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In Growing Up Writing: Teaching Our Children To Write, Think, and Learn, Arlene Silberman draws on visits to classrooms across the country to identify shortcomings in traditional methods of teaching composition and describe new approaches.

Ms. Silberman, an education writer and consultant, here outlines the benefits of allowing young children to use "invented spelling"--their own approximations of standard spelling--in their writing:

[Inventive spellers] use the same alphabet you and I do, and, at times, come close to figuring out conventional spelling. But at other times, before they make the transition to standard spelling--and inventive spellers all make the transition--they drop vowels and consonants and run letters together in rather uniform ways that may confuse parents and traditional teachers.

It doesn't take long, however, to become accustomed to reading young children's "invented spelling." As a result, they can write what's on their mind and adults can understand what youngsters are saying well before they would otherwise print their first correct4ly spelled words. ...

Parents and teachers who are new to invented spelling sometimes wonder whether they may be encouraging bad habits.

Will children really learn to put a space between words and sentences? Will children benefit from a system that allows them to write the same word in different ways until they finally settle on conventional spelling? Is there any reason to go along with invented spelling when standard spelling was good enough for us?

Scholarly research and direct experience indicate that there appears to be no reason to believe that invented spelling fosters bad habits. Indeed, the approach is likely to encourage very young children to grasp the basic spelling principle of sounding out words and recording them by beginning to match letters to sounds.

Researchers and teachers also explain that children may run words together so long as they remain prereaders, but will separate words when they become familiar with the printed page. ...

Serious students of invented spelling believe that inconsistencies serve as developmental landmarks, documenting that children are actually moving closer to correct spelling.

As they fine-tune their ability to hear sounds and record them, youngsters are able to begin to write fluently, instead of being inhibited by the search for the correct spelling of a limited number of words. And that fluency provides the reason for giving invented spelling a chance.

Standard spelling wasn't good enough for those of us whose stilted writing is the aftermath of classrooms where error-free writing was valued over genuine communication.

Times Books, Random House, 201 East 50th St., New York, N.Y. 10022; 286 pp., $18.95 cloth.

Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Educael10ltion, edited by Paul Gagnon and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, contains the report of the commission--created in 1987 to explore the conditions that support or impede the effective teaching of history--and 17 essays on related topics by leading historians.

In the following excerpts from their analysis of hindrances to sound instruction, five teachers who were members of the commission cite the need for greater flexibility in teaching techniques:

Top-down prescriptions of teaching methods present obstacles to the teacher's ability to do effective work. Fashions come and go very quickly in American educational methodology, including fashions of history teaching.

For a while, it may be "post-holing," then group projects, then the "inquiry method," followed by simulations and role-playing, or history-as-current-events, or history-as-handy-example of social-science concepts. Each may be thoughtlessly pressed upon teachers, whose evaluations may suffer if they fail to follow suit.

Ironically, the lecture is never in pedagogical fashion, but school schedules and mandated coverage compel teachers to resort to it rely, no matter what else they might prefer.

The point here ... is that all such methods are useful from time to time, but that each loses its effect when it is overused.

In most cases, the choice of method--and schedule--should rest with teachers, who know their own strengths best, who know what is right for their classes, at particular moments, to deal with the lesson at hand.

Pushers of single pedagogical fashions ignore the obvious: Different subjects, and topics within subjects, are learned best in different ways, ranging from memorizing and drill to brainstorming and independent study.

Schools, and courses, must be free to be both disciplined and easygoing, fixed and flexible, hierarchical and egalitarian, at different times for different subjects at different levels. The Bradley Commission argues that good history teaching must apply the rule that variety is the spice of learning, just as it is of life.

Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022; 338 pp., $24.95 cloth.

Vol. 09, Issue 12

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