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What do we know about spelling?

  • The ability to spell easily and automatically enables us to become more effective writers. The less energy and thought we have to put in to thinking about spelling the more thought we can put into what is being said.
  • Spelling is only one aspect of effective writing. But it’s important to be aware that generally someone else is going to read what we write and they may make judgements about our level of literacy and sometimes our intelligence.
  • Good spellers are not perfect spellers. They are self monitoring and self-regulating. They look for their own errors and check words they are unsure of.
  • The English language is not a regular language but it is systematic and patterned. Learning to spell is a process of working out patterns and systems, then applying these understandings to new words as we encounter them.
  • Learning to spell is not learning lists of words. It is a developmental process of learning to apply different strategies appropriately, so that we can spell correctly all the words we want to write. These strategies include sound sequences, knowledge of grapho-phonic relationships, visual patterns and meaning. In order to use strategies well, we need to learn to classify, hypothesise, generalise, look for patterns and relationships, and seek to understand the relationships between meaning and spelling. Spelling is a thinking process not a rote learning task.
  • Understanding spelling helps writers to make better meaning when they write. Good spellers understand the links between word meaning and spelling. Investigating word meanings not only guides us to spell words correctly, but helps develop a diverse vocabulary.

I am indebted to the Education Department of Western Australia for their useful book: Spelling: Developmental Continuum for this.

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