Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help

A couple of years ago, early one morning, I received an SMS advising “resadents to stay indoors because of a nearby insadent”. I was shocked by the spelling, as much as the message. Surely, I thought…

Spelling tests aren’t teaching kids to spell. Test image from www.shutterstock.com

A couple of years ago, early one morning, I received an SMS advising “resadents to stay indoors because of a nearby insadent”. I was shocked by the spelling, as much as the message. Surely, I thought, if it was a real message then the spelling would be correct.

Spelling matters. In a text message from a friend teeing up a night out “c u at 8” is fine - but in an emergency warning text from a government agency, I expect the spelling to be standard. But why is it that some people struggle with standard spelling?

Spelling remains the most relentlessly tested of all the literacy skills, but it is the least taught.

Sending a list of words home on Monday to be tested on Friday is not teaching. Nor is getting children to write their spelling words out 10 times, even if they have to do it in rainbow colours.

Looking, covering, writing and checking does not teach spelling. Looking for little words inside other words, and doing word searches are just time fillers. And writing your “spelling” words in spirals or backwards is just plain stupid.

And yet, this is a good summary of most of the current spelling programs in schools today.

So, what should spelling teaching look like?

Finding meaning

Children should know the meanings of the words they spell, and as logical as that sounds - ask a child in your life what this week’s spelling words mean, and you might be surprised by their answers.

If spelling words are simply strings of letters to be learnt by heart with no meaning attached and no investigation of how those words are constructed, then we are simply assigning our children a task equivalent to learning ten random seven-digit PINs each week.

That is not only very very hard, it’s pointless.

More than sounds

English is an alphabetic language; we use letters to write words. But it is not a phonetic language: there is no simple match between sounds and letters.

We have 26 letters, but we have around 44 sounds (it’s not easy to be precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds.

So, while sounds - or phonics - are important in learning to spell, they are insufficient. When the only tool we give young children for spelling is to “sound it out”, we are making a phonological promise to them that English simply cannot keep.

How words make their meanings

Sounds are important in learning to spell, but just as important are the morphemes in words. Morphemes are the meaningful parts of words. For example, “jumped” has two morphemes - “jump” and “ed”. “Jump” is easily recognised as meaningful, but “ed” is also meaningful because it tells us that the jump happened in the past.

Young spellers who are relying on the phonological promise given to them in their early years of schooling typically spell “jumped” as “jumt”.

When attempting to spell a word, the first question we should teach children to ask is not “what sounds can I hear?” but “what does this word mean?”. This gives important information, which helps enormously with the spelling of the word.

In the example of “jumt” it brings us back to the base word “jump”; where the sound of “p” can now be heard, and the past marker “ed” , rather than the sound “t” which we hear when we say the word.

Consider the author of the emergency text message at the beginning of this article as they pondered which of the many plausible letters they could use for the sound they could hear in “res - uh - dent”.

If they had asked themselves first, “What does this word mean?” the answer would have been people who “reside”, and then they would have heard the answer to their phonological dilemma.

Where words come from

English has a fascinating and constantly evolving history. Our words, and their spellings, come from many languages. Often we have kept the spellings from the original languages, while applying our own pronunciation.

As a result, only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound. But that doesn’t mean that spelling is inexplicable, and therefore only learned by rote - it means that teaching spelling becomes a fascinating exploration of the remarkable history of the language - etymology.

Some may think that etymology is the sole province of older and experienced learners, but it’s not.

Young children are incredibly responsive to stories about words, and these understandings about words are key to building their spelling skills, but also building their vocabulary.

Yet poor spellers and young spellers are rarely given these additional tools to understand how words work and too often poor spellers are relegated to simply doing more phonics work.

Teaching - not testing

The only people who benefit from spelling tests are those who do well on them - and the benefit is to their self-esteem rather than their spelling ability. They were already good spellers.

The people who don’t benefit from spelling tests are those who are poor at spelling. They struggled with spelling before the test, and they still struggle after the test. Testing is not teaching.

Parents and teachers should consider these questions as they reflect on the ways in which spelling is approached in their school.

Are all children learning to love words from their very first years at school? Are they being fascinated by stories about where words come from and what those stories tell us about the spelling of those words?

Are they being excited by breaking the code, figuring how words are making their meanings and thrilled to find that what they’ve learned about one word helps them solve another word?

Put simply - is spelling your child’s favourite subject?

If the answer is no, then something needs to be done about the teaching.

Join the conversation

184 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Giles Pickford
    Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired, Wollongong

    It is worth remembering that neither Keats nor Shakespeare were very good at spelling, but they could write.

    Good spelling is definitely desirable, but a bad speller is not necessarily a failure. There has to be some tolerance and balance in the judgement.

    report
    1. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Giles, I have no doubt that you are onto something. Spelling could be genetic? Most in my family can't spell, but can write. My son is an exception and can spell everything, but writes in a minimalist list style, with almost no adjectives. He is now approaching his final high school years, and I worry more about his ability to pass english with a moderate grade, than my daughter who is an appalling speller.

      report
    2. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I think spelling has a lot to do with teaching a love of language. Being surrounded by many different languages in Europe also places languages in relation with others. Both my kids didn't 'get' the Australian sounding out method which didn't translate into correct spelling, but one responded to learning where the word came from (historic context) whereas the other found a love of books and learned through recognising shapes of words and their meaning context - both methods were imparted by me rather than the school and based on my own experience with learning languages.

      report
    3. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      There were no dictionaries in Shakespeare's time. I doubt he would have used one even if they did exist.

      These days good writers who spell badly need good editors. In schools children are expected to be both but are not taught any editing skills. The teaching of editing skills is important. Even more important is the acquisition of these skills.

      Misty's article, like her previous article (October 30, 2013), makes statements without providing solutions that can be readily translated into classroom situations. Exciting stories about where words come from? How about an example of such a story and an indication of which age group would be excited by such a story?

      report
    4. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Mary, that's a good point about editing. My son has mild arseburgers, and wouldn't see the point. Suzy, I read obsessively to both, books were given at every opportunity. My daughter reads long dark teenage books, the more murders and tragedy ( I love spell check, you should have seen this last word! ), the better. Misty makes a valid point about core words, indicating correct spelling.
      However, I don't care about spelling, and rarely point score in these conversations,( spelling). My son and I…

      Read more
    5. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Suzy, oh how I would love to be able someone like at the moment! :) To compensate four own practical monolingualism, we have always tried to hire child-carers who though fluent in English, their main language was Chinese, French, or Spanish, so our kids would experience something close to immersion process from birth. Some of family and acquaintances were a little hostile, even accusing us as racists!
      So Suzy, I hope I not intruding, juts say so if I am. How long have you lived in Australia, and how many different languages did you being with you? Was one of those languages English, and was English spoken daily when you were living in Europe? Every European I know can speak about 3 languages, and perhaps read a fourth. That must make you very alive to why English has so many irregularities and inconsistency, and thus why someone like you would make such a good English teacher.

      report
    6. Darren G

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Not only was there no dictionary in Shakespeare's time but the use of language in Europe at that time was undergoing a shift from a verbal tradition to a written tradition - after which a lot of the verbal tradition - rhythm, use of words that didn't exist, repetition of tropes commonly understood by the audience etc - was lost. Shakespeare stands at that unique point in our cultural history, which is why we will not see his like again (unless there is another major cultural shift with how we use language).

      The insistence on perfect spelling is a necessity of our more mechanistic society rather than a good of and in itself.

      report
    7. Monica's wicked step

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      "arseburgers" - a minced rump steak?

      At least I got a laugh - it's spelled "aspergers"

      I use Chrome, and any misspelled words have a red, wavy line under the wrong word. Using a right-click on the mouse brings up a list of words, so you can select the right one. Obviously, this doesn't prevent the wrong (but correctly spelled) word being used, but it will help poor spellers.

      report
    8. Steven Holland

      Engineer

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      LOL!
      Autocorrect or intentional?
      Either way very funny, especially when commenting on a spelling article!

      That made my day.

      report
    9. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I LIKED the thought of "arseburgers" :-)

      Surely better than BigMacs!

      I also like "cross aunts" (to eat), and "agatha's pants" (along my fence). And I love gazing out of my "Gaze Bo".

      I've also long wondered if people are diagnosed as beig "aspergers' because they like casting nasturtiums :-)

      You want to teach kids the joy of language AND teach them to spell ? -- get them to enjoy punning.

      report
    10. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      German native, French 1st foreign language, English 2nd, Italian 3rd, smattering of Spanish - all helpful with English, not so much with Asian languages taught in Australian schools.
      I found English was one of the easiest languages to learn when it comes to grammar and spelling, even with its irregularities and it's a very versatile and descriptive language because of all the varied influences. Sadly, I can't help my kids much with learning school Japanese, past saying 'thank you' or 'good-bye'.

      report
    11. Marijose Cruz

      logged in via email @shineaustralia.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Hi Monica,

      I’m interested in contacting you.

