Spelling Strategies-Part 1
As a homeschool co-op teacher who teaches many subjects, moms ask me questions about a variety of educational quandaries. And whether my student is in a science, history, or writing class, hands down, the subject that I am most frequently asked about is spelling. My theory as to why this subject ranks so high on the FAQs is because the ability to spell, either consciously or unconsciously, is used as a measure of intelligence. Or as many research papers have commented, the inability to spell “Makes the student look stupid or lazy.” We judge whether or not a student is up to an educational challenge based on spelling. I am not saying this is a good thing. A lot of misconceptions are at stake. Questions about spelling deserve our full attention and a complete answer.
Welcome to my two-part series on the subject of spelling.
I offer my experience as a homeschool mom, co-op teacher, R.N., who has worked in the field of rehabilitation, and a personal lover of new research.
Spelling Strategies-Part 1
Importance of Learning to Spell
Foundations for Learning How to Spell
Spelling Strategies-Part 2
Effective Spelling Tips for Struggling Spellers
My Homeschool Backstory-I have eight children. Some of those children seem to have come out of the womb spelling correctly, and my other children labored in the subject of spelling well into their high school years.
I think my poor spellers would have fit the criteria for a diagnosis of some form of dyslexia. Dyslexia, is defined as “difficulty with words”, specifically difficulties with spelling and reading. Dyslexia or “word blindness” as it was first called was first identified in 1881. However, the bulk of research and identification did not emerge until the late 90’s when the advancement of neuroimaging technology made its appearance in research. And public awareness of dyslexia did not come into the mainstream until the beginning of the millennium. Dyslexia research had not reached me as a homeschool mom in the late 90s.
However, God is faithful in the true spirit of a walk-by-faith homeschool journey. Prayer, great mentors, time spent trying to understand my child’s struggle, and the Holy Spirit unlocking educational mysteries for each child all contributed to their success in spelling and reading.
Importance of Learning to Spell
As our technology progresses, the debate about learning to spell continues to heat up. Each side argues with courtroom fervor. They ask and defend their position, “Why take the time to learn how to spell? After all, American English did not have standardized spelling until the debut of Noah Webster’s Dictionaries in 1758. However, no matter how the circle of arguments spins, there are undeniable benefits to learning how to spell correctly.
Six reasons to Teach your Child Spelling
#1 Learning to Spell Helps Reading
I found the ability to spell helps children read. Research supports my findings. In just one report, How Spelling Supports Reading, beautifully defines the role of spelling in learning to read. “Spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing a word’s spelling makes its representation sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.” Especially in children, learning to spell helps your young one to become a better reader.
#2 Learning to Spell Helps Writing
Early in my homeschool career, I was challenged by one of my dear mentors to “major on the majors”. Academically speaking, my mentor instructed me, after a sizable time in Bible instruction, to concentrate on the subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic, otherwise known as the three “R’s”. Schools usually do well with reading and math. But sadly, in public school and homeschooling, the amount of time spent learning to write falls below 30 minutes daily. That’s not much time for a “major” subject like writing. Let’s face it, it takes time to assign, teach and give feedback on writing assignments. Spelling is one of the building blocks of writing. Each spelling word that is mastered is a new tool of communication in your student’s toolbox for writing.
#3 Learning to Spell Helps to Get a Job
My mom was a secretary to five different presidents in a major aerospace corporation. One job was sorting the mound of applications for top engineer positions. She quickly skimmed the resumes one by one, if there was a spelling error; it was placed in a separate pile that the president would never see. I know, it sounded harsh to me too! But that was the president’s request. His rationale was “If an engineer won’t take the time to spell words correctly on a resume, then how can I trust him or her with the details of a multi-million dollar rocket engine.” It is a fact that no matter what the position, employers equate the applicants’ ability to spell to their ability to get the job done.
#4 Learning to Spell Helps Others to Take You Seriously
I have made my fair share of spelling errors-(Catch me in part 2 of this series. I tell all.) Mistakes like these kill the message………….
#5 Learning to Spell Helps Communication
Why do we write? We write to communicate ideas and information.
Our son is attending our county’s Sheriff Academy, and part of his new job will be handwriting legal reports that will transfer vital information to the court system. His instructor requires the prospective officers to write incorrectly spelled words 50 times and to recopy the entire 4-5 page report as part of the training. Misspelled words muddies communication, and discredits the county’s position in legal matters. Clear communication is the end goal of writing and correctly spelled words help make it happen.
