Student self-correction improves spelling skills

Research has shown that self-corrected tests can play a significant role in improving the spelling skills of students at all levels of spelling ability. But which self-correcting method works best? In an effort to find out, researchers Stan V. Howard, Alpine School District, American Fork, Utah, and Richard R. Sudweeks, Brigham Young University, compared four self-correction methods that previous studies have reported as being effective.

The Utah Study

Two hundred nine children from two schools with average standardized test scores for the school district were randomly assigned to each of the four self-correction methods: correcting misspelled words after each word had been dictated; correcting mistakes after the entire list had been dictated; correcting mistakes by hearing the words spelled correctly; and correcting by seeing the words presented visually.

Teachers used standard test dictation procedures in all four experiments: saying the word, using it in a sentence, and then saying the word again. In an effort to keep instruction consistent for all student groups, teachers received the same training, lesson plans and teaching materials. To control for teacher differences, teachers taught all four methods for one week each.

A 100-word spelling test was given to each student before the experiment. During the experiment, this list was divided into four lists of 25 words that were used as weekly tests. A test was given each Monday, self-corrected by the students and then collected. This procedure was repeated with the same words on Wednesday, followed by a final test on Friday. No time was allowed for study. Following the experiment, delayed-recall tests were given for each test four weeks later.

Substantial gains in spelling

It was found that students made substantial gains in their spelling skills over the course of the experiment. On average, they correctly spelled an additional 23 words from the original 100-word list. When retested one month later, students retained a 16-word improvement over the pretest. While the researchers found that all four experimental self-correction methods improved spelling, students who received feedback immediately after each word had been dictated made the biggest gains. No difference was seen between those receiving oral and visual feedback.

The students who scored lowest on the pretest made the greatest spelling improvement, although that may have been partly due to a ceiling effect for the higher-scoring students. While girls scored higher on both the pretest and post-test, they showed about the same improvement as boys from the self-correction methods.


This research confirms previous studies that advocate the use of self-corrected spelling tests as a method to improve spelling proficiency. These researchers recommend that, for maximum effectiveness, either oral or visual feedback be provided after each word has been presented. Students should self-correct immediately as the teacher spells the word, rewriting it if it was misspelled, or by comparing the word to a correct visual model and then rewriting if misspelled.

“The Effectiveness of Four Self-Corrected Spelling Test Methods”, Reading Psychology: An International Quarterly, Volume 15, Number 4, Fall 1994, pp. 245-271.

Published in ERN March/April 1995, Volume 8, Number 2

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)