When spelling is important

You know how kids will often ask, “When will I ever need to know this?!!”

Sometimes, they’re right.

It’s easy for educators to fall into ruts and teach the same old, same old materials because that information used to be important.

Knowing how to spell perfectly used to be vitally important.  When all communication was handwritten or typed on a typewriter, writers relied solely on their ability to produce correctly spelled words.

For kids who struggle with spelling now, working to develop symbol imagery for all of those tough words like “because” and “certain” can seem like a waste of time.  And I really don’t blame them.  Spell check does a pretty nice job of monitoring our spelling for us (and even offering to correct our mistakes automatically!).

So why should we care about spelling now?

Maybe we don’t have to.  There is a really easy way to determine if your child’s spelling difficulties can be managed using current technology (like spell-check) or if they would benefit from instruction that improves their overall spelling ability.

Does your student misspell or misapply the spelling of commonly confused words like where/wear or there/their?

Many of the students I work with have difficulty spelling some of the most common words in our language, including words like “their.”  These words are unfair (don’t follow the phonetic system) and have special rules for their usage. Tricky!

The hard part here is that spell check isn’t always going to catch the mistake.  When it sees this sentence, “She walked over their,” it may only notice that each word is spelled in a valid way.  Your student needs the ability to spell these super frequent words correctly and monitor if the correct homophone was applied.

Does your student simplify her writing to just words she feels comfortable spelling?

I see this all of the time.  A very bright student writes simple sentences that do not reflect all of her intelligent and interesting ideas. In some cases, the writing task can be too overwhelming because the student’s spelling is so difficult.

Because learning to express ideas in written form is truly one of the most foundational skills a student can acquire, we want to ensure they are not encumbered by difficulties with spelling. (It can be hard enough to come up with the ideas sometimes, right?!)

If you’ve been questioning whether your student should receive some additional instruction in spelling, I encourage you to watch his or her writing.  Improved symbol imagery for reading and spelling can make an enormous difference in a student’s ability to independently monitor and correct mistakes (no technology needed!), but it’s not necessarily urgent unless the difficulty is affecting how easily and completely your student writes.

We don’t need to know how to spell just for spelling bees and weekly spelling tests – we spell correctly so that we can share ideas and meaning with others.  Thinking about your student’s spelling ability in terms of how it affects his or her writing fluency can help you determine if some intensive instructional support is necessary.

And as always, feel free to give me a call if you’d like to discuss your child’s particular learning profile!

– Beth

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One response to “When spelling is important

  1. Pingback: I love the smell of napalm (and feet) in the morning… « Sparkling Zebra

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