Teachers' Hub

The magazine to cross ideas in early childhood education

Cursive writing and script writing

01 may/2018

The divergences


Cursive writing has the advantage of presenting the unity of the word, it would be faster, but it is difficult to master and if the letters are too deformed within the word, children have trouble identifying them properly because the border between them is not clear, which leads to recognition difficulties and an alteration of meaning. As proof, asking pupils to go back over the letters of a known word, by changing the color with each letter, reveals this obstacle: many forget letter segments, or assign them to another letter or even transform a letter in such a way that it becomes another.


The script is much easier to execute, each letter is isolated, their figure is identifiable. Here is the testimony of a first grade French teacher in 1964 1"I had noticed that the little ones arriving in class without having (or so little) scribbled at home, did not even try to write and told me: "I do not know how to do it"  when it was linked writing. With a script template, they tried." Moreover, the many pencil lifts allowed children to take the time to better prepare the motor gesture to form the next letter. It even seems that children who learn the script develop their writing skills faster than those who learn cursive writing (Herrick 2, 1960). However, the focus on the letter can hinder the entity of the word, especially when the child does not respect the boundaries between words for lack of vigilance. Not to mention the important problem of visual recognition posed by script letters in   mirror: P and q, b and d, u and n, and even the n and h, if the plots are imprecise. These cursive letters cannot be confused. So we see that things are not so simple, because to look carefully, the cursive letters can be more easily discriminated, they offer more variations and are more contrasted than in script.


Some authors regret that script writing is taught, N. Gray3 is convinced of its harmfulness: "The script is perhaps a method specific to the Anglo-Saxon culture. It fizzled. It is high time we decided to obtain better results, good results".


The question of the speed of writing is often invoked: to write in cursive would be an advantage because it is more fluid and requires fewer pencil lifts, which remains to be demonstrated, because a fine observation reveals many "non-academic" interruptions. But very real! Research on writing speed has yielded contradictory results, either in favor of greater cursive speed or in favor of scripting. Bara and Morin4 (2009) report this finding: "It is possible that the script is faster at the beginning of the learning and that the cursive is faster after several years of training and the acquisition of some control".


As if to bring an end to this question, research (Graham, Berninger and Weintraub, 1998 5) reveals that writing speed in children who combine script and cursive is faster than that of those who use only one or the other of these writing styles. However, in primary learning situation of writing, in kindergarten like in first grade, it is not the speed that comes first, but the correct layout of the words and their understanding.


The relativised dichotomies


These two aspects, script, cursive, may not conflict, as we have just mentioned, but, on the contrary, stay in synergy. For A. Ouzoulias6 (2004) the model of words written in script would be a help to translate it into cursive. This is what this author has highlighted in a research: "Thus, contrary to intuition, we can also conclude from this study that, for a beginner of first grade who must copy in cursive a written word given by his teacher, it is better that the model is presented in script rather than cursive." It is explained, he says, "by the fact that the spelling is facilitated and that it helps the children to build the alphabetical identity of the word".   In this same perspective of close relationship between script and cursive, we propose a method of learning7 to write that asks kindergarten pupils, at first, to turn script letters into cursive letters, and, to do this, to add the elements that distinguish them. This clarifies for the pupils the entity of the cursive letter. They realize that the script letter is in a way the "backbone" of its cursive equivalent. In addition, their model is a stable form of cursive letters that avoids distortions such as misunderstandings, especially for links. Solicited to experience these transformations, second grade pupils found that they now knew "what the small features before and after the letters were". As we have just seen, if the combination of these two types of graphics makes it possible to increase the speed of writing (which is practiced by many adults), their strict dissociation seems artificial.


In the face of these various propositions, we can ask ourselves how pupils take ownership, not of two, but of three types of writing. Indeed, they must recognize the shapes of three different allographs for the same grapheme: capital, script and cursive. All three are necessary to access the reading of any text, but also to writing (think of keyboards) and it does not seem to prove that this situation, which has always existed, produces a cognitive overload. To complete this question, it would be useful to consult the works describing how capitals have gradually transformed themselves by reducing hand-lifting, rounding angles, and preparing connections between letters (additions of attack lines) and output to become script and cursive letters (Blanchard, 1999 8, Frutiger, 2004 9 J. Malon10, L. Pflughaupt11 2003).


