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Do We Really Still Need to Teach Spelling?

By Beverly L. Adams-Gordon

I am often asked if we really need to teach spelling now that we have so many modern electronic conveniences. Recently, I came across an example that I think shows why we still need to teach and emphasize correct spelling. While reading a forum I frequently visit, I noticed this postscript at the end of one contributor’s signature line:

“Please excuse my typos... some times [sic] it’s harder to go back and edit on mobiel [sic] than its [sic] worth!”

I couldn’t help but wonder if her “typos” were really typos or if her blanket notice was a convenient way for her to cover for her poor spelling ability. As I looked at the errors in her post, I found the difference between typos and misspellings were pretty obvious.

Beverly L. Adams-Gordon

Beverly L. Adams-Gordon

My purpose in discussing this is not to give you the impression that I have never hit the send button with a typo, an incorrect use of a homonym, or an outright misspelling in one of my own posts or emails. (I have even been known to make a grammar error from time to time!) It happens to all of us. In our fast-paced world, it is just so easy to press the “send” button without carefully re-reading (proofreading) our posts. Unfortunately, most of us adults were not taught phonics and were most likely not taught spelling in the most effective way. We also were probably not taught how to be our own proofreader. Fortunately, using an excellent, comprehensive program like Spelling Power will eliminate most spelling errors, most of the time, for your student.

To become a competent writer, your student must know how to discover his writing errors on his own and how to know what to do when faced with words he does not know how to spell. Learning a basic core of frequently used words and how to apply spelling rules are only a good beginning to mastering spelling skills. I believe there are two other important aspects of any comprehensive spelling program. One is teaching proofreading skills to the point that they becomes a natural, automatic part of the student’s writing process. The other is teaching your student to use the dictionary effectively including how to look up words he doesn’t know how to spell. The essential skills of proofreading and dictionary usage are often neglected in modern spelling programs. In Spelling Power, I have devoted an entire section to each of these concepts. The section called “Teaching Proofreading Skills” begins on page 251 of your book. How to teach dictionary skills begins on page 271. Both topics are taught through hands-on, multi-sensory, and multi-level approaches.

If your student is placed at or above Spelling Power‘s Level D, I highly recommend you begin using the focused approach to proofreading instruction outlined in your manual. At the end of Level C, your student will have mastered the 820 most-frequently-used words; this represents about 85% of the words an average student uses on a daily basis. A student below this level may be faced with so many spelling and grammar issues that he may become overwhelmed by the proofreading process. Of course, you will help each of your students to correct all the errors on their papers before they share them with others. I also suggest that if this is the first year using Spelling Power, that you wait a week or two to start formal proofreading instruction. This is for your own sanity. It can be very difficult for both you and your student to begin several new programs and approaches at the same time. Waiting will give you both time to feel comfortable with the basic program first.

Spelling Power uses a natural instructional approach called “coaching*” to help you teach proofreading skills to your student. The coaching process is facilitated by the use of an exclusive and very effective proofreading approach I call Check, C.A.T.C.H & Correct.® In the “Teaching Proofreading Skills” section of your manual, you are given an approach that begins simply: point out the errors your student has made and help him correct them. You can then plan grammar, punctuation and spelling lessons based on the most obvious errors he has made in his writing. As your student matures, you will gradually make him more and more responsible for catching and correcting his own errors. In the final stages, the proofreading system facilitates the way you score your student’s essays and reports. This method of teaching proofreading skills does not overwhelm a beginning writer or further discourage a reluctant writer. It gives your student a definite way to approach the proofreading task. It also gives your student credit for what he does know and encourages growth in writing ability.

The proofreading of the papers themselves is done as part of your composition work and/or as part of writing done in the content subjects (i.e. History.) Only the study of selected misspelled words discovered in the proofreading process is included in Spelling Power’s “15 minutes a day” procedures making it very easy to add them to your daily routine. You use Spelling Power’s Searchable Word List to help you select which words your student should study. Once you discover the words he needs to study, he will correct all the misspelled words on his paper, and you will add one to three of them to his next 10-Step-Study Sheet. After the next Daily Test session, he will study these words along with words he misspelled during the Daily Test session. The next day, you will retest your student on all of the words from the previous day’s 10-Step-Study Sheet. You may also choose to add these words to his next Review Test. This is done by simply adding them to the end of the next Review Test list in light pencil.

As your student proceeds through the Spelling Power levels, more and more of his study words will come from his writing, rather than from the Daily Test Lists. By the time he finishes the Spelling Power’s organized word lists all of his words will come from his own writing and he will have a system he can use his entire life to learn any new word he encounters.

You’ll find this method of proofreading instruction fits in your school day quite nicely and that it makes spelling, grammar, and proofreading a part of your entire curriculum. Such an approach is the only way to form a consistent habit. Your student needs to positively know proofreading maters in all subject areas.

The approach described in “Teaching Proofreading Skills” is very effective. I successfully taught language arts using this method with my former classroom students, with students I have tutored over the years, and with all three of my own girls. My two oldest girls were graduated in the early 1990s; the youngest is currently attending Washington State University. Last semester, she shared with me a nice comment she received from one of her professors. Her professor wrote on one of her papers: “It is so nice to receive assignments that have so obviously been proofread!”

I know from my earlier research (1980s) that college professors complained that students lacked basic grammar skills, had poor spelling abilities, and had no concept of how to proofread a paper. At that time, I was told that 40% of all incoming freshman at the University of California were required to take remedial English Composition classes. Based on my daughter’s art history professor’s comment, I guess the situation is still a problem today. By using the approach outlined in your Spelling Power manual you can prevent your student from having to take remedial English. Believe me, this will save him time and both of you money!

I think you will find the Teaching Proofreading Skills section of your Spelling Power program easy to understand and teach. If reading this section, you feel you need additional assistance implementing the proofreading procedures, please visit www.spellingpower.com to learn when the next on-line seminar of Teaching Proofreading Skills will be offered or you may reach me by calling the FREE User-Help-Line using the telephone number found on the copyright page of your Spelling Power manual.



* Gary R. Collins in Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential Into Reality explains coaching this way: “In the 1500s, the word coach described a horse-drawn vehicle that would get people from where they were to where they wanted to be… Some writers have suggested that the goal was similar in the ancient athletic world where coaches helped gifted athletes and teams boost their performance and get to the goal: winning in the Olympic Games.” He also defined a coach as a person trained and devoted to guiding others into increased competence, commitment, and confidence.