Thursday, August 28, 2014

Does Spelling Matter?

According to my mother, "Yes, because for accurate communication you need to know how to spell, and if you can't spell you get frustrated because you can't put what you want to say into words." Wise woman!

There are three methodologies when it comes to spelling~
1. Phonemic Spelling (understanding the relationship between letters and sounds)
2. Whole Word Approach (not all words in the English language
can be spelled correctly using letter-sound correspondence)
3. Morphemic Spelling (writing phonetically)

Learning to read and spell is not natural. Written language has only been in existence for 10,000 years. Teaching spelling should be explicit and intentional because (to a certain extent) some spelling in the English language follows patterns and these patterns can be learned.

The most common problems in spelling according to Dr. Louisa Moats (1996), are
• Consonant blends
• Short vowel representation
• Vowel + r, vowel + l
• Nasal sounds after vowels
• Inflectional endings and ending rules
• Spelling of unaccented syllables
• Oddities – words without families

        Before we can tackle spelling successfully, a student has to understand phoneme identity and segmentation. So we must ensure that our students have a strong foundation in phonological awareness--or the sounds letters make.
      English is a deep, alphabetic system—we spell by sound and meaning. This is why students need the explicit teaching of phonics. They need to know how words sound (phonologically), how they look visually, how they can change form and meaning (morphemic), and where our words come from (etymology).         
           In phonics and spelling lessons, teachers help students connect the phonemes in spoken words to the graphemes in written words. Poor phonemic awareness or a lack of knowledge of the letter-sound relationship, leads to a deficit in spelling. If students are not able to accurately count phonemes, then they cannot remember and understand the spellings of words. This would lead a child to try to memorize word spellings, which is a much more arduous task. According to Dr. Moats, “because words are not visually distinctive, it is impossible for children to memorize more than a few dozen words unless they have developed insights into how letters and sounds correspond (Moats, 2005).”  
             One way teachers can apply this knowledge in instruction is to help students understand the etymology, or origin and history of words. Etymological knowledge assists students to remember the consistencies in the many irregularities of the English language, which then help students to spell correctly and with automaticity. An example of this would be to have students sort words such as words that have –ge for the /zh/ sound like the word “beige”, -s for the /z/ sound like the word “trees” and have them decide the etymology of the word.
            Teachers can assist students with strengthening phonics skills by having students be aware of the movements their mouths make when they create sounds. This task would reinforce the phonological working memory to intensify the marriage of letter-sound relationships. We should have students spell by analyzing sounds. If we ask a student to “sound it out” without going to a deeper level we are doing that student a disservice. If the student was unable to correctly identify a sound, we should guide that student to see his or her mouth is moving differently to make the sound using mirrors as a tool. This would lead the student to make less spelling errors because students would develop fluency with the code. According to Ehri, “To read new words in and out of text, children need to be taught how to decode the words’ spellings” (Ehri, 2004).
            Spelling is a deep process. A student must know and understand word structure, word origin, and word meaning in order to be an effective speller. 

Works Cited

Ehri, L. (2004). Teaching phonemic awareness and phonics. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 153–186). Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

Moats, L. (2005).  How spelling supports reading. American Educator, Winter 2005/06, 12-43.

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