      I’m working on a new documentary series on asylum seekers and came across your opinion on this matter.

      Please don’t hesitate to give me a call. Would love to have a chat with you.

      Thanks,

      Marijose
      E: marijose.cruz@shineaustralia.com
      D: +61 2 8345 4753 or 4763 | M: +61 402 694 453

      report
    12. Vicki High

      company director

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      In Hamlet Shakespeare made the schoolboy pun when he referred to Ophelia as a "c*ntry" wench...if you don't whether "country" has an O or not, you'd kinda miss the point he was trying to make!

      report
    13. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Mary Alderton

      How true. I found similar fault with her earlier article as you have done. I wonder why our teachers have been receiving such loud criticism lately, since most commentators on the matter of our falling education standards make the point that we need "better teachers"!

      I also think a bit of practice at rote learning, teaches students to learn 'how to remember important facts'. Whereas older people may remember phone numbers easily, other peoples addresses and the names of…

      Read more
    14. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I totally agree..... I came out to Australia fifty years ago from France having finished all of my primary schooling. Over there "love of language" is pounded into kids, and it has to be, because French grammar is way more complex than English. But the results were, looking back, AMAZING.......

      I started year one, aged 5 at the end of July. I was given a Jules Verne novel for that Christmas, and read it cover to cover before the year was out....... I'm certain a lot of the book went over my head, but Jules Verne isn't Victor Hugo; the fact that I was able to read an adult novel and understand the story line at that age certainly shows that there is a huge difference between European teaching and ours.

      report
    15. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      They did because the word Asperger's was known to them. However, for someone who was not familiar with the word, looking up arseburgers in a dictionary would not have made them any wiser. This, therefore, is one of many instances in which spelling is important.

      report
    16. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      John, you have misread and mistyped my surname. I don't know if you've done it before, or if it were done by another John. I'm sure that the mistake is due to the surname Alderton is more familiar to you than mine is.

      In a reply to another post Misty did give an example of how the origins of 'yacht' could be explained and in reply to my question, said that she provides teachers with this sort of background knowledge. It's good to remember that Misty is obliged to limit the length of her articles, so not all that can be said on the topic, is said.

      report
    17. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      But if you google "arseburgers" then Asbergers Syndrome is the second phrase that appears. Google understands that people can't spell and accommodates them (or acomodates to save ink).

      report
    18. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      > . . . I was able to read an adult novel and understand the story line at that age certainly shows that there is a huge difference between European teaching and ours. . . >

      THAT Mike is not a valid conclusion. it is but one single instance and not gernalisations can be made from it.

      There are MANY Australian children who learn to read as quickly or even more quickly.

      One Nephew was reading fluently before he was 4. by the time he started school, to the consternation of his teachers, he…

      Read more
    19. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I try to avoid gernalisations...... I should have also explained that nearly the entire class could read as well as I did. It was considered normal....

      report
    20. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      I also found that reading foreign language books, like Shakespeare or Tolkien, in their native form helped enormously with building vocabulary, structure and memory. One did not understand every word the first time around, but in context, and on second reading, the individual words and their meanings mostly falls into place. The irregularities in language of someone like Shakespeare can also be understood in context since classic German authors used different contemporary spellings which have since evolved.
      As an aside, I am amused by the frequent misspellings in the comments of this article on spelling.

      report
    21. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Thank you for that, Allan. I've read what Ted Underwood has to say and one of the links so far.

      Here is a link that might be of interest to you and others who are interested in how young children learn to read:

      http://datimato.wordpress.com/

      report
    22. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Eh! or AY! They're not ALL spelling mistakes -- many of them are typos from those of us with lysdexic fingers and bad eye-sight and stubborn computers that cheat on us and put our cursors in strange places so we type in bits and pieces here and there where we don't see them until our post reappears after posting.

      You'd probably not be able to read my writing anyway -- but it has many less spelling mistakes -- unless you count the way I always write 'ing' which ignorant people think in 'y' :-(

      report
    23. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      :) yes, the keypads and finger dyslexia do take their toll, I fall victim too! I wasn't having a go at anyone - just observing. I can't help noticing, and I often raise recurring misspellings, like 'of' instead of 'have' or shortened ''ve', with my kids to check if they are aware of the meaning and why one makes no sense and one does. In this way, the misspelling actually provide a teaching aide.

      report
    24. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Giles Pickford

      Suzy Gneist

      I think a lot of the typing errors on this and other blogs arises because of the very clumsy editing box provided by Word Press. If I ever want to give a significantly accurate comment, I nearly always,go into Word or Word Pad and type it up correctly - well, as correctly as I can - and then transfer it here.

      The difficulty I find in trying to drag and drop words to make a correction is really something else and the tendency of the text to move up or down without notice can also be quite upsetting.

      So no one should feel badly about errors on these pages - readers just need to get used to tehm, er, them.

      John Nicol

      report
  2. Ailie Bruins

    Honest Citizen

    Thank you. A most informative and enlightened approach to spelling. It makes such perfect sense.

    report
  3. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    Little Johnny, why did you spell "resident" as "reh-su-dent"?

    Well, teach, it just sound right.

    But little Johnny, surely you can see that "resident" is etymologically related to "reside", that is, where one lives?

    Oh got it now teach - it's "resident" then.

    report
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Crest

      No doubt about it, John Crest. Your little Johnny and his teacher are the missing ingredients in the spelling scene. If only all teachers and all students were like that, we'd have no spelling problems at all. LOL

      report
    2. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to John Crest

      Hi John
      The point I was making was not that 'resident' is etymologically related to 'reside', but that it is morphologically related - i.e. they come from the same 'meaning' family, where 'reside' is the base word. The challenge the adult writer of that emergency services SMS faced was one that many of us do - what letter is making that pesky schwa sound we can hear? The schwa sound is that incredibly common 'uh' sound. You can hear it in Res - uh - dent. If adults are going to make a spelling error…

      Read more
    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to John Crest

      I like the lower case italic mirror image 'e' that is used in dictionary phonetics.

      I really DO wish that someone would think to put it on the standard keyboard.

      report
    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to John Crest

      And here's me having always thought until now that an 'e' was just an inverted 'schwa'. ;^)

      I wonder if it'd be possible to get the French language mavens to permit the occasional changing of "joie de vivre" into "schwa de vivre", for those terribly-trying ti_mes ami when one's life as a writer begins to feel a little emp_ty'pographically?

      report
    5. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to John Crest

      I can't imagine your life getting empty typographically, Dr Allan!!

      report
  4. john tons

    retired redundant

    The way I used to teach spelling at all year levels seemed to have worked. I used to give a regular spelling test to my high school English classes. The deal was that they would have to get 100% for a pass mark. Part 1 of the test would consist of the students calling out 2 numbers - the first was the page number of the dictionary I happened to be using that day and the second was the number of the word on the page they had just identified. They then had to spell that word. Once we had our ten…

    Read more
  5. maggie carter

    Brain Surgeon......no wait!..........Jazzercise Instructor

    I so wish Misty (great name) had been my teacher! I'm a good speller (most of the time) but I would have loved this approach at school rather than the dry rote learning of the time. I was fascinated by the BBC series a few years ago on the history of English. I think particularly as an Australian we're cut off from the root source of our language. To see it in all its glory of invasions, conquests, rebellion, religion, politics, class warfare, pretensions and practicalities along with the development of technology - really brought it to life.

    report
  6. Meg Thornton

    Dilletante

    As someone who reads a lot of fanfiction (amateur fiction, written by fans of particular media properties ranging from books through video games through movies and back again) online, I tend to come up against the full gamut of terrible spellings. I've long since reached the point where I'm starting to consider how to set up a spell-check module for a word processor which links to an online dictionary service, and pulls up the meanings of the words. This would hopefully prevent the egregious use…

    Read more
  7. Dennis Miles

    logged in via LinkedIn

    I am so much in agreement, I was a vocational teacher for 18 years and a Exceptional Ed. teacher for two more years. Spelling was a problem for me and I often found, until high school senior year, when I finally memorized the thousand words that didn't fit the rules, or phonics (Yes I said "OR") exactly. My spelling improved after that in college and life experience. Now I often notice the "Spell-check" alerts me to errors but I usually correct them myself, I notice many times it is miskeying the…

    Read more
  8. Kenneth Mazzarol
    Kenneth Mazzarol is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired Auto Engineer and teacher

    When I was mentoring International Students I suggested that, as well a speaking English at home, they learn to type, because learning to type is a way of learning English using the alphabet. Computers are all the go now and although I know several people who can type hunting and pecking faster than some who can touch type, typing faster is not the issue, learning to spell is. So my reasoning was that if they learnt to type they would be achieving two things simultaneously, 1. learning to touch type and, 2. learning English, both very handy accomplishments.

    report
  9. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    Don't know really. The way I learnt English was from books and as I already was a fast reader (no glasses though:) I just jumped over the words I didn't understand. After some books I had their meaning anyway, due to the sentences they was in, and sometimes I think it gave me a deeper 'instinctive' understanding of them than if I would have looked up each one of them. And it's faster too, to do it this way, as long as you find papers, comics, or books, that you really want to read.

