Writing is just as important as reading

How children learn to write remains a topic of discussion

How children learn to write best: a religious dispute

“Reading by writing” vs. “primer”. A study by the University of Bonn made headlines in the summer of 2018. It does answer the question of the best way for children to learn to write - an almost eternal discussion. According to the study, the advantages lie in the primer. But what is everyday life like in schools?

Britta Seepe-Smit is in a dilemma. For a long time, the primary school teacher and head of the German department at the Center for Practical School Teacher Training of the Münster District Government let her pupils learn to read by writing. Her son Leonard was also taught this way. The focus of learning was a table of sounds, but above all the conviction that the children should produce as many texts as possible themselves, without paying attention to the spelling, and thus ultimately learn to read as well. Everyone at their own pace, misspelled words are initially tolerated. After all, the motivation to write should not decrease.

Primer or reading by writing?

But Britta Seepe-Smit soon had to realize that the path was wrong for her Filius. “Leonard didn't want to learn at his own pace. He would have needed a more structured lesson. The primer makes this possible, ”says the mother. The so-called “systematic primer approach” gradually introduces individual sounds and letters and letter combinations. Spoken words are broken down as precisely as possible into individual sounds under guidance (analytical method) and these sounds are then ground into a word in a guided reading process (synthesis method). The children learn the written language in a fixed, structured process from the simple to the complex. Corrections by the teacher are a matter of course. Primers are mainly used in Bavaria and in the eastern federal states, countries in which comparative spelling tests tend to do better.

The truth lies in the middle

Is it really a plea for the primer? Britta Seepe-Smit says no. “As is so often the case, the truth lies in the middle.” In other words, some children learn easier and better with the sound table by producing texts and “writing by ear”, others with the primer. And most of them by a mixture of different methods. The primers have long been accompanied by initial sound tables and, conversely, textbook concepts based on the initial sound table also convey spelling strategies from the start. "By the way, writing by ear is not as reprehensible as it is often portrayed in public," says Michael Schlienz, head of Klett Primary School Publishing. “In the so-called alphabetical phase, all children write by ear. The only important thing is to create and shape the transition to legally correct writing at an early stage. ”Barbara Bößmann cannot understand the excited debate that flared up after the Bonn study became known. The director of Bonn's Elsa Brändström primary school and a Bavarian colleague who does not want to be named observe the knee-jerk reactions of school ministers when educational studies and comparative studies attest pupils to spelling deficits with a good dose of gallows humor. "If method X is currently popular and the children do poorly on the test, everyone calls for method Y. And vice versa," says the pedagogue from southern Germany.

Independent study by the University of Bonn

The authors at the University of Bonn are aware of the problem that their study could lead to such reactions. Prof. Dr. Una Röhr-Sendlmeier from the Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology realized and recently presented it together with doctoral student Tobias Kuhl. Their clear goal was to make a scientific contribution to the discussion and to make it more objective. That is why it is particularly important to the professor that the study was carried out and evaluated without any third-party funding and without any involvement with any interest groups.

individual solutions

Barbara Bößmann and her team are always looking for an individual solution, based on the conviction that the primer and the words used there overwhelm her "clientele". Understandable given the high proportion of children with a migration background and a large number of mother tongues in their classes. “We have children who can already speak all letters. We have to give them more food, in other words words and pictures. Others find it difficult to deal with the sound table, ”she reports. Bößmann is firmly convinced of one thing: “Many of our children write early and uninhibited. And wrong at first too. But at the latest when we explain to the children that most words that end with -a are written with -er, e.g. B. with windows, scooters, you should then also follow this rule. Of course, we don't introduce this issue without making the children aware of the few exceptional words, such as grandma, mom, lama. ”She doesn't believe that the children find it difficult to erase the wrong spelling from memory:“ So quickly the wrong does not stick. "Proponents of spelling from the beginning see it exactly the other way round, whereby the reverse also applies here: Often the correct spelling does not stick in the same way with children, so it can also be with words that have already been spelled correctly several times, to make mistakes again.

Also a question of training

"In my opinion, a safe approach is to use the primer as a structured basis and still offer true-to-speech writing exercises in parallel," emphasizes Britta Seepe-Smit. She has identified an evil elsewhere: teacher training and continuing education. She cites North Rhine-Westphalia as an example. There, trainee teachers can choose whether they are didactically prepared for everyday school life in German or mathematics. The result: "Anyone who is didactically trained in only one subject does not know the strengths and weaknesses of the different methods in the other subject." The representatives of the individual learning methods are certain: All methods work and lead to satisfactory results if the teachers only use them have really penetrated and mediate accordingly. So a question of training after all? “Somehow it's true,” confirms special education teacher Verena Salem. She was theoretically prepared for learning to write during her training, but not in practice. “You only learn that in practice,” she says. And this she taught:

"We mustn't lump all children together."

A sentence that does not make the work of the teachers any easier, as the teachers need a different repertoire of methods for the different children. But also a sentence that shows that there will always be children who come to success one way or the other, whether with "writing by ear" or an analytical-synthetic acquisition of letters in a primer.

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