Université du Québec à Rimouski
(Québec, Canada). She worked as a primary school teacher for several years. She leads
the Research Chair in school perseverance and literacy. Her research works focus on
reading and writing among students in kindergarten and primary school with a particular
attention on boy’s educational success. She also conducts research on teaching practices.
Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet (Ph.D.) is a professor in Education at Université de Montréal.
Her researches concern the teaching and the learning of French written language in
primary school and emergent literacy in kindergarten. She is also interested in the
resources offered by children literature to support the development of the pupils.
Acknowledgements
This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council (Canada).
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