    That's the whole trick of it I think. Just get those reading materials you really want to read, and don't give up just because you don't know that specific word. It will still become a nice movie in your head, and all your own..

    report
    1. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      But sure, talking English is a different matter. You need to practice that too, and spelling. In some ways I guess it's easier if you don't know the pronunciation, to spell it right :)

      report
  10. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    Thankyou Mistly for another good article.

    as a poor speller, from a family of poor spellers, spelling was always a chore for me.

    Still is, in many ways, of course. (Specially now as my eyesight is bad and looking up a dictionary is difficult :-(

    Though I love my Language -- Engish and its quirks and spelling that reflects the origin of the words themselves. I LOVE my "Chambers 20th Century Dictionary" and really wish that they'd kept the entire format for their 21st Century Dictionary…

    Read more
    1. mike williams

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn, the important thing is to set up your spell-checker for Australian (or British) English. Too many people skip over the country/language setup on their computer and when the spell-checker is installed it defaults to US English.

      report
    2. Meg Thornton

      Dilletante

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Mike: The fun thing about "getting the country settings correct" is that Australian computing uses English spellings, but the US keyboard layout (we use $ for currency rather than UKP or euros), so it really does depend what the program looks at to get the information (if you've something which is strongly reliant on keyboard input, it'll probably default to the keyboard layout as the major determinant). Plus, of course, setting country-specific settings is something which has to be done on *every…

      Read more
  11. Kylie Rackham

    Teacher

    I agree with most of what you've said, particularly about taking a 'morphograph' approach to spelling, but take objection to the idea that spelling backwards is stupid.

    Yes - we don't ever spell words backwards, but by doing this as an exercise you are engaging a students visual working memory. They have to be able to see the word in their head in order to work out the reverse order of the letters. Visual memory is crucial in spelling - how often do we need to see a word to see if it is spelt correctly?

    While I firmly believe in teaching morphemes, other techniques have their place - and 'stupid' is a word I don't thing should be used.

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      Ahh.

      I would not have quibbles about the use of 'stupid' but if you like, call it 'misguided'.

      The 'visual' aspect is completely XXXXXXXX up by asking them t write any word 'backwards'.

      They'll grow up not knowing which way is correct. "night" or "thing"? "apple" or "elppa"? No that looks wong -- it must be 'leppa"!

      Form seeng the mistakes that my Grandchildren make with spelling I will not allow these 'misguided' 'word-finders' in the house.

      At least we ordinary poor spellers write somethig that can be determined by sounding it out aloud.

      Spelling correctly is hard enough for us challenged spellers without our being required to learn how to muck the word up :-)

      report
    2. Kylie Rackham

      Teacher

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      I think you've missed my point a little - and perhaps I needed to clarify further the exercise of spelling out loud.

      I don't ever get students to write the word backwards - that would be 'misguided' and would interfere with the visual image I am trying to get them to develop. I ask them instead to try and picture the word in their heads and tell me the backwards spelling out loud. If you try it, you'll find that the only way you can actually spell a word backwards is if you have a visual image in your head of that word. It is the process of visualising the word that can help spelling improve.

      report
    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      Sorry.

      But that's WORSE!!
      I cannot think either how it can in any way ehlp a poor speller.

      It simply doesn't foster 'visualisation' -- for me any way!

      It just means, oh my doG! Another lesson to be shamed in :-(

      In you want the kids to 'visualise' spelling have them read, read and read. Books that they are interested in, too!

      Why DOES spelling out aloud matter anyway. Unless you are deaf and communicate using the sign alphabet!

      report
    4. Kylie Rackham

      Teacher

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      I work with kids who struggle to read books at all. They have major learning difficulties, auditory processing difficulties, working memory deficits, are years behind their peers and have major self esteem issues.

      Kids who do not comprehend what they read struggle to visualise when they read. Being able to create visual images [of anything] and hold onto those images is a useful skill.

      We use many methods to teach spelling, including morphograph based exercise, but visualising the word…

      Read more
    5. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      Speaking as a learner -- when I visualise words I visualise the meaning, not the spelling.

      When a see a word written I might 'hear' the word in my own internal whatsits.

      I don't 'visualise a a word as writen letters.

      I don't WANT to visualise words as written letters.

      Visualising the written word can do nothing to help reading -- it might help with spelling. Maybe that is what GOOD spellers do? But I cannot see that writing or even spelling the word out aloud backwards helps in any way at all.

      When I read I want to understand what the words actually mean.

      report
    6. Kylie Rackham

      Teacher

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      Which is great...for you.

      "Visualising the written word can do nothing to help reading"

      I didn't say it did - visualising helps reading - creating pictures in the mind of what the story is something poor readers don't do. Visualisation in general is a good skill to develop. We just happen to use it during spelling. If I had a student who read well, spelt well and had no learning difficulties, I probably wouldn't bother with the exercise. I'm not working with those kids though.

      Ultimately…

      Read more
    7. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Kylie Rackham

      If one has an eidetic memory, as I have, where text is concerned, then spelling presents no problems, and I can easily picture in my mind the correct spelling of each and every word spoken by a clear speaker, provided they are not going sixteen to the dozen, but even if they are speaking at a fair rate of knots, if they regularly leave pauses throughout their speech, as does Ira Glass on 'This American Life', for example, I'm easily able to, through the practice called *Staying Behind*, eventually…

      Read more
  12. Vicki High

    company director

    I was an atrocious speller until I took up Latin in high school - this not only gave me the root of the different words but an interest in the history behind them...

    I think one issue for the students today is the number of signs around the place which try to be 'quirky' rather than accurate - so all the kiddies who read signs such as "Kwik Kopy" - you have my sympathy!

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Vicki High

      Ah, Vicki. I was an atrocious speller in Latin too :-)

      Amo, amas amat, amamus amatus, amant. :-)

      report
    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Vicki High

      Vicki, Latin teachers and their students are free to learn in a demanding, if sometimes agonisingly, reactionary space of rote learning, crossing t's and dotting i's blindfolded, whispering sweet ablatives to each other all unmolested by the "progressive" and "critical literacy educators" because the latter know that the former know very well that the latter know very little at all; and know that what little they do know, is not worth knowing.

      report
  13. Sarah Maddock

    Student

    I so agree re the pointlessness of the 'look write check' mode of learning spelling. My kids absolutely hate it - not because they find learning by rote hard (is that how to spell 'rote'?!) - but because it's so damn boring. I was horrified to find that they don't even know the meanings of some of the harder words. Excuse me, but what on earth is the point of learning to spell a word that you'll never use because you don't know what it means??!! Worse still, occassionally (or is it 'occasionally'?!) the teacher writes the list word up on the board incorrectly, so it's misspelt from the beginning.
    Surely it's more useful (and creative) to learn to use a word correctly in context rather than mastering its spelling in isolation.
    But spelling tests keep parents happy. Testing = learning apparently. Nonsence, I say (or is it 'nonsense'? Either way, you get my meaning.)

    report
  14. Darren Stops

    logged in via Facebook

    Yes, the current strategies described don't teach spelling, nor reading for that matter. Yes, we should not be testing something we are not teaching!

    There are some inaccuracies in this article, though - more than 80% of the English language does follow clear rules for spelling, and it is a phonetic language! Of the 1000 words we use most often, 93% are phonetic.There is a simple match between the 44 sounds and 70 phonograms of English.

    Etymology might be interesting, but teaching the phonograms…

    Read more
  15. Michael Marriott

    logged in via Twitter

    Thanks for this interesting article, I'd also like to offer an additional perspective from someone with a different take on spelling. Hi, my name is Mike and I have dyslexia.

    At least 5%-10% of the population have learning disabilities such as dyslexia (more broadly specific learning disabilities or SLDs). Recent advances in neurology and the use of PET/fMRI scanning suggest both functional and structural differences between the "dyslexic brain" and those belonging to the other >90% of the population…

    Read more
    1. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Michael Marriott

      Misty thanks for the article and Michael thanks for this excellent contribution.

      I always fear such articles as not only do we hear from many quasi experts on what is 'best practice' but there is always the risk of once again raising and over stating the importance of spelling as a skill. Spelling has no relationship to literacy, intellect or a passion for great writing, or a desire to be a great writer. Spelling is a very specific skill that technology is rapidly making less important. I cannot…

      Read more
    2. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to Michael Marriott

      Hi Mike
      Thanks for those thoughtful comments. You are right about the prevalence of SLDs - one of my children is one of the 10% you quote. SLDs manifest themselves in many different ways so we can't really generalise, but what we probably can say is that SLD brains are wired for learning language and literacy - but not in the way language and literacy is traditionally taught. This is especially so for learning to spell. Most spelling teaching relies on the two strategies that are very difficult…

      Read more
    3. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Michael Marriott

      "Most spelling teaching relies on the two strategies that are very difficult for the SLD brain - remembering a sequence of unrelated letters by rote (sequential ordering is very challenging for the SLD brain), or sounding out."