Writing-reading links


It has been recognized for several decades now that reading and writing activities are in complete synergy (Lurçat, Sprenger -Charolles, Siegel and Bonnet 1998 12, Ferreiro 2000 13, Lurcat 2007 14). E. Ferreiro15 (1988) pointed out that the child "is unaware that the school tradition wants to keep differentiated areas called "reading" and "writing". He tries to appropriate a complex object of social nature. Moreover, the official curriculum instructions on languages ​​in kindergarten (French BO of 21 October 1999) articulated more closely than before reading and writing activities. The current expectations of the French Ministry of Education for the first autonomous productions of writing reinforce this link (2015 curriculum) and emphasize an early coding of the oral language. In fact, children whose scripts display high phonological representations are those who perform best in reading.


Research has shown that kindergarten children's performance in a writing task contributes significantly to performance variability in Shatil , Share, and Levin decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension tasks16 (2000). Since texts for reading are mainly written with this type of graphic, one can therefore wonder if it would not be profitable for pupils to write directly in script. We can indeed think that adopting this style of writing can be a help for reading. They could quickly see the correspondence between the letters they learn to draw and those they encounter in reading, so it would be easier for them to transfer between these two closely related activities. Bara and Morin's study17 (2009) on the dual teaching of writing styles in Quebec, Canada, clarifies this controversial issue: "The results of this research show that the connection between reading and writing is strong, even for pupils who do not learn to read and to produce in writing the same allographs. Correlations between reading performance and writing are significant and high for both groups of children, and their performance is similar." It seems that the relationship between reading and writing is not changed whether the pupils write in cursive or in script as shown by this research.


The contribution of neuroscience


Letter recognition is generally perceived as a visual discrimination activity. Yet, neuroscience work has revealed that different areas of the brain are activated during motor tasks. This network being set up and structured, only one of the entries (for example the view of an object) would be enough to reactivate the entire network18. It would be the same for hand writing, the letters would be identified, not only by their visual or auditory component but also in their sensorimotor form19.


This is demonstrated by the experiments conducted by the team of JL. Velay20. In handwriting, the movement area, the visual area, but also the language area (hearing and pronunciation of words), are simultaneously activated: "children who learn the letter 'A', for example, associate their visual form with the sound [a] and the movement that makes it possible to write an ' A ' 21 ". Provided, of course, that one explains to the child the meaning and the objective of his concrete action. JL. Velay explains: "One learns, through handwriting, to associate a visual form and a sound with the construction of a graphic form, to make the movement associated with this visual form. It is a learning in three ways: vision, hearing and movement." 22


This means that the visual component alone is not enough to give the "right" information, nor the motor skills alone. Research on the acquisition of reading has demonstrated the existence of a neuronal recycling: the networks initially dedicated to the recognition of shapes were solicited for the interpretation of the letters, thus, the letters are then treated like objects. However, if a face or an object is recognized regardless of their orientation, it is not the same for the letters which must keep an immutable orientation: hence, the possible confusion between p and q, b and d, u and n. These reservations draw attention to the possible disadvantages of reading methods that rely on letters disguised as objects or characters.


A study conducted in kindergarten (Longcamp, 2003 23) putting children in the context of copying words, either manually or with a keyboard, shows that "handwriting seems to contribute to better memorization of characters in children". The performances remain stable among those who have written by hand and they deteriorate in those who have learned the keyboard. In addition, children who have learned by hand writing have a better representation of the orientation of the letters than those who have learned on the keyboard. This suggests that the movements of writing contribute to the memorization of characters and therefore to their visual recognition, a skill that is essential for reading. In other words, the memory of the movement plays a role in these learnings (Velay, Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou, 2004). 24


In addition, it may be that manual writing is a help for spelling words. Christensen (2005 25) argues that "handwriting does not only concern the training of the hand (motor skill); it is about how memory and spelling processes have to work together". This corroborates the statement of Velay (2017, opcit): "My current hypothesis is that we have a better memory of spells and words when we know how to write them rather than when we know how to type them. As I explained, there are, in the gesture of writing, physical links between the written letters and the brain which play an important role in the writing sequences and therefore on the spelling and elaboration of the speech." Although research is not yet advanced enough about this relationship, Bara and Morin (2009, opcit) argue that explanation: "It is possible that in the classes "cursive" pupils are led to better reflect on language and the ways of transcribing the oral to written."


Marie T. Zerbato Poudou

Ph.D. in Education Science

Member of the AGEEM Scientific Council




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