I am not naturally good at spelling. In fact, I rely heavily on writing words down, sounding out phonics or even asking my husband for reassurance to get it right. Does that make me a bad English teacher? I don’t think so. It just makes me human.
What makes spelling so powerful?
Learning how to spell words and form sentences is one of the most useful lifelong skills that builds a foundation for your child to access their education.
Spelling is not easy and isn’t something we would ordinarily call ‘fun’. But it’s necessary for your child to understand the clear structure and rules of words and will help the decode unfamiliar words.
What’re the building blocks of spelling?
- Articulation – in order for your child to be able to write a word correctly they need to be able to say it first. This is why you often find children sounding out phonics as they write.
- Awareness of phonics – spelling and phonics are interchangeable. Without one, you cannot do the other. Being able to hear syllables and sound these our (e.g. d_o_g = dog) will help them spell.
- Knowing spelling ‘rules’ – silent ‘p’, ‘i’ before ‘e’ are just a couple of examples. These are easy to apply once you know them but learning them is the tough part.
- Recognising ‘sight words’ – these are words that don’t follow the ‘rules’ of phonics and we learn from seeing them (e.g. where, friend).
We live in a world dominated by technology. The autocorrecting and predicted text enables us to communicate faster and work more efficiently. But what impact is this having on your children?
What’s the impact of technology?
1 in 3 children in the UK now has their own tablet or computer (www.ofcom.org.uk). And they’re increasingly coming to rely on autocorrect and Google for checking spelling.
The role and influence of technology in society is only going to grow. Some have argued that making children literate with these skills is a necessary transition we need, to make them prepared for the future.
But that does not mean they shouldn’t learn to spell.
Spelling is an integral part of your child’s development. Some of the practices are a little outdated but understanding the sound and patterns of words is essential for skills like speech and language as well as basic literacy.
In my previous school, I would be asked anywhere from 5-10 times a lesson about how to spell a word. As phones were banned in the classroom, I was their Google. Through no fault of their own, students are becoming lazy and not learning the skills themselves. They’re letting a search engine do it for them. In order to get them to use their brains, I would refer students to the stack of dictionaries to look the word up instead. Sounds old fashioned but it made them proactive and they soon learned to reach for the dictionary instead of asking me.
Myself and my husband now actively opt out of ‘Googling’ things and spend a good amount of time working answers out ourselves. It’s not always a success but at least we’re trying, right?
Our brains are just like any other muscle and if we don’t exercise them, they will wither and grow weak.
How do we make spelling more exciting?
I can viscerally remember my spelling tests in school. Abject terror as the words were called. Panic as we had to read out our results in front of the whole class. The knowing glances around the room and a sigh from my teacher. This is genuinely the stuff of my nightmares.
I doubt (and hope) this isn’t still common practice in schools today, but the teaching of spelling does need to change. As spelling is now highly prominent in KS2 writing frameworks and a significant part of the assessment at GCSE (in many subjects, not just English). Now, more than ever, spelling is at the forefront of your child’s education.
Spelling tests and ‘read, write, ink’ have been used (in various formats) for generations yet the outcomes remain the same? We cannot expect all children to learn to spell from repeatedly writing a word or memorising it for tests.
We need to make the learning of language, the role of spelling, a meaningful part of the curriculum and of your child’s life.
Helping our students understand the role of prefixes, suffixes and the history of words brings language to life and makes it exciting.
For example, ‘sandwich’ (one of my favourite lunchtime snacks), gets its name from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. Over 250 years ago he asked his servant to bring him beef between two slices of bread. This was because he enjoyed snacking whilst playing cards (we’ve something in common there) and the bread stopped his hands from getting greasy. Stories like this are perfect ways to make the etymology (history) of words real and interesting to our children.
Spelling doesn’t have to be dull or scary. But it can’t be forgotten either. Without our phones and tablets, we’re still people that need to be able to communicate without the use of technology. Otherwise, what’s the point in anything?