      Well these strategies are difficult for any brain, because they misrepresent how written language works. Spelling requires a knowledge of the phonograms and their relationship to phonemes (sounds) to construct words. You can't "sound out" - I think you are referring to reading here, not spelling.

      report
  16. Citizen SG

    Citizen

    Teaching kids to spell correctly is easy. One simply has to engender a love of words. Is it really that simple?

    OK, I'm not a teacher of english; but I do have an anecdotal study of one. My best friend is a voracious reader and is probably the most literate person I know, with a sophisticated ability to criticise the most circuitous of texts. But cannot spell to save himself. He might spell 'Jimy' instead of Jimmy but can read and explain James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. I know of fewer people with more of a love for words and with a higher vocabulary - but spell? Not on your life.

    Me: I can spot a spelling mistake at 1000 paces and, typos aside, rarely make a spelling mistake. Yet my literacy is subordinate to many crappy spellers. I think that there is more to this than a love of words alone.

    report
  17. Antony Eagle

    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Adelaide

    Misty: you say "only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound". Can you give us a reference to follow up?

    report
    1. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      Hi Antony
      This Kessler article gives a good account of the phonology and orthography of English
      Kessler, B. and R. Treiman (2003). "Is English spelling chaotic? Misconceptions concerning its irregularity." Reading Psychology 24: 267 - 289.

      But it's a pretty easy hypothesis to test in the local context. I took the 100 hundred words surrounding my statement "only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound' and there were 11 that were spelt the way they sound. Interested readers could just try it on any 100 words of connected authentic text.

      report
    2. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      .. but the Kessler article doesn't say this at all? Probably because as flawed as the reasoning in the Kessler article is, even they couldn't make a case for such an unsupported statement.

      report
  18. Blair Donaldson
    Blair Donaldson is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Researcher & Skeptic

    Part of the problem is that some educators believe there is only one way to teach spelling and reading. I have read and heard arguments for and against phonics, the fact is sounds work well for some children and not for others.

    I have tutored many children who had problems reading – in every case the kids did not know the alphabet, let alone the sounds of letters or word combinations. Having learned the basic sounds and that other little trick, syllables, it’s amazing to see them tackle words…

    Read more
  19. Paul Richards

    integral operating system

    Misty Adoniou wrote; "Put simply - is spelling your child’s favourite subject? If the answer is no, then something needs to be done about the teaching." This is the interesting part of the equation offered, so will add this to the conversation.
    Parents often project sole responsibility onto professional teaching system. With either parents or teachers or both not recognising students have differing intelligences, a natural strength or forté and using it. Approaching from the child's natural intellectual…

    Read more
  20. Anne Powles

    Retired Psychologist

    As a long term poor speller (but I think quite a good spelling and dictioary teacher in the past) I agree with much of what everyone is saying. I do think the study of etymology is interesting and helps. But it only helps those of us who are born with the missing spelling link to understand why we got a word wrong, not often how to get it right. I am pretty thoroughly educated, had good teachers at school and Uni and have always read very widely. As a "Leaving Certificate" student I knew my best…

    Read more
  21. Anne Powles

    Retired Psychologist

    in my recent comment I did not intend "dictionary" to be incorrect. Proof reading is not my strong suit either. Sorry.

    report
  22. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    Very good article, especially in pointing out the etymology and meaning of words as guides to spelling, yet falls short of further clarification in expanding the same argument into phrasing and sentence construction.

    The big problem yet plaguing pupils in English is spelling being taught as a set of discrete rules to follow, or in contrast as sounds to hear, which in their given form either way still make little sense.

    Yes, while as in any normative paedogogy most children do plod through it…

    Read more
  23. Sheelah Egan

    retired

    "testing is not teaching" and yet these days most of school time across year groups and subjects is spent in "assessment". More teaching and less testing please

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Sheelah Egan

      Ideally, 'testing' is done for the teachers.

      With testing they can evaluate how well they've been getting the key points across as a whole aswell as who needs more help.

      Multiple choice tests are the worst -- because you have no idea where the kids are having difficulty. Theres no feedback to the teacher via a 'score' :-(

      Teachers who don't test are no more than lazy slackers.

      The old reason for end-of-year tests was to grade the children and determine those who would benefit from a repeat year. If you don't stream and don't repeat then there is no need for end of year tests - except to try to motivate the kids to 'learn' during the year. Doesn't work -- all it does is foster 'swotting' :-(

      Frankly, as a teacher, I found too much emphasis on 'end of unit' testing and not enough on assessing as a tool to help the teacher.

      report
    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Sheelah Egan

      "testing is not teaching" and yet these days most of school time across year groups and subjects is spent in "assessment"
      What is your source for this claim? And how much is "most of school time"?

      report
  24. Guy Cox

    logged in via email @guycox.com

    Misty rather gives the lie to her own approach when she writes 'spelt' rather than 'spelled'. If you can allow 'spelt' why not 'jumpt'?

    Spelt is an ancient wheat relative - Triticum spelta - much loved by health-food faddies.

    The past participle of 'spell' is 'spelled'.

    Having said that, writing past participles with 't' rather than 'ed' was a common usage from Shakespeare's time right up to the 19th century.

    report
    1. Sam Yates

      Research Fellow

      In reply to Guy Cox

      The past participle of 'spell' still can be 'spelled' or 'spelt', at least if you're not writing in North American English, or using 'spell' in the sense of 'offer a reprieve'. Both forms have a well established usage in modern times.

      report
    2. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Guy Cox

      Not in my Dictionary it ain't. (Chambers Compact English Dictionary)

      Spelt only occurs as a type of wheat.

      Ain't is there in all it's glory!

      Now THERE's "glory" for you :-)

      report
    3. Meg Thornton

      Dilletante

      In reply to Guy Cox

      Quoting the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (electronic edition, 2001):

      spell1
      · v. (past and past part. spelled or chiefly Brit. spelt)
      1 write or name the letters that form (a word) in correct sequence. Ø (of letters) make up or form (a word).
      2 be a sign of; lead to: the plans would spell disaster for the economy.
      3 (spell something out) explain something simply and in detail.
      – DERIVATIVES spelling n.
      – ORIGIN ME: shortening of OFr. espeller, from the Gmc base of spell2.

      (Dictionaries vary. The bigger the dictionary, the larger the list of words, and the greater the likelihood of unusual variants in spelling and usage being recorded... It may be that a larger version of the Chambers edition that Evelyn was using might have recorded this variant. Or it might be that Chambers is a US dictionary, which wouldn't record largely archaic British usage).

      report
    4. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Guy Cox

      Chambers a US Dictionary!! Perish the thought!! It is MORE English than the Oxford which is to be a very pedestrian dictionary.

      In fact it was my beloved "Chamber's Compact English Dictonary" which I consulted. My FIRST OWN dictionary (and for someone coming in the middle of a large family, OWN is a very special thing!) that I chose for myself in first year high school :-)

      The Dictionary that I learned to spell from!! The Pocket Dictionary that gives the derivation/origin of each word.

      The Chamber's 20th Century Dictionary -- a recent edition from the 1970s, that we had re-bound about 5 years ago as it was falling apart with use -- does list 'spelt' as the non-preferred past participle of spell.

      report
  25. John Pickard

    Eclectic naturalist

    What do you do when a 2nd-year undergraduate turns in an assignment with Australia spelt / spelled "Austraylia"? And no, he was not an NESB (non-English speaking background), he was Oz-born of white Anglo-Saxon parents.

    I had to tell some American students that "text" was not acceptable in essays, but I'd accept the excrescences of US English.

    I'll bet that if you look at the computers in most offices (federal, state and local government; large, medium and small business; and home computers) that well over 50% are set to Bill Gates' default US English. Might as well get used to it, and stop whingeing about the good old days when editors spent hours worrying about 's' vs 'z' in many words.

    But I recall my parents lamenting the poor spelling of us kids. Seems that it was always thus.

    report
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Pickard

      I agree that poor spelling always has been a problem wherever the written word is used. A stroll through an old cemetery will show headstones with spelling mistakes. Sub editors of newspapers these days have been known to miss a spelling error, and advertisements, even those created by agencies, have spelling errors.

