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By GreatSchools Staff
According to Dr. Maryann Manning, a professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, if a teacher is aware of the developmental levels of her students' spelling, she can provide appropriate instruction and support at the student's level. For example, with a child in the earliest stages of spelling, the teacher might model how to listen for all of the sounds you hear in the word and represent those sounds on paper. With a more advanced speller, the teacher might point out how two words share the same uncommon spelling pattern (like "-igh").
Manning also recommends that teachers pay attention to the words their students are spelling almost correctly, and tailor spelling lists to the child's ability. She said, "When a student is spelling three of the four letters in a word correctly, the word is a candidate for formal memorization." She believes that a student is not ready to memorize a word until he gets close to the correct spelling on his own. Before that, the spelling patterns in the word are probably beyond his developmental level.
Correct spelling in final drafts should be the goal from first grade on, according to Heath, although it is not reasonable to expect every word to be spelled correctly in the primary grades. Invented spelling is a step on the path to conventional spelling, not an end in itself. Teachers can allow students to use invented spelling and still emphasize that there are correct spellings. As their spelling ability develops, students should be expected to spell more and more words correctly, beginning with very commonly used words like "the" and "and."
Once students have mastered the spellings of the most common words and they become more proficient with spelling resources and strategies, they can use invented spelling primarily for words they have never encountered and only until they can look up or find the correct spelling. Certainly by middle school when students are using computers with spell checker, they should be accountable for very close to 100% correct spelling in final drafts of their work.
There are two main reasons a child might be a poor speller. Some children have just not had enough exposure to reading and writing to develop spelling skills as strong as other students of the same age. These children probably also struggle with reading, and they need lots of chances to read and write. They also need spelling instruction at their developmental level, even if is lower than their grade level.
There are also kids who are avid and competent readers but have trouble with spelling. These students probably have weak visual memories. They cannot visualize what a word should look like despite repeated exposure to it. Heath notes that requiring these students to memorize words they have trouble with is not likely to help, because they will not retain them for long beyond the test. Manning recommends that these students develop strategies to compensate for their poor spelling. For example, she suggests that students keep a personal dictionary of problem words and learn to use spell checker or some type of spelling device to help.
Both Manning and Heath say: Read, read, read and write, write, write! Seeing and using words frequently is the best way to improve spelling. Heath recommends being a spelling resource for your child. Help him sound out words and tell him how to spell them correctly when he needs to know. She notes that as he writes the words correctly, he is learning them.
Heath also suggests that parents find out if a particular spelling curriculum is used at school and ask the teacher how you can support your child in spelling. She believes parents should find opportunities to talk about words with their children. For example, if your child uses the word "hymn," you can talk about what it means and how it is spelled. You can also point out how it is different from the word "him." It is important to get your child thinking about words and spelling.
Manning suggests that older students keep a personal dictionary of words they struggle with. It can be kept handy to use with homework assignments. She also emphasizes practicing spelling in the context of writing. She said, "You don't need a spelling boot camp every night! You want your child to do well on spelling tests, but there is little correspondence between spelling correctly on tests and being able to use words correctly in writing."
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