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The Reason Your Childs' Spelling is Awful (and how to fix it)

Gretchen Roe has been homeschooling her 6 kids for the last 21 years. Now she helps students with learning glitches.

Why Do Some Children Struggle with Spelling?

Parents often say that they don’t understand why their kids get 100% on spelling tests, but when they write they struggle to spell words correctly.

It has been assumed that we could memorize a group of words and then we would know those words well and could move on.

That method does work for some people.

A Progression in Learning to Spell

Gretchen thought that spelling was something you were born with- either you could do it or you couldn’t.

Now she knows that there is a developmental progression that spellers need to go through in order to be a successful speller.

Each person goes through a progression while learning to spell.

The research out of McGuffy institute tells us that there is a series of stages

Pre-literate: child benefits from being read to

Phonetic: phonemic awareness- where we understand that letters make sound and sounds make words

Skilled development stage: students can read at this point, but need to develop the visual component, where they can see that words that are misspelled don’t look right.

Word Extension stage: study the idiosyncrasies of English

Spelling "Rules"

English has 26 letters that make 44 sounds and combined comprise 256 combinations.

Educators have assumed that if they just tell you the rules, you will learn them and be able to spell.

But the rules have so many exceptions that they can hardly be called rules.

Neuro-developmentally, when we present words in a list, the brain treats that list as item memory. This explains the kids that get good grades on spelling tests, but can’t write it when they are . the information is not in long term memory.

For words to be retained in long term memory they have to be learned in context, like a passage.

Learning Words in Context

Spelling you see uses nursery rhymes.

It teaches a lot of word play in a small volume of words.

Research out of England says that a child who has committed 5 nursery rhymes to memory before they become an emergent reader is twice as likely to read at grade level by the time they reach grade 3.

Nursery rhymes give children alliteration and rhyming and vocabulary.

We make the erroneous assumption that reading and spelling are equivalent skills, but they are not.

Reading is decoding. Readers can decode and figure out the meaning.

Spelling is the opposite process. It’s encoding. What letters together make that sound?

For example, "Phone"- there are 11 different ways we could spell t he word phone. It’s not intuitive. The encoding process becomes much more complex.

Spelling you see works with the neurology of learning. Spelling is often taught negavitley. We are given a list and marked wrong, it can cause anxiety.

A Process to Teach Spelling

This program was developed by Dr. Karen Holinga to create an environment that is affirmative for students.

First, students use a passage that is Lexile scored at the appropriate level.

Students are asked to read the passage aloud and educators and students read the passage together.

Identify specific chunks of words: letter patterns that remain constant and are not predicated on sound (ex. Sew, dew)

Copy Work: put patterns into long term memory

10 minutes of copy work puts the words into long term memory

Dictation: specific parameters

  • Time limited (10 minutes)

  • Single work at a time- moving on when the student is ready

  • Capitalization and punctuation- so students can focus on words only

  • If a student makes a mistake, prompt at the time of the mistake and let them try again without erasing the mistake. This enforces “does this look right?”

At the end of this process, they become visual spellers.

Spelling Counts

Children, and even adults, can develop spelling capacity.

We make assumptions about people’s capacity based on their spelling and written communication.

Learning to spell helps children and people be successful. Spell check can’t always handle that for us.

In 15 minutes a day, you can change from “I can’t” to “I can.”

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