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  • Writer's pictureDr. V.S. Gayathri

Spelling Not A Matter of Memorization: Language-Based Programs & Computer-Aided Programs!

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

In our previous article, we spoke about how spellings are an integral part of any language. And, how it should be learned along with the language itself and not in isolation.

We had also spoken about the stage-by-stage format in which spellings should be taught to early learners and so on.

In this article, we will talk about some of the language-based programs, designed by experts and the computed-aided spelling learning programs.

Spelling of whole words are made easy when the child understands that words are made up of speech sounds and that letters represent these sounds. As this idea sets in, children notice additional patterns in the way letters, syllables, word endings, prefixes, word roots, and suffixes are used during reading and spelling. They learn best through active involvement and practice with words, which allow them to discern and learn word and letter patterns for themselves.

What is a Language-Based Program?

Very little research exists to guide educators in selecting a program to teach spellings in the right way. However, research has found language-based spelling instruction (that focuses on sound-letter correspondences) to be more effective than instruction that relies heavily on visual memorization of words (that uses flashcards).

Language-Based Programs provide the grade-by-grade, well-sequenced instructions that students learn spellings and related aspects in the right way. We will talk about two such programs.

Primary Spelling by Pattern for early elementary learners

Developed by Ellen Javernick, a first and second-grade teacher, and Louisa Moats, a researcher who specializes in reading and spelling, Primary Spelling by Pattern is a program for grade 1 to 3, or for older students who are having difficulty. Level 1 of the program is currently available; two more levels are being developed.

Spellography for upper elementary learners

Developed by Louisa Moats, a researcher who specializes in reading and spelling, and Bruce Rosow, a middle-grades resource teacher and curriculum coordinator, Spellography is a program for grade 4 and 5 (who read at or above the mid-third grade level) or for middle-grades students in need of more structured language instruction.

What about computer-based spell checkers?

Since the advent of word processing and spell checkers, some educators feel that spelling instruction is unnecessary. But spell checkers do not eliminate the need to learn to spell accurately. They are only helpful for those who are reasonably good spellers, but they cannot compensate for poor spelling. They cannot be relied on with homophones. One study reported that spell checkers usually catch just 30 to 80% of misspellings overall (partly because they miss errors like here vs. hear), and that spell checkers identified the target word from the misspellings of students with learning disabilities only 53% of the time.

In 2000, a language-based spelling instruction was designed for teaching children to make multiple connections between spoken and written words. A two-tier model for early intervention to prevent spelling disabilities is proposed. In the first-tier, alphabet principle is taught (along with other sound-spelling connections for words including syllable awareness) and applied to practice in spelling words singly and in text (teacher-directed dictation and child-generated composition). In the second-tier, children are monitored in the year following early intervention and continuing tutoring is provided if necessary.

Though visual memory has an important role in learning to spell, but emphasis should be in the fact that that memory for spelling patterns relies on and is facilitated by an understanding of linguistic concepts, including speech sounds, sound-letter correspondences, word origins, and meaningful parts of words like mentioned earlier. Hence, the main mechanism for word memory is not a photographic memory, as we choose to believe; rather it is the insight into why the word is spelled the way they are.

As experts say, spelling is a psychological, linguistic, and conceptual process involving knowledge of the alphabet, syllables, word meaning, and the history of words. So, probably the best way is to learn about words and the language which in turn will improve spelling skills.


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