Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Spelling - Encoding Pt 1

Spelling is not just speech written down. 

In fact, spelling is more consistent with the visual aspects of print. For example, the ‘c’ in the words ‘medical’ and ‘medicine’ has different sounds when spoken but looks the same in print. For example, in the spoken word ‘medical’, the ‘c’ sounds like a ‘k’ whereas in the spoken word ‘medicine’ the ‘c’ sounds like an ‘s’. In the written word, the graphic representation does not change and therefore is more consistent.

One of the best methods for learning spelling words incorporates both visual and sound elements and is known as the look-cover-write-check method. 

It involves the following steps:

   1.         Look carefully at the targeted word and carefully note the graphic features of the word.
   2.         Cover the word and try and see the word in the mind’s eye.
   3.         Write the word.
   4.         Check that the word is the same as the original targeted word.

A fifth and sixth step could be added to consolidate word learning and to connect with background knowledge. 

These are:
   5.         Think about the meaning of the word or find a word meaning in the dictionary, and use the word in a new sentence.

   6.         Identify morphemes that are present within the word and add other morphemes such as prefixes and suffixes as a word-building exercise.

From: Woolley, G. (In Print). Teaching literacy in the primary classroom. London: Sage.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why some children can't spell and spelling tests won't help?

There was an interesting discussion on spelling in 'The Conversation' recently. This should be of interest to all especially for those of us who have children who struggle with spelling. It was written by Dr Misty Adoniou, Senior lecturer at the University of Canberra. It explains why many children have difficulties with spelling and why some methods do not work for children who have ongoing problems in this area of learning.

She asks, "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?" This statement highlights the central role of meaning and context. However, the common practice of weekly drilling meaningless lists of words and then testing them at the end of the week merely widens the gap between those that normally do well and reinforces the perception of constant failure for those that normally do not spell well. This process lowers their self-esteem and inhibits their desire to do better.  Thus, the habit of drilling and testing are inefficient learning methods, particularly for those who struggle.

There was an interesting comment by Giles Pickford, which I have included below:
"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."Giles was on to something here because he demonstrates that people can be very successful even though they are not good spellers. 

Spelling is very important but it should not cloud our judgement. For a struggling speller there is nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to find that your best efforts earn you the opportunity to stay in the classroom and write every mistake 50 times each while your friends are playing in the playground. Likewise, red lines drawn through every fourth or fifth word in a creative writing activity reinforce the notion that it is better not to try than to try and fail. 

There are many ways to teach spelling that focus on meaning and the joy of using written language to communicate, express creative ideas and encourage a desire to improve.    

Friday, October 25, 2013

COR Literacy Framework Pt 3a - Questions

In teaching, questions are like seeds that fall on fertile ground and germinate. They focus attention and they anticipate the types of meanings that are most likely to be constructed when answering them. The National Reading Panel (2002) investigation of recent reading research found that asking and answering questions were two of the most powerful reading comprehension strategies. One the most important elements of the COR Literacy Framework is the strategic use of questioning. This is because getting answers to questions is at the heart of comprehension. Obviously, you are more able to build better comprehension if you ask the most appropriate questions.

From research conducted in conjunction with the COR Literacy Framework a number of Australian schools found that most children were not able to ask strategic questions when given the opportunity in class. They could often ask literal or surface level questions such as 'what', 'when' or 'where'  questions but seldom asked 'why' or 'how'. It was assumed that the children were used to answering questions and were not usually required to ask questions in class. The impression that children often have is that the most powerful person in the classroom, the teacher, usually asks all the questions. However, by giving the children the responsibility for devising their own questions the teacher is actually transferring the learning responsibility to the children. This is often referred to as transferring the locus of control and it is one contributing factor for developing learning self-regulation.

Good self-questioning needs to be modelled and practiced by individuals on a regular basis. Teachers should develop a habit of asking higher order questions during class discussions so that the children become familiar with the various types of questions that can be generated. When teachers actively promote discussion in class using open ended questions it promotes divergent thinking, creativity and enjoyment in an atmosphere of inquiry. This will provide fertile ground for the children to explore learning by seeking to ask their own questions when given the opportunity.

One way to scaffold questioning for the children is to provide question stem cue cards that give a sample beginning of different question types for the children to use as a guide. For example, "How do you think...?" or "Why do you think that...?" It is, however, not just a matter of providing a random set of question stems for children to choose from but explicitly teaching when and how they can be used most effectively.

In the COR Literacy Framework there are three levels of questions that are related to the three cognitive or thinking levels. At the surface level (stepping foreword) the question will have a literal focus and will relate to factual knowledge. They will also relate to the decoding process. For example, self-questioning such as "Is this making sense?" or "Does this sound right?" will focus on the confirming or correcting during the reading process.

At the deeper level (stepping into) the questions will often relate to making connections of old knowledge with the new knowledge to enable comprehension and create new meaning.  The QAR (question-answer relationship) strategy (Raphael, 1984) is a particularly good method to demonstrate to students that not all the answers can be found in the text, whether they are literal or inferential. It requires students to connect text information to their prior knowledge.

Students need to ask:

1.     Is the answer right there in the text? Answers to literal questions can be answered there in the text.
2.   Do I need to think and Search the text? The answer is in the text but the reader must tie it together from two or more sentences in the passage.
3.   Is the answer found in my head? The answer is not in the text. The reader needs to use his/her own background experiences to answer the question. Is there a part of this text that reminds me of something else I have read? or Is there a part of the text that reminds me of something else?
4.   Is the answer a combination of the author and me? The answer is not in the passage. It is found in the reader’s own prior knowledge and also from the text.

The questions that you ask will anticipate the type of information that you are seeking. This is a type of stepping back - it is a metacognitive process that operates at the third cognitive level. They focus attention and act as anticipation guides. This self-regulating process usually enhances the efficiency of  the stepping forward and stepping into processes.

After thought:
I have recently been reading several blogs or articles about exploring a problem first before researching possibles ways to solve the problem.  Why not explore a problem first using background knowledge and intuition and then devise questions (goals) to research and find possible solutions. Go to

For some question ideas go visit my Pinterest site:


National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: Report of the comprehension instruction subgroup to the National Institute of Child Health and Development. Washington, DC: NICD.
Raphael, T. E. (1984). Teaching learners about sources of information for answering questions. The Reading Teacher, 28, 303-311.