Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spelling - Recalling/Re-visualizing - Pt 2

In my last blog I mentioned that spelling is more consistent visually than it is by sound. The mistake that most people make when they teach spelling is to think that you need to convert spelling to sound before you can bring the correct spelling of a word to mind. You might think that, "I just can't recall how to spell that word!" This sounds like a fair enough statement when thinking about the spelling of a word. But is it?

The notion of recall comes from Aristotle's conception of how memory functions. He proposed that when one remembers one recalls or re-says a list of associated ideas, concepts or separate items. In other words, when you recall a particular item in memory other items, such as letters in a word, are recalled one after the other in a linear or time ordered sequence.  Of course, the sounds of words are important and you endeavour to recall the sequence of letter sounds and associate each of these sounds with the corresponding graphic representation. Thus, to recall a spelling word you recall the sound units and link these to their correct letter shapes. For many children this is easy and very efficient - they are good spellers. However, not all children find this process easy, particularly learners that have a primarily visual mode of learning.

Not only is the visual mode of spelling easier for some it is much more consistent (see my previous blog).  Around the same time that Aristotle formulated his ideas about memory Plato had quite a different idea, he proposed that memory was like a wax tablet. He depicted memory as sketches in the mind's eye that could be inscribed and changed as new information came to light. When people say, "I see what you mean." they are attributing (or ascribing) this notion of visualisation of information in memory. This encoding works quite differently - to memorise a word is to visualise that word in the mind's eye. While attempting to spell a word one can re-envision  the whole word as an image. In other words one can use one's imagination to access the memory of the word. The two systems can complement each other: Alan Paivio's Dual Coding theory of cognition proposes that  memory functions more efficient when the visual and verbal systems are combined or linked.

One method that has worked well for children that I have worked with is to use slightly different spellings to write the word three times. Each time direct the child to carefully look at the word and to think about whether or not it looks right. Ask, "What part of the word does not look right? Can you think of other ways to write this part of the word? Write the word again. Now circle the one that looks right." Often this takes a few practises with some guidance. Many times the child will recognise the correct spelling and can circle the one that looks right. From this, one would assume that the spelling has been correctly encoded in long-term memory but the usual retrieval mechanism has not worked well for the child.

It may also be helpful to combine this approach with the verbal strategy of breaking the word into syllables, spelling each syllable and then viewing the word to see if it looks right. Usually one of the syllables does not look right. The child should be asked to identify which syllable is the odd one out and to write the word again with an alternative graphic representation of the same syllable.

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