Monday, October 13, 2008

Decision: Cursive and/or Manuscript Handwriting

I have often been asked, "Is the teaching of cursive handwriting a necessary skill in public education?" The answer is a yes/no response. It is "yes" if the child wants to write it and "no" if a child is content with manuscript print.

Because the main purpose of writing is passing on information, it should be done in the most legible fashion which is manuscript print. D'Nealian's main concern, in teaching handwriting, is legibility.

The best quality of the D'Nealian printing technique is that once the 26 lower case letters are mastered, the script flows easily into cursive writing. No other method offers this.

It also has the advantage of devloping a rhythm when writing a letter. All letters are made with a continuous flowing stroke.

Letters are written in near normal size - not giant sized letters. They can be slanted or vertical as long as the slants are consistant in size and shape.

A major learning technique in D'Nealian are the audio directions that help the learner remember where to begin a letter and the direction in which it is formed.

All the above points make D'Nealian a leader in teaching the skill of handwriting.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Thurber,

I am a freshman composition instructor at a large Southern University--not the kind of teacher you expect to hear from, I suppose!

I'm writing to tell you that I've noticed that when my (mostly eighteen-year-old) students write in-class essays, the vast majority of them (perhaps 80 to 90 percent) print their essays rather than write them in cursive. I find this fact interesting, but perhaps not surprising, since most of the essays they wrote in middle school were likely typed on a computer; they did not have the time to become used to cursive writing, I imagine, before they made the switch to typing. As a result, writing takes them a long time, and I find their essays frequently sloppy and occasionally unreadable.

My experience was very different because I came of age before word processing. The first keyboarding class I took was in ninth grade, and I learned on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Prior to that class, I submitted only handwritten essays, giving me time to refine my cursive.

I share these experiences with you because the D'Nealian method made a profound impact on me during my grade school years. I fondly remember my D'Nealian workbook and the banner of example letters posted above the blackboard in my first grade classroom. I believe that must've been 1984. I even recall--I think--what the cover of the book looked like, and I adored writing in it.

As a result of the shift to type, I believe the next generation of students is missing out on learning a valuable discipline and mode of expression. While I acknowledge the tremendous benefits of computer-based communication (not the least of which is being able to write to you right now), I believe that something will have gone out of our culture if handwriting skills continue to erode as I believe they have.It is because of this belief that I continue to provide my students with handwritten feedback on their essays even as our department is moving toward electronic submissions and instructor comments.

Thank you for reading my comments, and thank you for your contribution to teaching the art and craft of handwriting to young people.


Lindsay R.

Anonymous said...

Could you give us the audio directions for each letter using the D'nealian handwriting program?

Don Thurber said...

See for info to obtain audio directions.
-Mr Dnealian

Robert in Beirut said...

D'nealian is not the only system that transitions easily to connected script. I refer you to Getty and Dubay's recent editorial int he New York Times, called "Write Stuff" (I think) about the beauty and value of the italic style of writing.

Having said that, my school does teach D'nealian and I am looking for research about pencil grip. Our KG students get to grab a pencil any old way they want, and it is a problem later on; it is so hard to change!

Anonymous said...

I like the d'nealian fonts at Downhill Publishing. We really love them like you.

Roy Frady said...

The following comments refer to the advantages of the D’Nealian style listed at
2. D'Nealian writing provides for normal sized print, not large letters which in reality may be drawing letters, not writing.
In my opinion, this is purely teaching method, not related to the D’Nealian style. I observed a significant number of kindergarteners who could already write and also wrote in normal, not giant letters.
3. It aids reading by giving immediate letter to word associations in drill and practice work. This helps build basic vocabulary. Reading and writing are thus correlated, not separated subject skills.
How does this association occur? Every elementary or primary school I ever attended used word association with letters. How does this differ in D'Nealian that makes it more effective?
6. It offers a complete audio, visual, tactile, kinesthetic approach to teaching handwriting.
How? Teaching writing does not change between the two styles. How does it address audio, tactile and visual learning styles?
7. It provides for individuality connected with handwriting.
Not if they student is following the style faithfully.
8. It will improve poor writing of upper grade students.
Here is where I have a problem. I do not disagree that essays in class must be handwritten and submitted. I also agree that most students have illegible writing when rushed, and that when balancing time versus accuracy and legibility, they choose script or a hybrid to complete essays. Since penmanship is no longer a graded or taught subject, this situation is understandable. In a recent Graduate class, the focus of one of our discussions was the value of cursive in the modern classroom and its place in education. Arguments for and against its use were proposed, but when polled for how long since the last handwritten assignment each student had submitted, the average time that had passed was close to three years. Handwritten journals and diaries are largely anachronisms.
I observed transfer students, for whom D'Nealian was new, struggle because they were taught with standard script. Until it is ubiquitous, it will continue to be a struggle for those taught in script.

DebraOT said...

I have found D'Nealian print to be difficult for my students with special needs. Many of the students I see will go back and add on "tails" hence drawing letters instead of writing letters.
Using the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program with special needs students has helped them to be successful with handwriting.
HWT uses a continious stroke method without the tails so students learn to stop on the baseline without having to go back on add on strokes. DebraOT- Occupational Therapist

Don Thurber said...


If some of your students go back to add on "monkey tails," it shows they were improperly taught.

The complete audio directions for writing a letter are essential to aid the student in forming their letters. D'Nealian works great when visual, kinesthetic, audio and tactile directions are taught (VKAT).

Many, many OT and special needs teachers use D'Nealian with success.

Handwriting Without Tears and similar fonts are contrary to what this great teacher and M.D. stated over a hundred years ago. She wrote:

"Yet it does not seem natural that to write the letters of the alphabet, which are all rounded, it should begin with straight lines and acute angles. Is it necessary to begin writing with the making of vertical strokes? A moment of clear and logical thinking is enough to enable us to answer, no. The child makes too painful an effort in following such an exercise." Montessorie, Marie, 1912 Teaching Reading and Writing

There is a neat article in the monthly journal O.T. Week on Nov. 10, 1994 concerning D'Nealian Handwriting.

Thanks for your interest,

-Don Thurber

KateGladstone said...

Your e-mail address ( has stopped working. Where can I reach you? I want to ask you about an educational ethics problem.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Thurber,

I just found your blog when searching for Monkey tails. I went to Chapman Elementary, and had you as a principal. I have such fond memories, and hope all is well!

Ellen (Campbell) LaBell