#6 Learning to Spell Prevents Spell Check Failures
The best defense for NOT learning how to spell is “Can’t we just use Spell Checkers?”Although it is a wonderful tool that I rely on daily, it requires a prior knowledge of spelling. Middle school students and above can benefit from the feedback that spell check provides. However, younger students do not have enough spelling knowledge to use it effectively. Unfortunately, spell check ends up reinforcing their spelling mistakes.
Teaching your child how to spell is worth all the time and effort!
Foundations for Learning How to Spell
When teaching a child to spell, we must begin with the end in mind. Here are my goals in teaching spelling.
Goal # 1 Sound out the BIG words.
I want my child to pronounce any word that is encountered in reading.
Goal # 2 Write the BIG words.
I want my child to choose great descriptive words in their writing that will exactly communicate what he or she wants to communicate.
Goal # 3 Understand the BIG words.
I want my child to understand the words that others will communicate with them.
“It is ironic that we have looked to our past to find clues for our future” Writing Road to Reading by Spalding
It’s time to get back to the basics.
“For the first two centuries of American education, spelling was the backbone of reading instruction. At a time when teachers had relatively little formal training and few tools besides a blackboard and a few standard textbooks, Americans became increasingly literate.”
When teaching a child to spell, I believe in my father’s words I heard growing up, “Do not build without a foundation.” If your child is a gifted speller, a poor speller, or if they are learning spelling in conjunction with learning English as a second language, they will benefit from a solid spelling foundation. These foundations are key to young minds succeeding in spelling:
Foundation Block#1 Teach the sounds. Learning to spell is about converting sounds to symbols. There are 70 phonogram sounds in the English language that need to be mastered. If this step is skipped, there is a lot of confusion.
Foundation Block#2 Teach high-frequency words. Remember the goal? Communication!
On the Here to Help Learning Pinterest Page about Spelling, there is a word bank of 1200 high-frequency words. Since “the” is the most frequently used word in our language, its number is one in the word bank. The first 25 words are used in 33% of everyday writing. The first 100 words appear in 50% of adult and student writing. The first 1,000 words are used in 89% of everyday writing. By concentrating on high-frequency words, you are setting up your child for writing success.
Foundation Block# 3 Teach the spelling rules EVERY YEAR. Okay, I’ll admit. I’m shouting. Contrary to popular opinion, of the thousands of words we use most often, 93 percent are phonetic or follow the rules of spelling. Learning the spelling rules has prepared my gifted spellers for more complex words and has equipped my struggling learners with guidance when they are not sure how to spell a word.
Foundation Block# 4 Each new word introduced needs to include instruction in phonograms (sounds), correct pronunciation, spelling rules, and root words. Spelling words correctly involve different centers of the brain. It is important to include every part of the brain involved!
Foundation Block # 5 Use repetition until the spelling word is cemented in your child’s memory. Observe incorrect spelling patterns in your child and re-teach when necessary. Practice, practice, and more practice create solid connections in the brain.
Foundation Block #6 Skill, not age, determines continued instruction. Many times, formal spelling instruction ceases in the sixth or eighth grade. A careful teacher will watch for spelling mistakes in routine school work and continue spelling instruction until mastered.
Foundation Block # 7 Your role as the teacher is invaluable! Your patience, calm spirit, persistence, and “matter-of-fact attitude that spelling is important and needs to be learned” will serve your child well.
And now for the BIG question. What curriculum did I use? Six of my children, (Remember two of them were adopted as teenagers) were taught with one used book I purchased for $16.00 from a private Christian school that was going out of business- The Writing Road to Reading by Spalding. The pages are worn and tattered from 20 years of use. In fact, the audio consists of a vinyl record! (New additions are available!) Teaching your child to write words, spell, and read does not need to be expensive. It requires incremental and comprehensive instruction from a persistent teacher. In the beginning, I had a little bit of a learning curve with the Spalding method, but it is worth it.
I also recommend All About Spelling. This complete approach ticks all the boxes for me and is much easier to use than Writing Road to Reading.
The author’s mantra is “Failure is not an Option,” and her story is compelling!
Both programs meet my recommendation criteria that include:
- Phonogram Rules
- Spelling Rules
- Individual Mastery
Although I love the Writing Road to Reading, I have learned some additional tricks of the trade that I would like to share in my next post. In Spelling Strategies Part 2, Let’s talk about Effective Spelling Tips for Struggling Spellers.
I hope and pray…. there are no spelling errors in this blog! (Smile!)
From Our Home to Yours,