It's no secret that I'm not a fan of constructivist and child-centered teaching practices.
One of the main reasons why I don't like these practices is that they are even less efficient than traditional teaching practices. And traditional practices aren't very efficient either. In fact they are downright primitive compared to what we know about how children learn.
Let's take the teaching of spelling as one of the worst offenders.
Spelling continues to be taught, when it is taught at all, as it has been for decades. Students are given a list of words (10-15) on Monday and then tested on Friday to see if the words were learned. Then a new list of words is given and the process repeats. What happens to the old list of words? They disappear forever.
More formally, a week of massed practice is followed up with zero distributed practice. Not unpredictably, the students quickly forget what they've learned. All that effort is wasted. Retention is left to happenstance. Maybe the student will use the word in his writing before the spelling is forgotten. Maybe he won't. Maybe she'll read the word in her reading and think about the spelling, maybe she won't.
This is not an efficient way to learn spelling. It is a waste of time. Unless the student happens to be one of those smart kids that learns easily, reads voraciously, writes prolifically, and has exceptional retention. Inefficient teaching methods handicap those that aren't smart.
Further, it seems that the preferred way to teach spelling is through brute memorization. Often, the word lists do not capitalize on phonetic or morphographic efficiencies. Rote memorization appears to be the rule for learning spelling.
Then we have some of the inane exercises used to teach spelling. My favorite is "write a sentence for each spelling word." This often requires that the student is familiar with the meaning of word, familiar enough to use it coherently in a sentence. If the student doesn't know the word, it must be looked up in a dictionary. The hope is that the words used by the dictionary to define the word are understood by the student. Often they are not. This leads to more looking up until a definition the child understands has been found. At this point the child can formulate an understandable definition of the original word assuming all of this can be juggled in short term memory. Now the child is ready to make-up a sentence which requires creativity and knowing the rules of grammar, among other things. It's quite a lot for the student to attend to. We know that students remember what they think about, so you can bet that spelling only plays a minor role in this difficult exercise.
Who wants to defend the traditional way to teach spelling?
And who has a better way to teach spelling that addresses the problems I've discussed above?