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Writing, Reading and Magic

August 10, 1986

I nearly tore The Book Review into shreds upon reading the opening to Milton Chen's review of "Writing to Read" (July 27). Friedberg and Martin's argument that children can "write to read" is not revolutionary. The language experience approach, as it was respectfully called at UCLA's School of Education in 1959 when I was being trained to become a teacher, already had been around a long time, even then. It is indeed an excellent method, this "I can say what I think, I can write what I say, I can read what I write" method.

But unfortunately, as with any miracle method, it is not every child's miracle. Sometimes the magic doesn't work. And we still have to teach some phonics, and some visualization, and some motor kinesthetics to some kids who learn irregularly, no matter what the method.

Chen addressed the irregularities of the English language. I wish he'd addressed another irregularity as well: the irregularity of the population that now faces nearly every first-grade teacher in Los Angeles. There may be as many as half a dozen languages and ethnic groups in a first-grade class! The write-to-read method is impossibly hard to teach with such diversity, not to speak of the overcrowded classroom and absence of qualified teacher aides. And it takes, as Chen notes, an energetic, gifted teacher to use such a labor intensive method in the first place.

JOSIE CRYSTAL MARTIN

School Psychologist

Los Angeles Unified

School District

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