      One teacher in my teen years bemoaned the deliberate misspelling of words in product names on the grounds of it making harder for poor spellers. Good spellers remain unaffected, one…

      Read more
    2. mike williams

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Pickard

      Again Evelyn, you need a spell-checker connected to your browser. It's rare for websites themselves to offer spell-checking.

      report
    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Pickard

      John, I hope your students corrected you: both "spelt" and "text" most certainly are acceptable in essays.

      report
    4. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to John Pickard

      "This child had learned to read because he could visualise words."

      Huh? - can you please explain what you mean?

      report
    5. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Pickard

      When I closed my eyes just then, I could see the word visualise on the back of my eyelids. Sometimes it isn't that clear, the word being recognized but in the back of my mind. I'm certain that the ability to visualise isn't common to all readers. I don't think you have it, and that is why you are in favour of phonics as a teaching method - because it helps you, makes sense to you.

      The 8 year-old daughter of a friend who struggled with the combination of phonics plus look and say for words that couldn't be sounded out, has just recently begun reading wherever she sees words instead of restricting her reading to the books provided by her school. After almost 3 years of formal schooling, she's 'really reading' at last.

      report
    6. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to John Pickard

      No, it probably isn't common, nor necessary for reading. I am in favour of structured synthetic phonics because the scientific evidence about how we learn to read, how to help struggling readers and even those with dyslexia, has been absolutely clear for decades. It seems only in Australia where we don't act.

      Some people think they are teaching "phonics" but they usually aren't, and they usually confuse the learners with a variety on non-evidence-based strategies at the same time.

      I was one…

      Read more
    7. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Pickard

      The teaching was structured around the book the girl was expected to read aloud so that the teacher knew the child could read. It doesn't seem to be widely known that in order for anyone to read aloud fluently, least of all a beginner reader, they have to read silently a word or two ahead of what they say aloud.

      Children can learn to read silently and there are ways for the teacher to know that the child is making sense of the words. All this and more will be explained in detail once I get my website up and running.

      report
    8. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to John Pickard

      I still don't know what the problem with 'text' as word IS?

      How else would you spell it? "Teckst"? like Socks :-)

      Or do you mean 'text' used where 'reference' should be?

      report
    9. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to John Pickard

      :-)

      When I was a tiny tot, my parents had a friend called "Bo". I always thought of him as "Bo" :-) It seemed to me to be a nice name for a nice man.

      And only in my incipient dotage when I met a dog called "Beau" did it occur to me that Bo must have spelled his name that way :-)

      I STILL think of him as 'Bo" though :-)

      report
  26. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Without any substantiation you say (para 2) "Spelling matters."
    It doesn't.
    The reason for writing words is mainly to convey information. So if the meaning is clear any spelling is acceptable. The illogical spelling of most English words has been proven to delay reading and writing competency for young students compared to countries where spelling is logical. That alone is a good reason to either simplify spelling or accept anything.
    Misty, why does spelling matter?

    report
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      This is probably a good time for the following:

      It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

      Of course spelling isn't important when words are in context as they are above and the reader has a prior knowledge of their meaning, but finding 'mses' on…

      Read more
    2. Darren G

      logged in via email @yahoo.com

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      That is a very good point.

      Interestingly, the People's Republic of China went through the process of simplifying the characters of Mandarin. there was a lot of opposition from the traditionalists but, regrettably, at that time opposing the CCP on the grounds of tradition was a particularly suicidal enterprise and the simplification program proceeded (which I have to say, as a non fluent Mandarin reader is a blessing for me). There are now simplified and traditional characters (the latter in HK, Taiwan and other places where there is an older Chinese Diaspora).

      I guess by now you can see where this is going - the grounds for maintaining the old, difficult characters was simple: tradition. Even though traditional characters are quite difficult and I have no idea how they can work in modern applications like computers. I guess traditions die hard though.

      report
    3. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Ah Colin, spelling matters because it isn't simply about getting the letters in the right order so some smug spelling snob doesn't have a go at you.
      English spelling is remarkably logical. It's only illogical if you've been led to believe that it is phonetic. Then it is pretty illogical. But English is morphophonemic, and that means that very often English words are spelled they way they mean. And that means spelling matters for comprehension and deep conceptual development. Very often the concept…

      Read more
    4. mike williams

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      The "only the first letter and last letter" thing is very misleading as such seductively simple and oft-repeated internet memes are. If you completely reverse the interior letters then you drastically reduce the ability to read the text.

      report
    5. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      I had no difficulty in reading the text because the context made it easy. I understand that some people have difficulty with it, but I don't know why they do.

      I also pointed out that a word such as 'mses' on its own, or in a list of other unrelated words would have no meaning. I'm disappointed that no-one has tried to guess the two misspelt surnames I gave, but think as adults who consider themselves to be intelligent they hesitate to show what might be perceived as a lack of it.

      If you knew the word 'education' but not CAUTION, would it be possible to think the second word was actually the first? Young children can and that shows they make sense of words (read) by applying their spoken vocabulary to add to their reading vocabulary.

      report
    6. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      It's a long story Collin. Probably has something to with why Auntie Flo has a mole on her upper lip and Cousin Matilda doesn't. idiosyncrasy is the nature of the world. Language is more than functionality; it is also connotation and in this case it is apprenticeship to meaning making in a rich resource of language at the fingertips of all those who inherit access to the language called English.

      report
    7. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Thanks for that. What you say is surely correct for the literary and academia but may not be relevant for the vast majority of English speakers, particularly now it is the world language.
      It's quirky that English is easy to speak because it has evolved from many languages but hard to spell for the same reason. The syntax has been simplified but the spelling hasn't.
      I should mention that I used to be a smug spelling snob till I moved to Malaysia. When you eat kek or ais krim (as opposed to chakee or ikee cree-am) you soon get over any snobbery. And here we all "on" the light switch!

      report
    8. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      But now you are talking about language variation. Quite a different topic from spelling I think.

      But you are right. What we can expect from those who inherit a mother tongue and what those who have another mother tongue who need to function in a second language are clearly quite different each to the other.

      report
    9. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Sorry.

      Malaysian notwithstanding -- with no agreed spelling English would fragment into a myriad different languages.

      It's all really a bit like Mandarin and Cantonese -- or at least the way they used to be.

      Same writted language -- very different pronunciation.

      I mightn't be able to understand a word that a Scotsman/Indian/etc, but by golly I can read what he writes :-)

      Just try reading a novel where the oh-so-clever author has written it in his own phonetic version of a local accent…

      Read more
    10. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      There is no agreed spelling for many words and life goes on, words are understood.
      Supersede or supersede? Only the former is mentioned in my Concise Oxford (1983) and Collins (1994) no reference to the variant. But checking on line, just now, supersede is okay.
      Won't be long before acomodation and comitee are acceptable too.
      Kek and ais krim make me chuckle, I can't imagine them ever being agreed.

      report
    11. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Mary, this is absolutely flawed reasoning.

      I don't agree that you can "read it without a problem"

      The reason you can "read" the jumbled text is because your brain already has a correctly spelled / spelt (both are correct, btw) template already available and it re-orders the letters - this actually indicates that as a good reader you ARE reading every individual letter, or you WOULDN'T BE ABLE to read it.

      Your example actually disproves your point.

      report
    12. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Or you could not confuse our 6 year old learners with all that information, and just teach them that "ph" makes the sound "f".

      Oh, hang on - that would be phonetic, wouldn't it? and you just told us that English is so confusing because it's NOT a phonetic representation of our language ?

      So, why have all the national inquiries in English speaking countries said that structured synthetic phonics is essential to the teaching of reading?

      report
    13. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Thank you for your opinion. I disagree with it.

      I say again, "If you knew the word 'education' but not CAUTION, would it be possible to think the second word was actually the first?" CAUTION was seen on a sign with no context to provide meaning. If you were familiar with the word 'girl' but had never seen nor heard the word GRILL, would you think the latter was the former?

      I would welcome your thoughts on this. Again, I might not agree with them, but I would have something more to think about, possibly understanding your viewpoint this time.

      As for 'spelt', it is also the name of a fish, common in America, as was pointed out to me when I used that spelling on an American website.

      report
    14. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Hi Mary,

      I think that was the point. For example:

      I d+++++++d w++h y++r o+++++n, a+d w+++++e y+u p+++++++g a+y s++++++++c e++++++e to s+++++t it.

      If you don't have an already existing template of phonograms, words, etc, then you can't easily work it out from the first and last letter - in your example, you have to unjumble all the letters in-between, and re-arrange them according to your pre-exisitng knowledge.

      I am not sure I understand your example questions above ? If a person can…

      Read more
    15. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      David, there is no point in continuing this debate here, or anywhere. Apart from the additional minutia you have given in defence of your point of view, the basic argument has been covered in detail in response to Misty's earlier article.

      I've begun the process of demonstrating to teachers how they can help children learn to read in the pre-primary setting, using techniques that have worked for me. I then intend to share their experiences in a website that I'm still in the process of creating.

      report
    16. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      I have read, and can confirm, that you can make a pretty good guess at the meaning of a short written communicaton if all it is is a series of vertical lines that represent the vertical height of the letters of each word.

