Misteaks need to be corrected

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Clare Dean's article about the Nene College conference on student writing (TES, February 24) described me as "a man who spells trouble" and deserves a reply.

If giving some simple rules on spelling and grammar to students with writing difficulties is "too prescriptive", then what should one do? Many of my students find such rules helpful. I gave evidence on what areas of writing caused concern to school examiners, academics and employers, and suggested a range of possible remedies.

The four people who shouted criticism during my talks made no suggestions for improving student literacy. The opinions of a rude vocal minority should not be mistaken for the majority view; everyone I chatted to had experienced similar problems with student literacy, and sought remedies. I was more concerned with proposing cures than with allocating blame, although some of the comments I read out from industrialists and academics did blame teachers, among others. As for "going for cheap laughs", some of my examples were humorous and others were not, with the humorous ones often being better remembered.

The article states: "His suggestion that teachers felt corrections to school work harmed pupils and inhibited creativity were (was, please) met with hostility and anger." A lot of teachers have expressed such views and my comments were supported by evidence, including a letter from a primary teacher who was forbidden to correct such errors as "he comed" and "I seed". Many of my undergraduates who confuse wherewere, theirthere and affecteffect say that no one has ever corrected these errors before, so many teachers must have failed to correct obvious, meaning-changing errors.

The need to improve student literacy is clear from the evidence, and constructive debate on how to do this would be most welcome.

Dr BERNARD LAMB Biology department Imperial College, University of London.

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