Thursday, June 4, 2020

Instruction for the Vulnerable Reader: Spelling

Today I continue with my series on the vulnerable reader gathering posts from the past to look at instruction for our neediest readers. My previous post looked at one aspect of word work: decoding. In this post, I look at most frustrating of topics: spelling.

Many vulnerable readers have difficulty with accurate spelling. For some children the difficulty is inability to hear sounds in words in the order they occur. For other children, it may be a lack of visual memory for words. After all, 50% of words are not regularly spelled, so we need to develop visual images of words such as "know" to know how to spell them. Still other children may not develop good spelling because they do not read or write enough or because they have not developed a "spelling conscience", a desire to spell correctly.

Most poor readers are also poor spellers, but not all good readers are good spellers. Many factors go into the equation. The good news is that spelling is not connected to intelligence, and with tools like spell check available, there is no reason for poor spelling to be debilitating to young learners, unless outside forces make it that way.

Invented spelling is a tool for young learners to learn how words work. For children in kindergarten, first, and second grade,  these invented or temporary spellings helps them learn how to decode words and how words are structured. Invented spelling is a key tool in the arsenal for a primary grade teacher and should be encouraged, not discouraged. As children mature as readers and writiers, we will want to see spelling approximations moving closer and closer to standard.

Here is a blog post on invented spelling and another on spelling advice aimed at parents, but with plenty of information for teachers, too. I have also included a link to a Summary of the Stages of Spelling Development that I think teachers might find helpful. Like reading and writing, or anything else we learn, spelling is developmental and an understanding of this development is very helpful for the teacher.

Invented Spelling: Discovering How Words Work

What Parents Need to Know About Spelling

Summary Chart of the Stages of Spelling Development

And here is a little poem I wrote to remind us of the frustration that can come to a child learning how English spelling works.

The Spelling Curse

Of all the subjects I’ve taken at school,
Spelling’s the absolute worst.
I try to spell words correctly,
But my efforts all seem to be cursed.

The problem is plain (plane?), as I see it.
The words “worst” and “cursed” sound the same,
But their spelling’s entirely different.
I wonder who could be to blame.

If I could speak to the spelling lawmakers,
I’d ask that “curst” be spelled just like “wurst.”
It would certainly make me a happier child,
And in spelling I’d be better “vurst.”

from There's a Giant in My Classroom and other poems, by Russ Walsh, Infinity Press: 2013.

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