      We 'did' this in a part of a course to demonstrate why block printing should NOT be used for important messages :-)

      report
    17. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Actually it is being able to read misspelled words because of content, that is the main reaon why it is SO difficult to proof-read one's own writing.

      We simply see and read what we thought we wrote.

      (Until we see it come up on the screen after we have posted :-(

      report
    18. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      The real reason that English is NOT truly phonetic, is that different accents and dialects pronounce words differently.

      grass -- grarse
      cassel -- carsel
      wensdi - wedensday (yes -- believe it or not -- I was an adult before I became aware that some (uneducated :-) people pronounce wednesday "wensdi"

      Then we have
      prizoom -- presume
      pashio -- pattio
      shedule -- skedule
      envelope -- onvelope
      restront -- resteront -- restrong
      etc -- and that is just in one supposedly uniform area in Australia…

      Read more
    19. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      And yet the Cyrillic alphabet of the Russian language has more letters which resemble our block letters than our lowercase letters. So I would suggest that we are more used to seeing messages in lowercase, therefore it's easier to read.

      The Russian language is fairly phonetic as well. My mother claimed that once one knows the Russian alphabet, one can read is probably true for a person who can speak the language reasonably fluently. But as with English, to express oneself in the language of the classics, requires more than simple words and phrases.

      When I tried to learn Russian in my 40s, having stopped speaking it at the age of 8, I could remember the sounds of words because I had continued to hear that language for a long time, but grammar and syntax were more difficult. Like the others in my class, I used Russian words to make sentences the way I made sentences in English.

      report
    20. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Actually, Mistry for nearly three thousands years, "sphaira" has meant a three dimensional circle, as is the Greek source of the English "sphere".

      report
    21. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Maybe you mean our word 'bullet' deriving from the French boule and that game they still play with the small, metal rolling balls?

      report
    22. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      So, Evelyn, Not sure of your point here?

      How do all those different "dialects" read the same language then? ... and how can I read what you've just written even though it doesn't conform to spelling rules but represents different pronunciation of the same words?

      Because the letters and letter groups represent sounds. Phonetic then.

      report
    23. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      So can I use the letter Oo to represent the height of the letters and get you to read this, please?
      O oooOoo ooo'o ooooooo. Ooo ooo oooOooo Ooo.

      report
    24. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      "I would welcome your thoughts on this. Again, I might not agree with them, but I would have something more to think about, possibly understanding your viewpoint this time."

      Guess you didn't really mean it. How disappointing. Ah well.

      report
    25. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      I did mean it. However, I didn't understand what you were saying. This is what happens every year in every classroom, the world over, I dare say.

      A friend of my sister's really couldn't understand why some children in her classes didn't grasp what she was trying to teach them while others did. She'd gone through school and primary school teacher training without any problems whatsoever. When she took skiing lessons and was left behind as others learned what she failed to do, she empathised for…

      Read more
    26. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      I thought that I was making the point that you could read what I wrote in accepted spelling because you are a fluent reader. you have learned to recognise the written word for the concept that it treperesents. Nothing much to do with 'phonetics' once you are a fluent reader.

      But that you recognised the 'misspelled' words because I wrote then as a phonetic representation of a rather normal Australian accent. I bet though that when you read then you 'sounded them out in your head' first before…

      Read more
    27. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      You've missed the point!

      You have not put in the tails! Neither have you distinguished between the medium height letters like "t''.
      So without having some indication of what you are talking about it is gobbedly-gook.

      I would guess that you started with "I" :-)

      The last word might be "You" but wouldn't be "you" as there is no tail.

      Maybe the beginning of the second sentence was "You are"??

      I would be surprised if you could write a message that long without using SOME tailed letters. So I won't try to decipher it!

      report
    28. Meg Thornton

      Dilletante

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Spelling matters in English because there are a lot of words in English which have the same letters, but arrange them differently to provide a different meaning.

      These are examples of same I've pulled out of my list of words for a definition-providing spell check program:

      Able and bale; barely and barley; bear and bare (pronounced the same, too); begin and being; brake and break (another pair which are homophones as well); bulge and bugle; diary and dairy; discreet and discrete (homophones…

      Read more
    29. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Spelling matters because it makes the reading much easier.

      Yes, we can read misspelled words -- by 'sounding' them out, phonetically, then listening to our own sounding out.

      With luck this can be done in your head without needing to sound out aloud, but sometimes you really DO need to sound a mispelled word out aloud to understand it. I have been caught on occasions needing to read the mispelled word out to my husband for him to recognise the intended word for me.

      THAT is why I always refer to 'good spelling' as a courtesy.

      And a necessity if you want other people to be able to easily understand what you have written.

      If you are only writing notes to yourself it matters not one whit! Neither does the legibility of your handwriting matter -- so long as it jogs your own memory of what it means :-)

      report
    30. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      Meg, I certainly never suggested that the order of the letters didn't matter. You first sentence is axiomatic in fact as Basil Fawlty would say "bleeding obvious". Form and from are very common typos.
      My opinion is that spelling is not important as long as the meaning is conveyed. So abl, barli, bulj, hau and hu are okay by me. (I used to be a spelling pedant.)
      I like homophones- a single, Korean, fish spirit is a sole Seoul sole soul.

      report
    31. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      BUT the trouble with 'abl', 'barli', 'bulj', 'hau' and 'hu' is that to understand them you must sound them out.

      And I needed to actually move my lips before I had any idea what "hau" and "hu" might mean.

      And my initial reading of 'abl" was the sound of those letters in 'ablative'.

      This is NOT reading -- is is deciphering a puzzle. And annoying.

      No doubt if I learned Malay I would have no trouble, but I would not like to encounter too many of such 'mispellings' in an article written in English

      report
    32. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      David, how do you then explain that I for one at least can so easily read one of your incomplete words where you've neglected to include a final alphabetical letter OR a substituted '+'.

      Where you wrote: "...and welcome *you* producing any scientific evidence to support it.", I read it [correctly first time] as: "...and welcome *your* producing any scientific evidence to support it." I didn't unjumble any of the word's letters in-between and I didn't re-arrange any of them. I left them all exactly as they stood, and given that all I had to work with was a totally blank space it can't be said that I had anything such as a template in mind to assist me.

      Will this evidence be scienti_fic'kle enough for you? Q.E.D. :^)

      report
  27. Jacqueline Nunan

    logged in via Facebook

    I couldn't agree more about the teaching of spelling, Misty. But this context-rich approach a) needs to be applied to far more than just spelling, and b) is already being utilised in some Australian schools.

    My Year 3 daughter has read about Euclides to inspire her geometry; paced out the history of humanity, life on Earth, the formation of the planets, right back to the Big Bang; and woven cloth from yarn created with raw wool and a spindle to help understand the needs of humans. Her outrageously…

    Read more
    1. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Jacqueline Nunan

      Love it. We need many more stories of this kind showing just how well some students are being taught and provided for in their learning.There are just too many short-cut negative stories about the decline and fall of literacy. Not enough telling the good stuff to encourage us all in an ongoing endeavor to help our kids build their futures.

      report
  28. Chris Reynolds

    Education Consultant

    Spot on. Unfortunately we are too often regaled with misleading nostrums to improve spelling. The most powerful incentive for a child to improve spelling is to be excited about words and their meanings.

    A someone who has been in love with words all my life I like nothing better than scouring an etymological dictionary at random to refresh my understanding and to refine my grasp of some of the murkier connections linguistically between words of varying origin.

    What we need is TV shows which share some of this fun with young and old. These have been successful in soem European countries and are not expensive to mount. Such shows would model the kind of fun with words we all enjoy and go a long way to excite the young and supprot what many teahers struggle to do well.

    report
  29. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    FUNEM?
    SVFM.

    FUNEX?
    SVFMNX.

    Hoo kneads to spel?

    enny way -- oi reed awl i knead to no on twidda.

    report
  30. Melinda Crean

    Learning Specialist

    Hi Misty,

    Thanks for your article and I agree with much of what you are saying. I was trained to teach reading, spelling and writing by the whole language approach. I was one of those teachers that used LSCWC, mastery folders, little words in big words and spelling tests. I did not know there was another way and often wondered why there were many students that did not seem to make much progress during the year. I’ve recently retrained to be a Dyslexia specialist and have trained in the Sounds-Write…

    Read more
    1. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Melinda Crean

      Well said, Melinda !

      It's ASTOUNDING that some of these nonsensical ideas not only exist, but actually flourish in the upper echelons of those who are responsible for training our teachers.

      The scientific evidence has been in for DECADES, and repeated, and repeated, but still we have these pseudo-scientific, self-declared experts who are so wedded to their narrow ideologies that they don't care about the damage they are doing.

