Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 299–317 | Cite as

Effective beginning handwriting instruction: multi-modal, consistent format for 2 years, and linked to spelling and composing

  • Beverly Wolf
  • Robert D. Abbott
  • Virginia W. BerningerEmail author


In Study 1, the treatment group (N = 33 first graders, M = 6 years 10 months, 16 girls) received Slingerland multi-modal (auditory, visual, tactile, motor through hand, and motor through mouth) manuscript (unjoined) handwriting instruction embedded in systematic spelling, reading, and composing lessons; and the control group (N = 16 first graders, M = 7 years 1 month, 7 girls) received manuscript handwriting instruction not systematically related to the other literacy activities. ANOVA showed both groups improved on automatic alphabet writing from memory; but ANCOVA with the automatic alphabet writing task as covariate showed that the treatment group improved significantly more than control group from the second to ninth month of first grade on dictated spelling and recognition of word-specific spellings among phonological foils. In Study 2 new groups received either a second year of manuscript (N = 29, M = 7 years 8 months, 16 girls) or introduction to cursive (joined) instruction in second grade (N = 24, M = 8 years 0 months, 11 girls) embedded in the Slingerland literacy program. ANCOVA with automatic alphabet writing as covariate showed that those who received a second year of manuscript handwriting instruction improved more on sustained handwriting over 30, 60, and 90 s than those who had had only 1 year of manuscript instruction; both groups improved in spelling and composing from the second to ninth month of second grade. Results are discussed in reference to mastering one handwriting format before introducing another format at a higher grade level and always embedding handwriting instruction in writing and reading instruction aimed at all levels of language.


Beginning handwriting instruction Linking handwriting to spelling and composing Manuscript (unjoined) letters Cursive (joined) letters Multi-modal writing instruction 



The first author, who is a faculty member and teacher trainer for the Slingerland® Institute for Literacy, is a former principal with over 40 years of experience in teaching children and training teachers nationally to teach handwriting in the context of systematic multi-modal language instruction. She initiated this research, obtained approval from local schools to recruit participants, used school-approved procedures to obtain written permission from parents for their children to participate, conducted the research, and invited statistical assistance from university researchers who are supported by Grant P50HD071764 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has a research aim to engage in translation science.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The first author is affiliated with the Slingerland® Institute for Literacy and the third author is author of the PAL—II RW Reading and Writing Diagnostic, used for evaluating treatment effects because it has multiple measures of handwriting, spelling, and composing based on the same national norming sample for grades 1 and 2.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beverly Wolf
    • 1
  • Robert D. Abbott
    • 2
  • Virginia W. Berninger
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.The Slingerland® Institute for LiteracyBellevueUSA
  2. 2.Statistics and MeasurementUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Learning Sciences and Human DevelopmentUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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