Choosing The Right Program To Practice Handwriting: Vertical vs. Slanted. Manuscript Alphabets or D’Nealian Alphabets?

When teaching handwriting there are questions that need to be answered before choosing the method of instruction: is it better to teach Traditional Handwriting letter forms, or is it better to teach using the slanted alphabets? Good samples of Traditional (also called Manuscript, Print, or Vertical alphabet) are Zanner-Bloser©, Palmer, A Reason For Handriting© McDougal-Littell© and Harcourt Brace©. Samples of slanted alphabets (also called Italic) are D’Nealian© and Betty-Dubay©. Other programs are Abeka©, Peterson Directed© and Handwriting Without Tears©.

What are the differences and how do these differences affect children when learning to write? The debate on vertical versus slanted handwriting instruction has gone on since slanted handwriting instruction first begun in 1968. There are no easy answers to the questions of which alphabet is easier to read, is easier to write, easier to teach or which alphabet leads on more easily to the transition to cursive. There are many different styles of handwriting, but with Downhill Publishing LLC Handwriting Worksheets 4 Teachers we have focused on two of them: Traditional Print and D’Nealian Fonts, without getting involved in the debate. We have developed hundreds of activity sheets in both styles. You are free to choose the option which is most appropriate to your needs.

To gain a better understanding of the differences and correlation between Traditional Print & Cursive on the one hand, and D’Nealian-Print & D’Nealian-Cursive on the other. Let’s examine the two alphabets:

Traditional Manuscript alphabet:

Traditional Cursive alphabet:

The popularity of the Traditional Handwriting (Manuscript) alphabet is due to the fact that it can easily be learnt by initial learners. Letters look more like the typeface letters found in books, on children’s TV programs, signs, highways and other public places. Children can easily recognize them. Letters are composed of only 4 single strokes:

Vertical lines: Horizontal lines:

Diagonal lines: Circles and semicircles:

Detractors of this method of instruction say that vertical, horizontal and round strokes are difficult for most children to learn, and, what is even worse, by third grade the students have to completely abandon this method and start learning an entirely different system-Cursive writing. In the Cursive writing alphabet, letters are connected to form words; letters are slanted, each starting from the guide-line or the baseline. There are very few reversible letters. Cursive writing gives words a rhythmic flow. It is more complex for beginners but, paradoxically, cursive writing has advantages of print for students with dysgraphia. The D’Nealian handwriting alphabet was designed by teacher Don Neal Thurber and is named after him. His idea was to create an alphabet similar to cursive. In fact, it was seen as a kind of bridge between traditional print and cursive. D’Nealian uses unconnected letter forms like traditional manuscript, but its letter forms are slanted, like in cursive, and it uses continuous strokes. The idea behind the D’Nealian handwriting practice was for children to learn a simple, slanted alphabet, with continuous strokes. Being similar to cursive, students would not be required to learn two completely different alphabets.

D’Nealian Print

D’Nealian Cursive

Given this reasoning, the teaching of a slanted alphabet such as D’Nealian Fonts would appear to be the option of choice, but even though they were designed in such a way as to make the transition to cursive both quick and easy, the slanted styles still have many opponents. After several years of use in some schools, research has found amazing answers to some significant questions in the ongoing debate of vertical versus slanted styles. Studies by (Graham 1992), (Kuhl and Dewitz 1994), (Hakcney 1991) and (Berninger and Graham) make a more detailed examination in terms of the ease of transition and the degree of student satisfaction. Here are two amazing conclusions from a study carried out by Berninger and Graham***:

1. Children who use a mixed style of writing, i.e. using elements from both Print and D’Nealian alphabets, wrote as legibly as or more legibly than students who wrote in only one style.

2. Both alphabets function well but the idea that “Print is Print and D’Nealian Fonts are D’Nealian Fonts, and never the twain shall meet” appears to be false. Mixed writing has superior results in terms of speed and at least equal results in terms of legibility.

***(Check Berninger and Graham research link at the end of this section for more information.)

Ramón Abajo, Downhill Publishing LLC CEO /Founder
Diego Uribe Ph.D Chief Marketing Officer