      When will the government step in and implement the findings of the National inquiry in to the teaching of reading? Every other country seems to have done it. NSW Education is trying.....

      report
    2. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Melinda Crean

      David, I suggest you Google Mary Alderson The Conversation. There you will find not only the comments I've made on this topic of spelling but also my comments on Misty's earlier article regarding the best reading methods not reaching the classroom. You will find my views on the National Enquiry into Literacy and my total lack of support for beginning with phonics as a way of teaching children to read. You will find others who support your view.

      I also suggest that you read any comment I have made and may make on this topic very carefully and think before you reply because your blindness to anything but phonics is handicapping your comprehension.

      report
    3. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Melinda Crean

      It is very difficult for me to explain the frustration that someone like me from outside your 'industry' ( who cannot spell , was never taught to spell and has to cope daily with this situation) finds these sort of mindless Holden vs Ford arguments, especially since I have been listening to them for nearly 30 years.

      There is only one correct answer. Not all children are the same, not all children who have learnt to read or spell successfully will have used the same techniques. Children who are…

      Read more
    4. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Melinda Crean

      Mitchell, I know that not all children are the same. I know they need to learn to read in ways that make sense to them as individuals. This I learned as a mother, not as a teacher. In fact to learn from my toddler-5 year old son, I had to UNLEARN so much of "scientific evidence" and be receptive to a whole new way of thinking.

      "Teachers need to have a range of techniques available to them, they need to be trained in a range of techniques and they need to know how to assess a student and establish…

      Read more
  31. Vicki High

    company director

    Just a couple of things which came to mind and I don't think have been mentioned...

    1) remember when you were a kid and you asked an adult how to spell something...and their response was "look it up in the dictionary" - like if you could, you'd probably already know how to spell it!

    2) re computers - spell-checkers have been mentioned but not the "garbage in - garbage out" aspect of computers - try spelling "food" as "fewd" and doing a google search! If I write you an email with "fewd" - between context and pronunciation you'd probably figure out what I meant - while technology is pretty good at this sort of thing, accuracy is still important in doing research or searches online...

    report
    1. David Esgood

      commentator

      In reply to Vicki High

      Ohh, Yes Vicki!
      I remember having a rather long and heated discussion with colleague who was so inculcated with "whole language" ideology, that he argued long and hard about how kids wouldn't NEED to read or spell, because of computers!

      Obviously, everything would be in pictograms, I guess?

      report
  32. Vicki High

    company director

    another thought just occurred to me...what about technical language? eg, in psychology there is a huge difference between "effect" and "affect" and "affecting"... Perhaps in day to day life we can get away with spelling mistakes and typos but in professional/technical writing I suspect more problems would arise... ditto with acronyms - if the correct letters aren't used in the correct order, the meaning would be totally different...

    report
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Vicki High

      Acronyms are not a problem for pre-schoolers who may happily "read" ZNA then just as happily read ANZ when gently told, "Start from the other end." Reading from left to right in the English language is just another convention to them, no different in their eyes to the convention of pink being the colour for girls, that boys don't wear dresses even though girls wear shorts and long pants. Children aren't tested on their ability to remember these conventions. Could it possibly be the tension and testing, the fear and shame of failing in the formal education system, plus a huge list of other possible fears that's the real cause of any literacy problems in Australia or elsewhere?

      report
    2. Vicki High

      company director

      In reply to Vicki High

      Actually Mary I wasn't thinking specifically of children with my comment about acronyms - more that if you can't tell the difference between "CBA" and "KBA" a Commonwealth Bank account may not be for you...

      My mother has helped a good friends' son learn basic English (he's 21 and almost totally illiterate) - what I found concerning was that he was unable to read street signs despite driving - who cares if you're unable to read "High Street" properly but "caution" and "detour" are a bit more important!

      report
    3. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Vicki High

      Hi Vicki,

      Your concern about technical language is correct and is something else that is often lost in these discussion as they are obviously and correctly focussed on young children. There are many 'technical areas' where spelling is very important as incorrect spelling means you are technically in error. Chemistry and biology are problematic, I have seen problems in engineering areas and in philosophy. I assume other technical areas have problems.

      As someone who has not developed the cognitive…

      Read more
  33. Vicki High

    company director

    I am, and always have been, an avid reader such that spelling (now, I was hopeless in primary school) is not the issue but rather pronunciation. Because I have only seen a word written down and not heard it I find myself having to ask my partner how a word sounds...

    Surprised that none of the literacy experts have commented on the word "yacht" - I'd be interested in knowing how words such as this are taught? Rote learning I presume??

    report
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Vicki High

      My mother had the same difficulty with knowing the English word (by finding its meaning in her Russian/English dictionary) but not how to pronounce it because she didn't understand the phonetic breakdown the dictionary gave with the word.

      So instead of 'debt' (det) she sounded the b. She did the same with 'receipt'. However, her meaning was clear despite that.

      An interesting word 'yacht'. Is it yatcht or y-ach-t (ach as in an exclamation)? Making a joke by using the wrong sounds but adding "means yot" is my way of dealing with that word. Humour and fun are great teaching aids.

      report
    2. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to Vicki High

      I couldn't resist replying Vicki - because it is such a great example of just how fascinating words are. Yacht is a borrowed word (like so many!) from the Dutch, jacht, where you can hear the 'ch' when you say it in Dutch (something like the 'ch' on the end of the word 'loch'. And in Dutch 'j' is pronounced 'y'. So when the word first came into English, it would have been pronounced so you could hear all those letters. Over time, English preferences for pronunciation changed the way we say the word…

      Read more
    3. Vicki High

      company director

      In reply to Vicki High

      Hi Misty - thanks for that - I've always been interested in the derivation of words and particularly those borrowed from other languages... I like comparing the idiomatic use of a word with its literal translation...eg, "he contracted his eyebrows together" = "he frowned".... sorry I know this is a little off topic but as I said, I enjoy words!

      report
    4. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Vicki High

      Misty, do teacher education courses provide teachers with this extra knowledge regarding the origin of words in the English language?

      report
    5. Misty Adoniou

      Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

      In reply to Vicki High

      I can only speak authoritatively about my uni, Mary - and yes, I do all this work about words with my preservice teachers. They're enthusiastic and develop wonderful programmes for teaching spelling. Their biggest hurdle for them is challenging the status quo when they go into schools and are directed to do the kind of teaching I described in the article

      report
    6. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Vicki High

      Thank you, Misty for making the time to reply to my question, and thank you even more for providing your preservice teachers with the knowledge they need to help with spelling. I understand that they would face hurdles in schools as I'm currently overcoming some of my own. However, optimist that I am, I see light at the end of the tunnel for your teachings and my own. I'm hanging in there and wish you success and happiness in doing the same.

      report
  34. Gillian McAuliffe

    logged in via Facebook

    Spelling is such an easy area of literacy to target and test. As a mother of six I have 6 at least 4 of the six who spell really well two who are Ok and I am hopeless.

    But the children who have been avid readers are definitely the best spellers.

    I got comfort in reading Melvyn Bragg's The Adventure of English. What a mess was created she English speakers decided we needed a common spelling to 'fit' a Roman alphabet. Perhaps we should have gone for 44 symbols for the 44 sounds of the language. That would have been easier to decode.

    report
  35. Vicki High

    company director

    I know this is a bit off topic but I found the article below after I started searching for things like "what's the difference between syntax and grammar?" which lead me to wonder whether the way that we speak/communicate affects the way we think...and the following argues that the answer to the second question is a definite "Yes"! Well worth a read even if only for curiosity -

    http://edge.org/conversation/how-does-our-language-shape-the-way-we-think

    report
  36. Thea Biesheuvel

    Writer/Editor

    If I can weigh in here as a non-teacher...
    I dread the little parcel bringing me a manuscript with a covering letter reading something like..."I've been a teacher/high school teacher of English for 20 years and I've finally put my act together".
    To which the answer is "No, you haven't". These manuscripts inevitably have the most pedestrian prose, atrocious syntax and what's worse, the authors cannot even use spell-check on their computer.
    I'm not surprised that these 'teachers' don't teach…

    Read more
    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Thea Biesheuvel

      You have made several excellent points, Thea. I have only this to add; why do we pay Early Childhood teachers even less than other, also underpaid teachers, thus attracting mainly those who lack the intelligence and creativity to teach children well?

      report
    2. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Thea Biesheuvel

      And not just that -- they are the MOST important teachers that a child will ever have!

      I vote for doubling the salaries of Infants and Primary School teachers -- at teh same time as increasing their education levels.

      Like -- let's chuck out the kids (aka student teachers) that ask "Will this be in the exam?" and make space for the kids that say "WOW! I didn't know that!"

