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Spells for good handwriting

A HAND FOR SPELLING. By Charles Cripps. LDA, Duke Street, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire PE13 2AE Whole Scheme Pounds 136.75.

Age range 5-11

Success in spelling is a strange phenomenon and theories about how to teach it abound. Some say that being good at spelling follows success in reading, while others aver that it has to be taught separately.

Charles Cripps is one of this country's leading experts on the teaching of spelling and he has some distinctive advice. Cynics may scoff at the prescriptive tone of his programmes, but we have to be impressed by its evident success in practice. People who use his materials swear by them.

The programme is based on the idea that spelling and handwriting are closely linked and that where they are taught some kind of synergy occurs resulting in an improvement in both. The theory is that where the hand is encouraged into free physical movement through the word, the child is enabled to spell better: the spelling is "learned" in the hand. The corollary is that joined-up handwriting is better for spelling than unjoined printing.

There is a certain logic in teaching these written skills jointly. While children are taught how to form letters, as much attention is paid to getting them to learn the rules of spelling (insofar as these exist) in order that they can be thinking about these while they perform the physical act of handwriting.

This set of books is a completely revised edition of Cripps's previous programme and it has been updated on the basis of his research and on feedback from users. It comprises eight books for five to 11-year-olds and older pupils with learning difficulties.

The first two books take children from scribble to more organised line drawing and letter-like shapes, while the remaining six books take them through letter patterns, enabling them to practice writing words which contain the same pattern. All the words are taken from a selection based on words actually used by children in their writing. As children work through the programme they are building their own personal resource of spellings and letter patterns.

The materials are attractively produced in A4 format with good line drawings, although they are quite expensive. I worked out that each page will cost you around 42p if you buy the books separately. However, they are photocopiable and could form the basis for a whole school spelling programme. Viewed in that way, the Pounds 136 you have to shell out for the complete scheme doesn't seem quite so painful.

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