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.