      And just imagine how much more we secondary teachers could teach the school kids when we are not having to tediously go over and correct previous 'learning'.

      report
    3. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Thea Biesheuvel

      I agree with everything you've said, Evelyn. Especially 'make space for the kids that say "WOW! I didn't know that!"' They are indeed the type of person we need in the education profession, most of all in the Early Childhood years.

      report
  37. Emma Hartnell-Baker

    logged in via Facebook

    Absolutely - another great article.
    If asked to spell a word for an SSP spelling 'test' they will actually get a 'point' for each that is spelt according to the spelling clouds- as well as the point for the 'King' word (the correct choice) This enables teachers to see how much of the code children know.
    So they may spell 'sugar' with a sh (shop) ch (machine) ss (pressure) etc at the beginning for extra points...all spelling choices are displayed on the SSP Spelling Clouds
    SSP Spelling strategy…

    Read more
  38. Kenneth Mazzarol
    Kenneth Mazzarol is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired Auto Engineer and teacher

    History has proven, once again, that the ruling classes, i.e.polies, do not like the masses to be educated. Who are the first ones sent to the Gulag by dictators? academics. Educated people always pose a threat. Girls especially pose a threat, because they mature early and alway seem to hold that edge. That is why girls are severely suppressed by groups brain-washed through religious beliefs. Our collective social and scientific advancement was suppressed for centuries through the influence of the Catholic church. So as I see it, it isn't just a case of teaching or spelling, it is far more insidious than that.

    report
  39. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    This is an extraordinary article!!

    There are umpteen paragraphs on how NOTt to teach spelling, including the age old and might I say very successful method of learning to spell both by rote and also by the making up of words from Latin/Greek stems, prefixes and suffixes, providing both spelling and meaning. The example given of "reside" is demonstrably a poor representation of what the author is claiming - in the stem, the "i" sounds like 'ai" whereas in the extended word it sounds like "i…

    Read more
  40. Jim KABLE

    teacher

    My mother reached the equivalent of Year 7 during the dark days of WWII - a proficient letter writer through most of her life - with only the occasional typo kind of slip one makes (and complicated for me these days by the auto-correct nature of this iPad Mini - usually not seen till I have touched the Send). She tells me I was reading the newspaper aloud when I was three. From the moment I entered school I was reading and borrowing books from the school library. And yes, Misty, never any problems…

    Read more
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Jim KABLE

      > . . . I always told them that spelling was NOT a component - to do their best - and well, guess what - most accomplished easily correct spelling and structure, too. . . >

      I am not at all surprised -- coming from a family of very poor spellers -- I was the best in the family!!! -- I rember the agony my sistrs used to go through dreading 'dictation' day.

      In later life, when I wrote to one of my sisters I tended to mark words whose spelling I was unsure of with a superscript "sp?".

      She started doing the same when writing back to me and within a few years her spelling became far better! I think when we stop worrying and just write we find that we subconsciously can spell but that the nervousness about tests causes us to doubt ourselves.

      report
    2. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jim KABLE

      Interesting. As a woman in my mid-twenties, I laughed at the spelling mistakes my mother-in-law made in her letters because she often bragged about her spelling skills at school. As a woman in my 60s, I've found that my once perfect spelling skills are shaky at times, so I now have a dictionary on the desk beside me.

      Anecdotal evidence leads me to think that spelling skills decline with age.

      report
    3. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jim KABLE

      I just read the following late night joke:

      I remember one year Mom was fixing Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey is in the oven, and she's tearing the house apart looking for her cellphone. Later, we're all sitting down to eat and the turkey starts to ring. David Letterman

      The punchline puzzled me because I was expecting to hear something about melted plastic, having misread 'cellphone' as 'cellophane'.

      As adults who read silently, we are able to correct our own mistakes without any fuss or embarrassment. Not so the unfortunate young children forced to read aloud so that the teacher can readily recognise their reading ability or lack of it.

      Once again, I stress the importance of allowing young children to learn to read silently, with the teacher still able to know that they are actually reading.

      report
  41. Jane Hillier

    Retired artist/teacher

    If you feel your child is brighter than their spelling and handwriting suggests, and you have had their eyes tested and their sight is good, it is quite simple to check out whether they have the Irlen syndrome by going to your local tester (listed on Internet). To spell, to write, we need to be able to see the whole words. People with the Irlen syndrome see black and white differently and this interferes with their visual perception. There is plenty of info on the internet. We did not believe…

    Read more
  42. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    Getting the student to say the word properly will aid in improving their spelling of it correctly because you can then instruct the student to always assess exactly what it is that they are doing with their lips and tongue during their sounding of the word, and they must repeatedly put themselves mentally in touch with exactly what it is that they are doing with their mouths when they say a word in search of its correct spelling.

    There will always the odd spelling differences that occur between two similar sounding words, like with 'proceed' and 'procedure', plus 'likely' and 'likelihood'.

    'Auditory Processing Disorder', which has been referred to as dyslexia for the ears, could well explain why many people of all ages have difficulty with spelling words correctly, inter alia.

    report
  43. Gary Woolley

    logged in via Twitter

    This article should be read by every teacher and concerned parent.

    I have enjoyed reading the thread of conversation that has been generated by this article. In response I have written an article in my own blog at http://reading4meaning.blogspot.com.au

    Misty, thank you for raising these issues.

    Dr Gary Woolley
    Senior Lecturer,
    University of the Sunshine Coast

    report
  44. Jenny Clarke

    Carer/retired

    As a child I was meticulous about spelling because I thought a misspelled word made you look stupid. Found later a couple of words I had misspelled all my life...

    Daughters similar. Son #1 would spell the same word 3 different ways in the same page but was top at spelling tests. Couldn't care less.

    Brother #1 was deemed possibly dyslectic till he did IT. With old fashioned languages COBOL and FORTRAN one wrong character was the difference between complete failure and success. No problems with his spelling since.

    Have genuinely dyslexic cousins. One very smart, got his degree by dictating assignments to kind friends.

    We are all different, no idea how teachers cope with that.

    report
  45. Jill Strong

    Literature teacher

    Testing is taking over from teaching in schools today. Results are scrutinised by all from the principal to potential parents to politicians. Why.? Because Australia didn't learn from the mistakes made in USA and UK where high stakes testing has had little real impact in terms of real learning.b. I r teach English years eight to twelve and examine year twelve exams. Point one: I only see my year eight English class three times a week because of eberything else filling up the curriculum. So teaching spelling is competing woth everything else in the rich English curriculum. Point two: in year twelve exams i am looing for well informed ideas clear essay structure and rich vocabu.ary, clear succinct expression with accurate punctuation, as well as correct spelling. Spelling is there but it is not paramount to top marks. My typing tonight is compromised by poor internet in a rural area. And i learnt Latin at school not typing. I loved Latin.

    report
  46. James Chalmers

    PhD student (applied linguistics)

    Spelling is part of your phonological/orthographical skill set. In other words, it's part of your ability to hear speech sounds and then write them. Lots of research actually shows that often problems in phonological skills, i.e. in hearing the sounds, play out in literacy. Why is this important? Well, for starters, telling a kid to spell it as they hear it won't work if they have difficulty hearing it. Second, it means memory is not the problem. Thirdly, it points the way towards dealing with the problem. One solution is to use multisensory structured langue methodology can improve phonological/orthographical skills.

    The lack of focus and well-informed teaching of language is a huge problem in my opinion. Without strong literacy skills, built on fundamentals like spelling, getting through the rest of school just gets harder. Yes, you can survive without spelling, but it's a hell of a lot easier if you don't have to worry about it!

    report
  47. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    People here who recommend phonetc spelling --

    Google "Initial Teaching Alphabet"

    You'll get more on Google Scholar.

    It was an experimenal methid of teaching reading in the 1960s.

    It failed miserably -- but I haven't seen or read all the 'scholarly; articles on it to understand exactly WHY it failed.

    report
  48. Belinda Mckeon

    logged in via Twitter

    I agree with the principle of the article, but I'm not sure about the example. If the person in question was sounding out "res-i-dent" correctly, they would have spelled it correctly. It's like the then/than confusion that is cropping up everywhere. People spell it incorrectly, because they say it incorrectly.

    report
  49. Claudia Yan

    logged in via Facebook

    I find this approach to be very interesting. I left primary school only 10 years ago and I was part of the group that was told to write words out 10 times and 'look, cover, write and check'. So I more or less learnt to spell by rote. As an ESL student up until the end of grade 3, I was a mediocre speller and English speaker. Then a friend of mine introduced me to reading. Not children's picture books but rather, young adult fiction. I got hooked and became an avid reader. Now, I have very few spelling…

    Read more
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Claudia Yan

      Bravo Claudia, you've done very well. English is really one veritable 'mongrel' of a language but a lot of fun can often be had with it as recompense for its objectionable behaviour towards those persons initially unaware of its chicanery. I still clearly remember the time many [too many in fact] years ago when as a child I asked my dear mother [who had been a primary school teacher] what a 'recipe' [I pronounced it as re_cipe] was, and she also had to assist me with the girl's name 'Penelope' [I…

      Read more