My colleague, Christine Bittner Agee, who runs the Parents and Educators Preparing OUR Children for the Future Facebook page, recently posted an article from the Institute for Multisensory Learning Journal (IMSE) on spelling. The article is generally on target with its spelling instruction advice. I would like to add my advice to parents on spelling concerns, adapted from my new book from Garn Press, A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for my Child. I think this could be useful for teachers looking to provide counsel to parents worried about their child’s spelling development.
What should I do if my kid can’t spell?
Of all the topics of concern I have been asked about by parents over my years as a literacy specialist, spelling is number one by far. I suppose this is because spelling errors are so visible and easy to spot. Reading errors are harder to see because they mostly happen in the reader’s mind, but spelling errors are out there for all to see.
In order to reduce spelling anxiety, I think there are a few facts about spelling that all parents need to know.
- Spelling is not related to intelligence. Many very smart people don’t spell well. Albert Einstein was a rotten speller.
- Spelling proceeds through regular developmental stages beginning with regularly spelled single syllable words (cat, bit), moving to irregularly spelled single syllable words (noise, weigh), proceeding to multi-syllable words (battle, motel) and finally to low frequency words, often derived from Greek or Latin (pneumonia, misogyny).
- Early readers and writers benefit from approximating the spelling of words in their writing (inventive spelling). All writers, even adults, approximate spellings of unfamiliar words.
- Good spelling is primarily a function of good visual memory. Good spellers create a mental picture of a word through their reading and replicate that when they write. That is why when asked to spell a word, we often write it down to see if it “looks” right.
- Some children and adults do not have a strong visual memory and are, therefore, not strong spellers.
- Most good spellers are also good readers, but not all good readers are good spellers.
- Studying ten random words for a spelling test at the end of the week does not improve spelling in real world situations.
- Poor spellers need to develop strategies to overcome this problem, These strategies include writing drafts of communication and then checking the spelling and using spelling aids such as the dictionary and spell check.
When working with your own children, it is a good idea to lower the spelling anxiety and provide understanding and support. Remember that using approximate or invented spellings is a normal part of the writing process. But we also want kids to develop a spelling conscience – an awareness that spelling matters. Children should be held accountable to spell correctly words that they already know how to spell and words that they can easily find in the classroom environment. By grade three children should be held responsible to correct their spelling on written work that is to be turned in.