When introducing newly qualified teachers to the Dyslexia Support Service recently, I asked them to decode the definition of dyslexia we use (along with most other authorities I think):


 We discussed what strategies they employed to read the partly encrypted sentence. Some worked at the phonic level, using prior knowledge to identify the symbols in one word (difficulties was the most obvious) and applying this knowledge to work out what the other words were. Others concentrated on making meaning with little reference to individual symbol shapes. The most successful were those who used a variety of strategies and who conferred with others. No surprises there.

Then we read out together a piece that illustrates beautifully how unimportant correct spelling is when making meaning, to which I’ve referred before. Here it is:


 Learners with dyslexia tend to have more difficulty with spelling than reading; this being a less active activity than reading where it is easier to use context to bear on unfamiliar words.

Often the problem stems from undeveloped working memory. Dyslexia involves a brain structure that makes it difficult for a leaner to connect sounds with the letters or symbols that “spell” that sound. Such connections are essential when learning to read and, particularly, to spell.

I was inundated with questions about how to ‘correct spelling’. Should all errors be noted? Is it enough to highlight those mistakes in words or patterns that a child is expected to have learnt? Do we ignore all mistakes completely?

The Answer, of course is, ‘It depends’: on the child naturally, but principally, on the learning intention. There are occasions when good spelling is part of a teaching point that emphasises presentation for an audience. There is nothing as powerful as your peers reading your work with a keen interest to teach you that writing is all about communication. (I read this weekend that Blogger has been around for 10 years: Blogger (now owned by Google) has 10 million “active” users, or people who have posted something new over the past 30 days. The number of “seven-day active” users has doubled over the past two years. Blogger has 300m unique visits a month. In an average minute, 270,000 words are written on its blogs, and something like a quarter of a trillion words have been written on Blogger since its foundation. There’s a huge audience out there).

Anxiety about spelling inhibits many children’s writing, especially if parents and teachers are overly concerned about it.

Finding a balance is hard but essential.