Practical application of spelling research

Teacher with two little boysGwen Storie and Arnold Willems, of the University of Wyoming, believe that too little attention has been paid to research findings concerning the teaching of spelling, and that this information has been incorporated too slowly into the classroom. They report that there are specific ways to make spelling instruction more efficient and effective.

Formal and informal lessons

According to research, spelling should be taught both formally and informally in a variety of situations. In informal word study, teachers and students develop methods to analyze words: for example, finding spelling patterns or studying the meaning and pronunciation of prefixes or suffixes. Teachers and students can build individualized word lists from words they commonly use and misspell, or from content area vocabulary.

Spelling tablets, which keep an ongoing record of each child’s words, make record-keeping easy and facilitate review. Spelling games and activities stimulate student interest and are a good enrichment to a spelling program.

Words must be carefully selected in early grades

Students must be able to read words before they try to spell them and, therefore, words should be carefully selected, especially in the early primary grades. Presenting spelling words in a list and asking students to spell the words in list form has been shown to be more effective than when spelling words are embedded in sentences or paragraphs. Words studied in lists are learned more quickly, remembered longer and are more easily transferred to other contexts.

Pretesting is recommended and students should immediately correct their own tests. The correcting of their own tests accounted for most of the achievement seen on post tests in the research studies. Storie and Willems warn, however, that teacher supervision is necessary and that teachers should point out spelling patterns as the tests are corrected.

When studying words, the authors recommend that students:

1) look at a word and say it

2) close their eyes and visualize the word

3) cover the word and write it

4) check to see if the word is correct

This method should be modeled for students and they should periodically be guided in their use of it.

Spelling practice should be distributed throughout the week, for a total of 60-75 minutes each week. Words studied in short, intense practice sessions, several times a week are remembered longer.

Individualizing spelling programs is the only way to meet the needs of all the students in a class.

Other recommendations

For the poorest spellers, it is helpful to reduce the number of words they study at one time and also to allow them to study before the pretest. These students may need extra practice in transferring words to other concepts (for example, a daily writing assignment in which spelling words are incorporated). Integrating spelling and language arts/creative writing assignments is helpful for all students. It helps them to become aware of the need to spell correctly and of the need to check their written work.

“Using Spelling Research Effectively In The Elementary School Classroom” Reading Improvement Summer 1988, p. 125.

Published in ERN March/April 1989 Volume 2 Number 2

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