Writing Systems and Literacy Methods: Schooling Models in Western Curricula from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century


  • Anne-Marie Chartier LARHRA/ENS-Lyon




Literacy, Primers, Reading method, Education policy, Teacher training


This contribution sheds light on the interaction between print technology, social literacy and primary school pedagogy from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The printing press opened up the possibility of a Christian education for all: psalters and catechisms became a vehicle for teaching both religious content and the writing system using the spelling method.

To move beyond this limited Christian literacy combining reading and memorization, and enable learners to read any text directly, textbooks separated the process into two stages: training beginners first to decipher, using the spelling method, and then to read different kinds of texts (informative, moral, civic). As many beginners failed at decoding, all subsequent “innovations” (word method, sentence method, look-say method, phonics, etc.) aimed to bridge the gap produced by this separation. This article will show how this common objective has been realized to varying degrees in different countries, especially in France and the United States (based on education policy, national language, teacher training, textbook publishing, etc).


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Anne-Marie Chartier, LARHRA/ENS-Lyon

Anne-Marie Chartier, after teaching at a Teacher Training Institute and completing her PhD, entered the Service for History of Education in INRP [National Institute of Educational Research, now IFE]. She conducted research on the history of reading in basic education between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. She published, with J. Hébrard, Discours sur la lecture, 1880-1980 (1989), translated into Spanish and Portuguese, with an enlarged 2nd edition [1880-2000] in 2000. She tried to confront speeches and practice, in L'école et la lecture obligatoire [School and compulsory reading] (Retz, 2007, 2nd ed. 2014). She led with Elsie Rockwell a special issue of Histoire de l'éducation (138, 2013) on international history of literacy in countries of Romance languages.